AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Rick Barnes didn't sound angry after his Texas Longhorns lost another close game.
He sounded resigned to accepting what he has on the court and to hoping his team is somehow good enough to take the program to the NCAA tournament for a 14th consecutive year. He didn't mince words, saying his young team doesn't listen to coaching, doesn't understand game situations and hasn't learned how to fix those problems in order to win.
"I would say the biggest problem with this group has been listening," Barnes said after Texas blew a 12-point second-half lead in a 77-72 loss to No. 13 Baylor on Monday night.
The loss was Texas' eighth by six points or less this season and came on a night the Longhorns (17-11, 7-8 Big 12) appeared to be cruising to the sort of late-season signature win they need to impress the tourney selection committee.
Freshman guard Myck Kabongo called it a "devastating" loss. Speaking with reporters a few minutes later, Barnes avoided dramatic language in a measured breakdown of why his team can't lock up the big wins that seem ripe for the taking.
"If you ask me one word, it would be listening. And understanding situations; Time, score fouls, all those type things," Barnes said.
Trailing by three in the final seconds, Texas had a chance to shoot for a tie, but J'Covan Brown threw a wild pass that was intercepted by Baylor's A.J. Walton. Barnes could have called timeout to set up a play but decided against it because he figured it wouldn't have made a difference.
"I told the team, 'I apologize, I should have called timeout,'" Barns said. "On the other hand, I said to them, 'I'm not sure if it would have done any good because you don't listen.' And if we would have drawn up one play and if they would have changed defenses or have done something different with no timeouts left, believe me, we would have been lost. So we thought in the flow of the game we would have a chance. We had a play on, we didn't execute it."
Barnes' choice not to call a timeout and his postgame comments harken back to a 67-66 loss to Missouri. In that one, the Tigers switched defenses from man-to-man to zone on Texas' final possession, a move that seemed to confuse the Longhorns and forced Kabongo into a tough, last-second shot that barely got to the basket.
In an 84-80 loss to Kansas State, Texas had a chance to shoot for a tie before a bungled pass between Kabongo and Brown led to a turnover.
"We have a great knack," Barnes said, "of turning the ball over at the wrong time."
The Longhorns had to replace their entire starting lineup this season. Six freshmen are among nine recruited scholarship players, so Texas expected growing pains and early losses this season. Barnes just figured they would be over by now.
After four consecutive wins to revive their tournament hopes, the Longhorns' same old problems emerged in consecutive defeats to Oklahoma State and Baylor. Kabongo, who can be electric with his speed, runs into foul trouble like clockwork and spends valuable minutes on the bench.
Defensively, the Longhorns have allowed 3-point shooters to roam free. Against Baylor, the Longhorns held a comfortable lead, then let Baylor's Brady Heslip slip open for three baskets to help start Baylor's rally.
"We've played enough games that we shouldn't be making some of the mistakes we're making," Barnes said.
Barnes' Texas teams have never failed to make the NCAA tournament. Texas must win at least two of its last three games against Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas to finish no worse than 9-9 in Big 12 play heading into the conference tournament.
The pressure is on. No Big 12 team has finished below .500 and made the NCAA tournament.
"We just have to finish the job," Kabongo said. "Nobody remembers the team that loses. It's all about winning. You can say we're close, but we have to win."