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February 14, 2010

Rick Barnes presses right buttons for No. 14 Horns

1. Rick Barnes pressed all the right buttons for his No. 14 Longhorns, who throttled last-place Nebraska 91-51 on Saturday in front of 14,324 at the Hum Drum.

--Barnes reminded his players just how good they could be by showing his team game footage from victories against USC, North Carolina and Michigan State the night before the Nebraska game.

--Barnes started J'Covan Brown (12 points on 4-of-11 shooting, 2-of-6 from 3-pt range with 6 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in 30 minutes) for the first time since a 77-59 victory at Rice on Nov. 29, 2009.

--After starting him for one game, Gary Johnson came in off the bench, and Johnson was brilliant in 26 minutes (13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, 3-3 FT line with 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal).

--Barnes made sure the tempo was way up and dictated to a Nebraska team that was holding opponents to a Big 12-best 62.5 points per game coming into Saturday's contest.

--Barnes used his bench brilliantly, playing 10 guys in the first half, when UT secured its first half-time lead in nine games (53-26). Barnes even limited the minutes of red-hot Avery Bradley (25 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range), who played 26 minutes after averaging 33 minutes the previous four games.

(It kind of looked like a certain 5-point plan floating around Orangebloods.com. Just sayin.)


2. Now, here's the million-dollar question: Will Barnes have his players follow the exact same gameplan Wednesday night at Missouri, a team that will run and press Texas all game?

If you're a Texas fan, you're hoping Barnes will let his guys run with Mizzou and try to beat the Tigers at their own game.

But on Saturday, Barnes' team indeed looked like the Texas team we saw back in December. The kind of team that made it look so easy, you wondered if they could possibly keep it up.

"Today might be the one time that we have really carried over what we have done two days in practice," Barnes said. "We are always putting video together to try to highlight and show our guys when we are playing our very best basketball.

"The one thing we kept emphasizing to them is how easy we make it look when we play our best basketball just by simply moving the ball."


3. Barnes spent most of January trying to break two players - J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton - and nearly broke his entire team.

Barnes explained after Saturday's victory why he felt it was so important to take the approach he did with Brown and Hamilton in January (some of the quotes are very noteworthy):

"I can't tell you what makes the timing for some guys," Barnes said. "All I do know is this. What we do here, it works. It works. And coaches are the worst at over-thinking things. And again, everyone wants to do their part coaching and throwing in their two cents.

"Everyone thinks they know the answer to the problem. Sometimes, I don't know if I know the answer all the time. But from a basketball standpoint, it's easy to figure that part out. The hard part is to get them to carry it over and see it.

"I don't know why it took J'Covan Brown, because he's one of the smartest players we've had. It takes getting out of your comfort zone. It's harder than you think. And he'd tell you it's harder than he ever thought. But he's figuring it out."


4. Jordan Hamilton was as good as he's ever been on Saturday with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting (3-of-7 from 3-point range and 3-of-4 from the FT line) with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 21 minutes.

But Barnes finally revealed after the game just how hot things have gotten between he and Hamilton this season.


"Jordan, I point-blank told him, 'The way you want to play, you're not going to be able to do that at Texas. If that's what you want, you're going to have to leave. We're not changing. If you want to play here, this is what you have to do. And you better understand it right now, or you won't play another minute this year.'

"And I've told him that since November. But for whatever reason, and even in the game at Oklahoma State (when Hamilton scored 27 on 11-of-16 shooting). Of those shots he took, I promise you, a bunch were terrible shots.

"It's fools' gold. You're not going to win with that. I said, 'You may think that.' And then I think he goes 0-of-6 in the next game. And everyone after the Oklahoma State game was saying, 'Is this what you're going to get from him?' And I was thinking, 'Did you just watch the game? Do you know anything about basketball?'

"I don't have a problem with Jordan if he's open. He has deep range. But what I have a problem with is him not being ready and shooting it. His shot-fake should be lethal. Get his man up in the air and then move in and drive or make a mid-range jumper at 6-foot-7.

"My whole deal with him is you have to defend. You can't score 15 and give up 20. You can't do that. Again, I think tonight. We got up, we were making shots.

"All I can tell you is this: at some point during a game like Kansas, you have to have some guys out there who can guard. Because they put five shooters out there. That's why Dogus (Balbay) and (Justin) Mason are so important to this team.

"We thought he (Jordan Hamilton) and J'Covan (Brown) would be out there a long time ago. But I would be willing to die a slow death before I was going to give into those guys and reinforce bad habits."


