Shaka Smart, Texas now 3rd in Big 12 standings after win at Baylor

Texas is a team to fear again in the Big 12. (USATSI)

The last time Baylor and Texas met in the regular season, the game ended in a clunky fashion with a fight that resulted in seven ejections and eventually a game-winner from Isaiah Taylor.

That was near the end of Texas’ 2015 tumble, before Shaka Smart took over the program. When Texas’ 67-59 upset win in Waco was complete on Monday, Smart was active on the floor, looking to keep his team composed in the midst of an upset in enemy territory. There was no brawl or skirmish this time, just a solid road win in conference play that moved the Longhorns into a third place tie with Baylor in the Big 12 standings at 6-3.

Take a step back and look how far Texas has come since losing at TCU on Jan. 9, falling to 1-2 in conference play and 9-6 overall. Iowa State, West Virginia, Vanderbilt and now Baylor are all top-50 teams taken down by the Longhorns in this recent run. Against the Bears, Texas had 21 assists on 21 field goals and looked crisp. For the first time since early last season and definitely for the first time since Cam Ridley went down, Texas is a team that should intimidate Big 12 opponents.

Texas took control in the first 10 minutes and never relinquished the lead, holding on with huge threes from Connor Lammert and monster slams from Prince Ibeh.

Both Johnathan Motley and Rico Gathers fouled out for the Bears, which overshadowed a tremendous performance from the latter (20 points, 8 rebounds). Gathers and Taurean Prince helped keep Baylor close with the Longhorns, but the gifted big man had to spend the game’s final possessions cheering from the bench.

Heading into Monday’s game Scott Drew called Texas one of the hottest teams in the Big 12. Now that Shaka Smart has orchestrated the turnaround, the next challenge will be maintaining this high level of execution with Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State and West Virginia on the schedule in the next 15 days. Right now, the Longhorns are a tournament team with a quick surge into spots reserved for the Big 12 title contenders. The next four games give them a chance to prove they belong there.

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