One of the hottest college basketball teams in the country visits Allen Fieldhouse tonight.
Texas -- the same team that opened the 1998-99 season with a 2-7 record -- brings a 9-8 overall mark, 5-0 in Big 12 Conference play into a Big Monday showdown against No. 15-ranked Kansas (12-4, 4-0).
Tipoff is 8:35 p.m. The game will be shown live on ESPN.
"You go 2-7 ... I got to the point I didn't even look at our record. Early on, we weren't very good at anything," first-year Longhorn coach Rick Barnes said.
Checking the scoreboard hasn't proved painful of late.
Texas' seven scholarship players and walk-on guard Chris McColpin have won six consecutive games -- seven of eight overall.
"Our offense was atrocious early," Barnes said. "I take the blame. We didn't put in the time on offense early in the season (at practice). We were committing too many turnovers. We were taking circus-type shots that we are not taking now."
The Longhorns lost to Houston, South Florida, Arizona and Georgia to open the Barnes era. Then they won games against Oral Roberts and Utah, with a loss to San Diego sandwiched in between.
UT finally showed signs of life at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, beating Mississippi State and host Hawaii, while losing to Princeton.
Since then, the Longhorns have won at Colorado and Nebraska, and also stopped Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State in Austin, Texas.
"I felt a swing with our team over Christmas break," Barnes said. "We had a couple of nice days of practice before Hawaii. The guys started to play their roles much better and started to believe in what they were doing. We never lost sight of what we could do to get better."
The Longhorns -- they have posted a plus 6.8 rebounding margin in their last six games and held foes to 39.2 percent shooting -- are led in scoring by 6-7 junior forward Gabe Muoneke (16.9 ppg.)
Muoneke, who logs 6.5 rebounds per game hyperextended his left, non-shooting elbow late in Saturday's 65-59 win over Kansas State. X-rays taken revealed no fractures and Muoneke will likely play tonight, Texas officials indicated Sunday.
The other frontline starters are 6-5 senior Kris Clack (15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and 7-0 soph Chris Mihm (11.9, 8.8).
Ivan Wagner, a 6-1 junior (5.9 ppg). and DeJuan Vazquez, a 6-4 senior (6.7 ppg), complete the starting lineup.
Just three players contribute off the bench. Scholarship players William Clay (6-2 junior) and Wendell Carter (6-9 senior) average 9.3 and 3.2 points respectively. Chris McColpin, a 6-0 sophomore walk-on, averages 1.5 ppg.
"Where the numbers affect you more than anything is you can't physically bang every day in practice and expect them to come back strong in games," Barnes said. He took over after last season for veteran coach Tom Penders, who resigned under fire, then moved to George Washington.
"You pick your spots. I have to substitute a little bit differently than I would if I had 13 scholarship guys. I don't really have a set pattern. You have to know when the TV timeouts are coming. Guys who need a rest, I'll try to take out right before the timeouts and put them back in after the first possession or two after the timeout."
The Longhorns -- the roster was depleted when Luke Axtell (Kansas), Bernard Smith and Anthony Goode (North Texas) transferred after last season -- have stressed conditioning at practice.
"I knew conditioning would be important. I knew we'd have to become a very good defensive team," Barnes said.
Texas averages 70.5 points per game while allowing 73.5. In the current win streak, the Longhorns have averaged 75.5 points and allowed 62.7.
"I like our team and the way we've come together," Barnes told the Austin paper. "We can win by doing different things. I love the NFL this time of year. Bill Parcells keeps saying, `Don't you be the one who sends us home.' We've talked to them about accountability and holding each other to a higher standard.
Gary Bedore's phone number is 832-7186. His email address is email@example.com