January 26, 2010

Texas faces make-or-break games against Tech, Baylor

No. 6 Texas (17-2, 3-1 Big 12) vs. Texas Tech (14-5, 2-3)

WHEN: Wednesday, 8 p.m. CT, Hum Drum

TV: ESPNU (Dan McLaughlin and Tim Welsh)

Many of you wanted me to ask Rick Barnes the hard questions on topics we've been discussing at length in the wake of back-to-back road losses to Kansas State and UConn.

On Tuesday, that's what I did. Here's Barnes talking about what it will take to get Dexter Pittman and J'Covan Brown going ... his thoughts on playing zone ... his thoughts on if Justin Mason makes the spacing difficult for Pittman and if he'll change the starting lineup ...

Q: What's it going to take to get Dexter Pittman going? (Pittman is the Big 12 leader in FG percentage at 68.1 percent, but he's 7-of-19 shooting, 36.8 percent, the last four games.)

BARNES: "We've got to look for him. We're not looking at him as much as we did early, but some of that is because of foul trouble. He's got to stay on the floor. When he's out there, we do have to make sure we're aware of him.

"If we can get him the ball all the time, that's another thing. But we've got to look for him more, and he's working hard himself to try to do some different things to give himself a little more room to work down there."

Q: Doesn't having Justin Mason out there, especially at the beginning of games, hurt the spacing for someone like Dex because teams don't guard Mase on the perimeter and can sag off and crowd Dex?

"Yeah, it does, but we've answered that question all year. You go back to the game against Kansas State, they guarded Dogus and they guarded Mase.

"The other day (against UConn), they came out and guarded Dogus for a while and guarded Mase for a while. When you go into games, your opponent is going to dictate some things.

"If you play an opponent that's going to sag back in there, do we have to get more movement? Absolutely. Do we have to get Mase in a position where people have to guard him? Yes. Every game is different. It depends on how an opponent chooses to play him."

Q: Will you make any lineup changes?

"In terms of how we start, we're not going to do anything there. We haven't changed our starting lineup all year. I'm not worrying about that. I'm worrying about tomorrow (against Texas Tech).

"Only thing we can control is trying to get each guy better, get each guy confident and get each guy understanding his role, and by the end of the year we would like to think whatever we are presented with we could handle."

Q: What about playing some zone to help keep Pittman on the floor and protect him from foul trouble or from getting winded?

"We've thought about that. We could do that. We have a zone. We haven't used it much. But it goes both ways. If we want to be a team that plays a high-possession game, it's hard to sit back in a zone, especially when teams like Pitt aren't going to let us get out and run.

"They would set up and take 20 or 25 seconds off the clock. You go to a zone with the way we're trying to play, you might as well get used to that because teams are going to hold the ball.

"To create high possessions, it's hard to do that playing a zone. But we have it, and we could use it, like you said, to protect Dexter from foul trouble.

"In some ways, it's as hard or harder to play zone than it is man. And if teams know we're trying to protect somebody, the other team is still going to find a way to attack that person."

Barnes went on to say he thinks his best on-the-ball defenders, guys like Dogus Balbay and Avery Bradley, would be as effective in a zone as they would be in man.

"Guys who are effective and aggressive in man defense, I think are the same in a zone," Barnes said. "I do think that. They guys who defend in man defend in zone, I do believe that.

"But it takes time to be good at it. We've said all year we want to be the best man team we can be. We're still not there yet. We've had times we've played pretty well. But we've had a couple games where we weren't very good."

Q: J'Covan Brown is a guy who really helped the team early, but ever since Jai Lucas has become eligible on Dec. 22, Brown's numbers have been way off. What has changed for Brown?

(In the nine games since Lucas has become eligible, Brown is shooting 28.8 percent, 23 of 80 from the field. In the first nine games of the season, Brown shot 42.5 percent, 34 of 80.)

"When he (J'Covan) misses some shots, he lets it get him down. That's being young. When you go back and look, I think he's 1-for-11 the last two games.

"But he's too good a player to let that affect his whole game. But I think young players do that. Even some older players do that. When they miss a shot, they drop their head for a second.

"They don't get back in transition and compound the problem. There's nothing wrong with missing a good shot. That's part of the game. And I think for the most part, J'Covan's shots have been good shots, shots we want him to take.

"But I think that's what he's fighting right now, that he doesn't feel the confidence on the offensive end. But he's too good a player to let it effect him on the other end."

Q: Do you see any correlation with Brown's numbers suffering once Jai Lucas became eligible, giving J'Covan another guy to compete with for minutes?

"There's enough minutes there. J'Covan is a guy who would rather be off the ball. I think he should be a guy who wouldn't mind being on the ball at times.

"We like him being on the ball because he's a guy we feel like has great ability to get his own shot. But I don't think his numbers dropping has anything to do with when Jai came on."

Barnes continued to call the UConn game "the worst defensive effort of the season" and said he was most disappointed with the effort his guys gave on the defensive end.

"The million-dollar question is why didn't we get the effort because we've got guys who want to do the right thing," Barnes said. "We don't have attitude problems on this team. And I'm talking everybody.

"In the game at UConn, we didn't get the kind of effort we were expecting from anyone on the floor.

"When Dogus picked up the three fouls in about 20 seconds, that put us in a little different situation because he is a guy who really sets the tone for us.

"He's the tone-setter on the defensive end for us. And once that left, we really went downhill defensively.

"When you've got a lead and the other team is reeling, you've got to make them score through you. You can't go for steals on the perimeter and give them a free ride to the basket.

"You can't give up the ball on an inbounds pass and have it turn into a three-point play. You can't have those plays. I think we're learning in some situations.

"But these guys have had good attitudes all year. I'm sure they're disappointed. They've come back and tried to work. We're still at the end of January, and now's the time to keep working to get better."

MY TAKE: Barnes gave the guys the day off on Monday, and I think that was probably good because the players look like they've been pressing the last several games. Big guys missing easy shots can be an example of guys playing tight.

Will be interesting to see how Pittman comes out against Tech. It's a game he could dominate. Pat Knight has suspended his center, Darko Cohadarevic, for the Texas game.

I think Pittman has really been pressing. Think about it. The guy has worked harder than anyone to drop 100 pounds. He has NBA dreams, and he's not producing like he was at the start of the year.

Some of it is how teams are game-planning him. A lot of teams are sitting on his left shoulder because that's the direction he turns for his righty hook. But I do think Mason in the starting lineup hurts Dex and makes it harder for him to get going.

I think a guy like J'Covan Brown with Dogus Balbay creates more spacing for Pittman. (Which is amazing to say considering how poorly J'Covan is shooting it. But I think a start and some stern reminders about taking care of the ball and giving great defensive effort would do Brown well.)

I think J'Covan is a guy who probably gets a little confidence boost from being a starter. Even though the coaches say who's in the starting lineup isn't important.

I think some zone would help. At times. Not saying become Syracuse. Just as a change of pace.

This week is huge. As Gary Johnson said today if Texas suffers another loss in conference play, it gets hard to win the regular-season title.

The games this week against Texas Tech and Baylor (on Saturday at 3 p.m. on the Big 12 Network) are must wins with the next three games being road trips to Oklahoma State (Feb. 1), Oklahoma (Feb. 6) and a home game against Kansas (Feb. 8).

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