Texas is UK’s biggest test of the season


Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison drives the ball during the second half of exhibition game between Kentucky and Pikeville at Rupp Arena on Sunday, November 2, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky defeated Pikeville 116-68. Photo by Adam Pennavaria

By Nick Gray

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Though UK fans may not believe it, there are other good teams in college basketball.

The Cats’ next opponent, Texas, is one of them. And the Longhorns may be the most talented team, from top to bottom, that UK faces all regular season.

If you tuned into ESPN2 at 2 p.m. on Sunday for the UK-Providence game, you may have watched the last few minutes of Texas’ road matchup against Connecticut. The Longhorns won 55-54 on a 3-pointer by Jonathan Holmes in the final seconds, handing the defending national champions its second loss of the season and pushing the Huskies out of the Top 25.

Gampel Pavilion is not Rupp Arena in size, in stature or atmosphere. But not every team, cliche as it sounds, waltzes into Gampel and wins. Some of that is their atmosphere. Some of that is also opponent.

Regardless, Texas went into a hostile environment and beat the defending national champions. Nothing can inspire more confidence than that for a team who has played six games together.

That confidence will be served up with the biggest team the Cats will face all regular season.

The Longhorns (6-0) have five players 6-foot-8 or taller, which certainly sounds similar to UK.  Holmes, a senior forward, mans the frontcourt along with junior center Cameron Ridley (6-foot-9) and junior forward Connor Lammers (6-foot-9). Add junior center Prince Ibeh (6-foot-10) and freshman forward Myles Turner (6-foot-11), perhaps Texas’ best NBA prospect.

For once, UK’s big men won’t be the only tall trees standing down in the forest.

The biggest matchup on Friday will be whomever Texas has at the point against sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis. Sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor started all 35 games as a freshman and the first three games of this season — averaging 15 points per game — and gave Texas a season’s worth of experience in the backcourt. However, Taylor injured his wrist in the Longhorns’ matchup against West Iowa and will be out until at least the beginning of Big 12 play.

In his place, junior guard Javan Felix and sophomore guard Kendal Yancy have shared time, though neither have given the Longhorns the kind of scoring punch that Taylor has in his time in Austin.

Ulis and Harrison were arguably the two best players for UK on Sunday. If they can shut down Texas’ backcourt like the Cats did against Providence, another blowout could be forthcoming.

However, this Texas team is better than any team — physically, emotionally and in terms of confidence — that UK will face. And no matter the point guard play, the Longhorns have the ability to battle through anything the Cats will throw at them.