January 6, 2010

Horns run away late from Arkansas

The No. 2 (and still undefeated) Texas Longhorns were hungry for a win Tuesday night after a less than stellar performance Saturday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Horns' first real test on the road stood before them in a hostile environment at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville against a reenergized Arkansas team. Star point guard Courtney Fortson was finally able to play his first game of the season for the Razorbacks after serving a suspension, and the talented scorer came in determined to pull off the upset with his teammates.

In a game filled with momentum changes and whistles galore (mostly going against UT), the Longhorns were able to use their depth and dominance in the paint to pull off a 96-85 victory.

The first 12 minutes of the contest saw 12 lead changes and seven ties, and both offenses were hot for most of the night.

Texas started flat on defense and remained that way for much of the first half against an aggressive Arkansas offensive assault. The Razorbacks showcased a relentless attack on the basket from the get go, drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. The Hogs knocked down shots from all over the floor, shooting over 50 percent for most of the period, and took a 37-33 lead at the 6:43 mark of the first half. At that point, Texas head coach Rick Barnes called a crucial timeout after seeing his team under perform.

Barnes sent a different, rejuvenated Longhorn team back to the floor, and an outstanding block by Avery Bradley, on what looked to be a wide open lay up for Fortson, provided a burst of energy for the Horns. Following the timeout Texas went on a 13-4 run behind the shooting of Damion James, Gary Johnson and Jai Lucas to take a 46-41 lead with 2:29 to go in the half.

However, two baskets from sophomore Rotnei Clark and a three-pointer from Fortson (a banked in three pointer by the way) helped lead Arkansas back to tie the contest 48-48 at the break.

Dexter Pittman was a force to start the second half, adding to his dominant first half in which he picked up 10 points. He powered his way down low to score seven more points in the first three minutes of the frame (he finished with 21) and the Horns went on to take a 70-61 lead with 12:20 left to play.

Still, Arkansas' foursome of Clarke, Fortson, Marshawn Powell, and Michael
Washington would not go down easy. The four combined for 77 of the Razorbacks 85 points and helped the squad get back to within two points of the Horns on a Washington lay up with 1:50 to go in the game (86-84).

That's when Bradley put an end to Arkansas' run.

With superb effort, the talented freshman beat two Razorbacks to a loose ball and made a terrific pass in traffic to Jordan Hamilton, who proceeded to throw down a dunk and give Texas a 90-84 lead with a minute to play.

A Dogus Balbay lay up and four free throws from James closed out the contest as the Horns kept a perfect season in tact and pulled off a nice win on the road.

Inside the Numbers

UT finished the night making an outstanding 40-of-68 shots (58.8 percent), and knocked down 5-of-13 (38.4 percent) from three-point land. Free throws were a bit of an issue again as the Horns made 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) attempts. Arkansas made 29-of-66 shots from the field (43.9 percent), and hit 7-of-23 long-range attempts. The Razorbacks were a bit better from the charity stripe making 20-of-28 (71.4 percent). Texas dominated the rebounding battle39-23, but committed three more turnovers than the Razorbacks (14-11). The Horns were whistled on 21 fouls compared to Arkansas' 16.

Star(s) of the Game

Even while drawing a double team for most of the game, Dexter Pittman was able to impose his will in the paint going off for 21 points and 10 rebounds. An astounding eight of those rebounds were on the offensive glass as Pittman pulled down boards over multiple defenders to get easy put back buckets. Another stat that should be recognized is the 27 minutes the big man was able to spend on the court.

"I know my teammates depend on me to get plays like that," Pittman said of his put backs in the paint throughout the contest.

Damion James got into foul trouble, which limited him to just 17 minutes, but the senior made the most of those minutes shooting lights out from the floor and converting free throws. He ended the night making 6-of-8 shots from the field and 8-of-10 free throws for a total of 20 points. He just barely missed yet another double-double with nine rebounds.

"That's what I'm supposed to do," said James. "I wasn't going to let us lose."

Unsung Hero

Bradley spent 36 of the game's 40 minutes on the court. He had some trouble early defending Clarke and Fortson, but as the game wore on, Bradley began to play some great defense and was a huge factor in helping to close out the win. Bradley shot well from the field making 5-of-8 shots (2-of-3 from long range) for 12 points. He also had five assists, three rebounds, and a sensational block on a Fortson lay up attempt.

Junior continues his solid play

Gary Johnson is beginning to master his role on this team. He's been a very solid substitute for James, and the senior's foul trouble against the Razorbacks allowed Johnson to log 25 minutes on the floor and pick up 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Johnson was once again the force on the glass that he needs to be with James on the bench as he pulled down seven rebounds, three of which came on the offensive board. Johnson seems to be getting better each game, and his play will be pivotal to the success of the Longhorns for the remainder of the season.

Growing Pains…

Freshmen J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton have displayed loads of talent and potential this season, but the mental side of the game is still a work in progress. The two combined for five turnovers and scored five points a piece against Arkansas. Brown has quite a bit of improvement to make before he can earn the starting point guard position, and it all starts with protecting the ball and making the right decisions.

Hamilton can really fill it up, but he must knock the habit of throwing up bad shots. He's proved that he possesses all the tools to be a complete player, and Barnes has the duty of molding the talented freshman into a solid player who can be trusted with heavy minutes.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

Dexter Pittman - 2
Jordan Hamilton - 1

The Big Number

57

The number of points scored by three veterans - James, Pittman and Johnson. The veteran talent and leadership on this team surpasses most other Longhorn teams in the past decade, and these three accounted for 60 percent of the teams offense against the Razorbacks. This squad is stacked with talent from top to bottom, but the juniors and seniors showed tonight that they can take over a game if need be.

Up Next…

The Longhorns will open up conference play at home this Saturday, January 9 against the Colorado Buffaloes. Tip off is set for 12:45 PM at the Erwin Center.



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