With the end of the semester drawing near, students on the 40 Acres are beginning to buckle down in preparation for finals.
For student-athletes, finals present an additional challenge to their season schedules. Texas’ men’s basketball team will play six games over the last three weeks of the semester, starting with a home matchup against UT-Arlington on Tuesday. And head coach Shaka Smart said he understands the stress ahead for his players.
“At a place like Texas, it’s challenging down the stretch and we really want our guys to finish strong,” Smart said. “What we try to do as a staff is just try to stay on top of where they are, what they have coming up because that gives us a little bit better understanding of. If a guy’s dragging a little bit in practice or he seems a little tired, maybe it’s because he was up late last night working on that long paper.”
Regardless of academic demands, Smart still expects his team to be prepared for battle on the court. The Mavericks challenged Texas when the two programs faced off in Austin last season, forcing overtime before the Longhorns could secure an 80-73 victory.
UT-Arlington enters the contest riding a three-game win streak. The Mavericks return several key players who lifted the team to a 24-11 record last season, including juniors forward Kevin Hervey and guard Erick Neal.
“I believe the five guys we started [in last season’s matchup] are all gone and the five guys that they started are the same starting lineup now,” Smart said. “[Hervey’s] a really good player. They’ve got some other very, very dangerous pieces, too, led by their point guard Neal. They’ve got quite a few of their reserves back that played against us, so it’s a veteran team.”
The Longhorns enter Tuesday’s game looking to bounce back from consecutive losses. Smart said his young players were a little overwhelmed under the lights of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and the jitters carried over to their play.
But Texas is returning to the comfort of its home court for two games before heading to Ann Arbor, Michigan, next week for a marquee matchup against Michigan. And Smart is ready to see how his team responds.
“Any game that you lose is a setback,” Smart said. “But basketball season is a long one, and if you can learn from the setback then it actually can be something positive in the long run. That’s really what these next two or three weeks are going to be about for us, is okay guys, you’ve realized it’s a little harder than you thought… Now what is our response to hard.”
Texas and UT-Arlington tip off on Tuesday at 7 p.m.