5. On why it took so long to re-insert J'Covan Brown into the starting lineup:

"J'Covan has done what we wanted him to do," Barnes said. "And we knew coming into this year, when you have both Justin and Dogus on the floor, it's 5 against 3. And they know that. Now, certain games, Kansas State is going to come out here and guard. Missouri is going to come out here and guard.

"So those guys can play together in that game because people guard. But what happens is, J'Covan has finally, it took him longer than we thought.

"And we knew at the beginning of the year if we had to play those two guys (Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay) it was going to be painful. But we also expected by this point, right now, we would be starting three freshmen. Actually, by the end of January.

"I don't care what anyone says, about John Wall (of Kentucky) or anybody. Avery Bradley, Damion James, Dexter Pittman have been playing three against five. That goes back to what we're trying to build to. If we would have put those guys out there too early, we would have lost everybody. And we couldn't do that."


6. When I tried to make the point to Barnes that his team seemed to play with more confidence offensively with J'Covan Brown in the game from the start, he told me it was simply because players were making the extra pass Saturday, something they've been working on in practice.

He pointed to the 19 assists Texas had against Nebraska to make his point. (The 19 assists were the most since Texas had 21 in a victory at Arkansas back on Jan. 5.)

And I said the reason his team had five guys all trying to do it on their own over the past eight games, including missing 103 layups, was because they all felt pressure to make something happen offensively -knowing the team's guards (Balbay and Mason) couldn't generate offense.
Barnes responded with this:


"People are going to say, 'Why haven't we done this earlier?' Here's what people don't understand about the dynamics of a team.

"We have built this program on certain principles. You have to do certain things to play at Texas. And the fact of the matter is, people will say, 'Why didn't you put J'Covan Brown in the lineup? Or Jordan Hamilton?' And you're trying to break habits.

"You're trying to break habits because what's happened in the past, all young players are allowed to get by with slacking here and there. If we reward them when they haven't earned it, what are we doing?

"You're going to take one step forward and three steps backward. And that's what people can't understand unless they are here every day.

"That's why I refuse to judge other people's teams because I'm not there. It's the dynamics that go into making the big picture.

"We're going to win games. That's not what we're trying to do here. We're trying to hopefully one day be the best we can be, get in the tournament, hopefully, and we can play for it."


7. Avery Bradley was the star of the Nebraska game, hitting his first six 3s en route to 25 points in 26 minutes. And like Damion James after the Kansas game, expressed how happy he was to have J'Covan Brown on the floor with him.

"It means a lot," Bradley said. "Dogus can come in and change tempo. J'Covan can come in and slow it down and speed it up. So it just helps out a lot when you have a guy next to you who can make that big of an impact in the game. He was getting me open shots because he's such a threat on the offensive end.

"We wanted to come out and push the ball and play hard the whole game. That's what we did. We wanted everyone to come in and give it their all and to have each other's back the whole game.

"That's our focus right now. We want to get back to how we were playing. We want to be the team we know we can be.

Asked how Texas can maintain the tempo established against Nebraska, Bradley said, "Just by keeping each other focused, keeping each other up. Just having that mindset every game that we're going to play harder than our opponents.

"In becoming a better team, everyone has to accept their roles, and that's what we're starting to do."


8. J'Covan Brown showed why this team appeared to play with so much swagger when he talked about his own outlook for the rest of the year.

"I just want my team to be happy," Brown said. "I want everyone to say at the end of the year that J'Covan really took over this team with everything that he did.

"My job is to take over this team and get us to the national championship game. So I gotta step up and be a big player with this team.

"I told Jordan (Hamilton), 'If you want to be the person that everyone thinks you are, don't worry about your offense. Your offense is always going to be there.'

"I had to learn that defense, in order to win games, we have to play defense. Jordan and I had to take that big step. So that's what I talked to Jordan about most was just playing defense."


9. NEXT UP: At Missouri, 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday, ESPN2. The Tigers are playing their usual running and pressing style. So if Texas matches that tempo, it should be a VERY entertaining game. Mizzou leads the Big 12 in 3-point FG percentage defense (.299), steals (11.4 spg) and turnover margin (+7.1).

The Tigers (18-7, 6-4 Big 12) lost a last-second thriller at Baylor (19-5, 6-4) on Saturday, when Epke Udoh hit a tip-in with 1.6 seconds left for the Bears in a 64-62 victory.


10. If the season ended today, Texas would be the No. 5 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, behind Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Baylor.

A loss to Mizzou on Wednesday and Texas would drop to the No. 6 seed. A victory at Mizzou, on the other hand, would be huge for UT's confidence. The Tigers have only lost once at home this season (to Texas A&M 77-74 on Feb. 3).


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