By John Helsley
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The Cowboys appear to be walking into an ambush tonight, with No. 3 Texas in pursuit of perfection and perhaps the No. 1 ranking in the land.
The Horns probably should have been elevated to the top spot already, instead of a Kansas team they beat in Lawrence, considering their so-far unbeaten run through the Big 12 that includes a win over OSU in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Throw in the fact that the Cowboys have been road kill in far lesser matchups, entering the Erwin Center at 0-5 in conference away games and 1-6 on the road overall.
“The closest game they’ve played in the league is nine points,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, “and they had a 20-point lead in that game.
“Nobody’s really played them close yet. We understand the challenge. We’re going to have to play a whole lot better than we have been.”
That leads us to our Five Keys for Texas:
1. Don’t Roll Over. OK, so this might appear as the most unlikely upset possibility ever. Things happen. Kansas didn’t last the day as the nation’s No. 1 team. Texas flopped in its debut at No. 1 a year ago and actually owned up to not wanting the responsibility this time. The Cowboys haven’t gotten everyone on the same page at the same time this season. Now would be a good time.
2. Unlock Keiton. Texas’ win in Stillwater was marked by a defensive shutdown of Cowboys guard Keiton Page, who was held scoreless. Longhorns guard Dogus Balbay put Page in lockdown with a physical style allowed by officials. Page can’t endure a similar game, or the Cowboys have no chance. Expect a lot of screens intended to free Page on the perimeter. Said Ford: “We don’t need to change a whole lot with Keiton, he knows. He needs to continue to run our basketball team and step up and make plays. He’s a veteran player.”
3. Jumpstart JP. Wrote about Jéan-Paul Olukemi’s radical home/road splits for the paper today. Coincidence that the Cowboys are 4-1 in conference home games and 0-5 on the road? Don’t think so. Whatever it is that’s troubling Olukemi on the road – bad beds, bad food, whatever – OSU must fix it. And fast.
4. Get Comfortable. Olukemi isn’t the only Cowboy struggling on the road, he’s just the most impactful. At this point, a mental hurdle may be developing as well. “I feel that actual weight coming down, the season is winding down and there’s an extra weight that we haven’t gotten a road win at all in the Big 12 Conference. It’s sitting on everybody’s mind just how critical it is to win on the road. I know everybody’s wondering why and what are we doing wrong.”
5. Don’t Back Down. The absence of suspended forward Darrell Williams showed up in Saturday’s loss at Nebraska. The Cowboys didn’t get the needed filler from Matt Pilgrim, Roger Franklin and Jarred Shaw, leaving them soft and vulnerable in the middle. If that doesn’t change tonight, the aggressive and physical Longhorns can’t be stopped. On the bright side, at least Pilgrim is available for this one at the Erwin Center. He sat out last year’s game here after a curfew violation.