The addition of highly touted freshman Myles Turner would appear to give Texas a promising chance to claim its first Big 12 regular-season title since 2007-08 and break one rival's lengthy string of championships.
With Turner, Texas (11-2) appears poised to get back to the level that it hasn't seen since finishing second in the Big 12 in 2010-11. The Longhorns, a combined 27-27 in their last three conference seasons, were predicted to finish behind only Kansas in the preseason poll.
To break the Jayhawks' run of 10 consecutive regular-season titles, Texas will likely require all the help it can get. The Longhorns could have that with Taylor set to come back from a broken left wrist Saturday.
The sophomore point guard averaged 15.0 points on 53.3 percent shooting in the team's first three games before getting hurt.
"If you go back and look at our non-conference, we didn't accomplish everything that we wanted to, but I don't think we thought we'd play as many games as we did without Isaiah," coach Rick Barnes said. "I think we're all excited that Isaiah is going to get back here. That said, I think we also know that he's not going to walk out there like he's played 13 games. It's going to take him some time."
Texas went 8-2 in his absence and Turner made his first collegiate start in the latest game Monday, a 66-55 home victory over Rice. He had a team-best 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting but was on the bench for the more defensive-minded Cameron Ridley in the final minutes.
Turner leads the Big 12 with 2.7 blocks per game while averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds despite being seventh on the team in minutes per game (21.0).
Ridley was a reserve for the first time this season after the junior center grabbed only three rebounds in a 74-71 overtime loss to Stanford on Dec. 23. Texas only outrebounded the Cardinal 36-32, well below its current average margin of 14.5.
The Longhorns had a 39-25 advantage against Rice and an 18-8 edge on the offensive glass. Jonathan Holmes had eight of those offensive rebounds and 10 overall along with 12 points despite missing 10 of 14 shots.
"You have days where you can't buy a basket," Holmes said. "Missed layups. It happens. We showed a little bit of mental toughness. We found a way to win. That's the most important thing."
The Longhorns are expected to win their Big 12 opener, but they did have an 11-game win streak over Texas Tech (10-3) snapped in the most recent meeting with a 59-53 loss in Lubbock on March 8.
The Red Raiders are 10-0 at home, though none of those opponents are currently better than two games above .500. However, Texas Tech has split its past four home games against ranked teams and only lost 64-63 to then-No. 8 Kansas in the latest one Feb. 18.
The Red Raiders head into this game after avoiding a third consecutive defeat overall with a 60-45 win over North Texas on Monday, overcoming a season-high 19 turnovers. Junior guard Devaugntah Williams, averaging a team-best 11.6 points, led the way with 14 points in his 13th game with the program.