February 5, 2009

The BIG Review: UT drops another at home

Rick Barnes said after Wednesday night's 69-65 loss to Missouri that this year's team is starting to remind him of the 2004-05 team that lost LaMarcus Aldridge to a hip injury and P.J. Tucker to academics - leaving no vocal leaders.

But even after losing two star players that team didn't do what this one has done - lose consecutive home games. The 16th-ranked Longhorns, coming off an overtime loss to Kansas State on Saturday, suffered back-to-back home losses for the first time since 2002.

Seven years ago, the losses were to No. 2 Kansas and No. 13 Oklahoma State. These were to unranked K-State and unranked Mizzou. Texas, which had a pathetic loss at Missouri last season, hadn't lost to the Tigers at home since 1999.

"For this team to get where it wants to go, some guys are going to have to step out of their personality," Barnes said. "We're making the same mistakes over and over again. To me, that's about concentration and maturity."

With the game tied at 65, A.J. Abrams had a good look at a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left, but missed.

The Tigers worked the clock for the last shot. Mizzou's Zaire Taylor spread the floor and drove to the basket thanks to a great screen by DeMarre Carroll. Taylor scored on a driving layup and drew a foul from Justin Mason. The free throw made it Mizzou 68-65. Then, with 5.5 seconds left, Texas tried to get the ball to half court to call timeout. But Connor Atchley's baseball pass was easily intercepted by Carroll. Game over.

"We've got to move on," said Abrams, who had 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting with two assists and two turnovers. "We've got another game Saturday, so we've got to move on."

That game Saturday is at Nebraska, a horrible matchup for the Longhorns (15-6, 4-3 Big 12) right now considering UT is struggling so much on offense right now and is allowing those woes to impact the defense. The Cornhuskers (14-7, 4-4), who have won two straight on the road (at Texas Tech and at Colorado), are the league's best defensive team - holding opponents to 58 points per game.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

After missing 3-of-8 foul shots in overtime against Kansas State in an 85-81 loss, Texas missed 4-of-9 free throws in the final 5:51 of the loss to Missouri.

Mason was 2-of-4, Dexter Pittman was 1-of-3 and Gary Johnson was 1-of-2.

In a one-possession game like the last two, those misses are deadly.

After giving the indication on Saturday it was time to sit down Atchley, Barnes started his fifth-year center but didn't leave him in for long. Atchley, who was 1-of-5 shooting for two points and five rebounds, played only seven minutes in the first half.

Pittman, meanwhile, played 11 minutes in the first half and dominated, hitting 5-of-7 from close range and made 4-of-5 foul shots for 14 points.

STAR OF THE GAME

Pittman finished 9-of-12 from the floor and 7-of-10 from the foul line with 25 points, seven rebounds, two turnovers and two blocks. Pittman was the star of the game because Missouri extends its guards to pressure the ball and left Pittman down low against Mizzou's undersized forwards.


"You give and take with Pittman," DeMarre Carroll said. "He's a great player. We've got guys who are only 6-8 and 6-9 down there battling with Pittman. As you could see he was getting winded. So even though he was scoring, we were trying to get out quick and get down the floor."

Added Missouri coach Mike Anderson, "We were fortunate to sneak one on the road against an excellent Texas team.

"They are one of the best defensive teams in the country. We had no answer for Dexter Pittman. All my scrawny guys couldn't match up. But we hit a big shot at the end with Zaire Taylor and held on. He saw it where he got a screen, attacked and got to the basket. He stepped up and made a play for us.

"We tried to get after Abrams and Damion James. When you do that, you don't pay attention to some other guys. I thought Mason wore down. But Pittman was a beast out there."


UNSUNG HERO

The unsung hero for Texas was its 2-3 zone defense. Barnes dusted off his zone for the first time in a long time. After using it extensively last season, Barnes tossed it aside this season because of the ball pressure he could get from guards Varez Ward and Justin Mason.

But Barnes is ready to return to the zone, which helped slow down Missouri after the Tigers went up by six - 48-42 - with 9:53 left in the game. Barnes said the zone helps Pittman not get as winded as fast as when he's playing man.

"I like us playing man because of what Varez and Justin can do," Barnes said. "But we may play more zone because for us to be as good as we can be, Dexter has to be on the floor. So we are working more with Dexter in the zone."

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

In addition to Atchley, Damion James struggled coming off his knee injury suffered against Kansas State. James had only six points on 3-of-8 shooting with 10 rebounds. James' injury appeared to affect his aggressiveness attacking the basket. He didn't shoot a single free throw.


But James looked like Kobe compared to Gary Johnson, who just seemed lost from the start. Johnson was 2-of-10 shooting for seven points with one rebound in 17 minutes.

"It was Gary's defense that caused me to take him out," Barnes said. "We just can't have that. I don't know what was wrong with him."

TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

Any of Pittman's five dunks.

LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

Dunks for the Missouri game:

Dexter Pittman - 5
Damion James - 1
Clint Chapman - 1

For the season:

Damion James - 32
Dexter Pittman - 28
Gary Johnson - 6
Justin Mason - 6
Clint Chapman - 5
Connor Atchley - 5
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1

THE BIG NUMBER

25-32


Dexter Pittman finished with 25 points, and all of UT's starters combined had 32 points.

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