March 3, 2009

The BIG Review: UT quiets NCAA doubters

Texas popped all the bubbles and erased any doubt about whether the Longhorns will be in the NCAA Tournament Monday night in a 73-57 rout of Baylor by attacking the rim and playing defense.

And the guy leading the way was junior guard Justin Mason, who played only 19 minutes without a point in a loss at Oklahoma State but bounced back for 14 points - almost all of them at the rim - with four assists and no turnovers.

"I wanted to focus on being aggressive," Mason said. "Whether I'm making shots or not, I just need to be attacking."

Said Rick Barnes, "I thought Justin was terrific tonight. He played really well defensively, but he's aggressive on the offensive end, and that's the Justin Mason we've come to know for most of his three years here."

Barnes asked his team on Sunday where they were mentally. He asked them if they were worried about making the NCAA Tournament. Damion James stepped up and said he was worried about Baylor but added concerns about the NCAA tourney were in the back of his mind.

"I told them we play the kind of schedule we play so that our non-conference schedule will help carry us," Barnes said. "But I also told them they owed it to Connor (Atchley) and A.J. (Abrams) to play the best they could and give them everything they had to send them out at home the right way."

When Barnes was asked if Texas improving to 20-9 and 9-6 in the Big 12 cemented an NCAA tourney bid, Barnes said, "You do your body of work and come next Sunday, you hope it's good enough."

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

Texas dominated Baylor in the paint - 48-22. If it wasn't Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay driving to the rim, it was Dexter Pittman (7-of-8 for 16 points with seven rebounds) and Clint Chapman (3-of-6 for 6 points and three rebounds) pounding it inside.

"They dictated the tempo and got inside," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "For us, you're not going to win on the road shooting 31 percent. They did a good job contesting. We missed some. But they did a good job contesting. They showed us what we need to do Saturday to close out the regular season at home."

STAR OF THE GAME

Justin Mason. A.J. Abrams was blanketed by Baylor's Tweety Carter and held to 3-of-7 shooting (7-of-8 from the foul line) and 14 points on Senior Night. Damion James and Connor Atchley were in foul trouble (James played eight minutes in the first half because of two fouls, and Atchley played 3 minutes). Mason was 4-of-4 from the floor and 2-of-3 from foul line for 10 points as UT built a 35-24 lead at intermission.

UNSUNG HERO

Pittman. It was his 21st birthday, and the 9,735 fans at the Hum Drum serenaded Sexy Dexy with "Happy Birthday" at the 16:14 mark of the second half. When Pittman was asked if he was going to celebrate his birthday, he said, "No. Got to go to the dentist in the morning, then get my back worked on and then to study hall. Got to get my academics first."

The funniest line of the night came from Barnes when asked if Pittman was going to be able to cope, when Abrams, Pittman's best buddy, moves on from Texas after this season.

"A.J. and Dexter and Harrison (Smith) are like the Three Musketeers," Barnes said. "It's like having an elephant with a flea on his back. Not that A.J.'s a flea or Dexter is an elephant." At that point, the reporters on hand were laughing so hard, Barnes just tailed off.

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

We could go with Damion James (9 points, 11 rebounds in 22 minutes) and Connor Atchley (2 points, 0 rebounds and 1 turnover in 11 minutes) who both picked up two fouls in the first half and saw their minutes limited and finished well below their season averages. Or we could go with Varez Ward, who didn't get a single minute on the floor (Said Barnes when asked about Ward, "Other guys are just getting it done right now.")

We could go with Baylor's starting guards - Curtis Jerrells (3-of-17), LaceDarius Dunn (3-of-12) and Tweety Carter (2-of-7) - a huge reason the Bears shot only 31.6 percent.

But let's go with the officials, who dragged this game to its knees by calling every tick and every tack - getting both teams into the double bonus with 9:48 to play. I'm sure ESPN enjoyed having the game drag on longer than an Oliver Stone film.

THE BENCH

The Longhorns' bench devoured Baylor 28-10, led by Pittman's 16 points and six points each from Harrison Smith and Clint Chapman. Smith played a career-high 21 minutes Monday night after playing a career-high 17 minutes at Oklahoma State.

"Harrison was more nervous tonight than at Oklahoma State," Barnes said. "People know he'll shoot it. So they can't sag off him. He should have shot it a couple more times tonight. Tonight, I thought he was patient trying to get the ball to Dexter. He's solid. He's solid in what he's done the last two games."

TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

Bronze -
Justin Mason's driving layup with 9:51 left in the half after a full-court pass from Dogus Balbay, putting Texas up, 21-9.

Silver - Clint Chapman's spin move in the lane for a layup with 33.2 seconds left in the half, putting Texas up, 35-21, which helped make up for Chapman's whiffed dunk attempt with 6:31 left in the half.

Gold - Justin Mason all but giving up a kidney to feed the ball to Atchley for a layup with 4:11 left in the game, so Atchley would at least walk out of Senior Night with two points.

LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

Dunks against Baylor:

Dexter Pittman - 2

Dunks for the season:

Damion James - 42
Dexter Pittman - 33
Gary Johnson - 8
Justin Mason - 7
Connor Atchley - 6
Clint Chapman - 5
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1

THE BIG NUMBER

41-29

Texas dominated Baylor on the glass, including 10 offensive boards as UT beat Baylor 12-6 on second-chance points.

FINAL ANALYSIS

I can't explain how little effort Baylor appeared to play with, so it's hard to gauge how well Texas really played in this one. Let's just say Justin Mason's drives to the basket will be a little more difficult Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. The Bears taped over the names on the backs of their jerseys before their victory over Colorado on Saturday because Drew said he thought his team was a bunch of individuals playing for themselves. He wanted them to play for the name on the front of their jerseys (stop me if you've heard that one before). But the shot selection of Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn was mind-boggling. Nonetheless, Texas is in the Big Dance regardless of what happens at Kansas on Saturday.


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