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January 28, 2011In the past week, Texas Tech basketball has turned its Big 12 Conference outlook from bleak to hopeful with two consecutive wins.
If you watched Wednesday's road 92-83 win at Iowa State -- Tech's first conference road win since Feb. 13, 2008 -- it looked like the Red Raiders were having more fun than they had in at least a full month. Tech seems to be getting closer to playing its full potential, too.
Obviously wins are helping improve outlooks in the United Spirit Arena but there are conflicting takes on why the Red Raiders seem closer to uprighting the ship.
"I don't think anything is going on differently in the locker room," forward Mike Singletary said. "I just think we've paid a little more attention to details in practice with all the turnovers and mistakes. A lot of the seniors have been getting on the younger guys and getting on each other about not making mistakes.
"We want to play as close to perfect as we can and I think that's the main thing that's changed."
Something has definitely changed in the past week. Tech is 2-4 in Big 12 play after starting conference play 0-4.
Maybe it's the smaller competition. Nebraska and Iowa State definitely weren't as big as Baylor, Texas and Kansas State. Even in a road loss against Oklahoma, an evenly-matched size differential has allowed the Red Raiders more inside penetration, more rebounds and better shooting percentages.
But also something has to be said for the senior class that was written off as a bust just seven days ago. Against Iowa State, the five starters -- all seniors -- scored in double digits including Singletary's 33 points.
Once again, forward D'walyn Roberts said it's all about attention to detail.
"It was pretty good," he said of the seniors' performance against Iowa State. "We've had a little more focus these past two games."
But head coach Pat Knight thinks the recent success is based on in-season maturation.
"I think the guys are getting to a point where instead of blaming each other they hold themselves accountable," Knight said. "The last two games, you know what we envisioned but it's better late than never. It's about the seniors, we've good young guys but really they're not ready to play that role yet. That's why these seniors are so important. When they show up and play we always have a chance."
Of course, this talk about improving leadership and focus will be put to the test against Oklahoma State in Lubbock. The Cowboys are the best team Tech will see since Kansas State. Then there's Kansas at home on Tuesday.
"We've got to get this first one to get momentum and I don't even want to talk about who we've got Tuesday," Knight said. "This is going to be tough, but if you get to 3-4 -- I think there are two teams, Kansas and Texas, that are way above everybody. Everyone else will have a handful of losses. The good thing is we've got a shot at both those teams that are leading the league later on.
"For the rest of us, even at 2-4, we're in a pack."
The Red Raiders were never meant to win the NCAA Tournament this season. They were just supposed to get to it and then continuing to build from there. Competing against more Big 12 teams would be an improvement to build on as well though.
For at least these fleeting hours prior to tip-off Saturday, there's a small glimmer of hope in Lubbock that Tech might just be an improved team from last season afterall -- no matter what the reasons are behind the newfound success.
"We know it's important to take care of the home court," guard John Roberson said. "We've got two home games coming up and we're focused on Oklahoma State right now. We're going to try to execute the game plan and try to get another win."