March 11, 2009

Dexter Pittman is coming of age at UT

Yes, Dexter Pittman looked like Mt. Fuji on the Lubbock Plains against Colorado Wednesday in a 67-56 victory in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. No, he won't look that way Thursday against Kansas State, which has 6-11 Darren Kent and 6-10, 265-pound Luis Colon.

And Colorado never attempted to double-team him - not once that I could see - as he was piling up 26 points and 10 rebounds.

"It should have been 35 and something," Rick Barnes said.

"Yeah, I missed some free throws," Pittman said.

"What about the missed layups?" Barnes said.

There were a lot of laughs. Former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who coached Pittman's dad, Johnny, at OSU, asked Dexter how he became such a good free-throw shooter. (Pittman has worked tirelessly on his free throw shooting, and it's paid off.)

"Coach Sutton said I'm a much better free throw shooter than my dad," Dexter laughed.

But that's a perfect place to start when measuring Pittman's confidence. He was a 47 percent free throw shooter as a freshman, then a 56 percent FT shooter last season. This season, he's hitting 74 percent. Think of all the players (Shaq and Tim Duncan for starters) who'd love to see their percentages shoot up like that. It takes discipline and concentration. Especially with hands the size of bed mattresses.

"People have no idea how hard it is to shoot when you have hands as big as Dexter's," Barnes said. "I told him we need him to be a good free throw shooter, because teams are going to foul him - a lot."

Pittman is finally becoming a centerpiece on this Texas team. He's averaging 19.3 points the last three games (against Baylor, Kansas and Colorado) and has the confidence of his teammates.

"We've always had confidence in Dex," A.J. Abrams said. "He has put in so much work over the years. He deserves what he's getting. Not too many people can stop him. We will keep giving him the ball and play through him because he is a dominant force."

Now Pittman and the Longhorns have to carry things over to Thursday's quarterfinal game against Kansas State at 2 p.m. Barnes played a bunch of 2-3 zone against Colorado, which should help perserve Pittman's legs, although Barnes bristled at questions about him playing zone to rest Pittman, who played 28 minutes.

"The middle of that zone is a tough place to play," Barnes said. "Dexter gave up eight quick points in the middle of that zone the last time we played Colorado, and that's why he wasn't a factor in that game."

Pittman played only 12 minutes in UT's 85-76 overtime victory at Boulder on Valentine's Day. Now, he's a different player.

"I worried about Colorado running guards at me and putting fouls on me in that first game," Pittman said. "This time, I just got lost in the game and did my thing."

That's the biggest difference in Pittman. He used to worry. He doesn't anymore. Now, he's a guy opposing teams have to gameplan for.

Abrams knows all about that. Teams have been scheming for him all season. But with help from Pittman, Abrams was able to play a smart, efficient game for Texas instead of forcing a bunch of shots. Abrams was 4-of-6 shooting for 10 points with four rebounds, one assist, no turnovers and FIVE steals.

Despite Pittman's play lately, he didn't get Kevin Durant's locker in the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room. That went to Damion James, who struggled shooting the ball against Colorado (4-of-13) and will have to pick it up against K-State.

The Wildcats went to Austin and ended UT's 19-game home win streak as Denis Clemente went for 44 points in an 85-81 overtime upset.

"He'll do it again if we don't play some defense on him," Balbay said. "We have to get focused."

Added Pittman, "We took them for granted. We can't do that again, and we won't."

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