Texas head coach Shaka Smart calls to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against UTSA , Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay
December 11, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Shaka Smart's first season at Texas has been anything but sharp.

Excruciatingly long road trips bounced Texas around half the globe's time zones, from China to the Bahamas and back again before Thanksgiving, producing three losses in the first five games.

The Longhorns (5-3) returned home to find paltry crowds coming out to see their new coach and new-look game after years of what might best be described as successful stagnation under former coach Rick Barnes: Good regular seasons followed by postseason flops.

Now Smart faces his first ''big'' game with the Longhorns, facing No. 3 North Carolina (7-1) on Saturday. The Tar Heels started the season No. 1 and have their best player, Marcus Paige, back on the court after a preseason injury.

''I think it would be nice to have a win tomorrow for a lot of reasons, playing one of the best teams in the country, one of the best programs in the country,'' Smart said. ''What a win like this would do is build a lot of confidence.''

Smart has been pretty honest in saying his team lacks a lot of ''naturally confident guys'' but senses that could be building with a three-game winning streak heading into Saturday.

''I think we still have a ways to go,'' Smart said.

There have been glimpses of the ''havoc'' pace and pressure Smart used at VCU but it has yet to become a Longhorns' trademark.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he's preparing for the aggressive, pressure style Smart is known for.

''I would think it's a change in what they're doing and it's hard to get them where Shaka wants them to be, I'm sure, but it's good enough that we worked press offense yesterday and we'll work press offense again today,'' Williams said.

Longhorns fans had become bored of the early ousters in the NCAA tournament. Former athletic director Steve Patterson fired Barnes after another exit last March and hired Smart, the up-and-coming coach at Virginia Commonwealth who had been on just about everyone's short list of candidates the last few years. After spurning previous chances to leave VCU, Smart finally said yes to the Texas offer.

Texas fans have yet to really take notice. Attendance at Tuesday's 116-51 win over Texas-San Antonio was maybe half the official announced crowd of about 9,600.

''That's a heartbreaker,'' Longhorns center Cam Ridley said after the game. ''We go to one of the biggest schools in the country.''

Freshman guard Tevin Mack called it ''kind of a letdown.''

Texas expects a much better turnout for the Tar Heels, who have won four in a row since a surprising loss at Northern Iowa.

North Carolina seems to be finding found its rhythm after the early stumble. Paige missed the first six games due to a hand injury, but returned to score 20 in a win over No. 2 Maryland. The Tar Heels then romped over previously unbeaten Davidson.

Williams won't call his team ready for the postseason just yet.

''Neither of us have our team where we want them to be,'' Williams said.

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