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Another Ugly Win, as 'Horns Improve to 6-0

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The No. 2 Texas Longhorns improved to 6-0 by outlasting USC, 69-50, at the Erwin Center. For the second straight game, the margin of victory does not indicate the closeness of the game. The ‘Horns led just 33-27 at the break, and in the second half, the Trojans twice trimmed the lead to just four points.

Like many of our first half dozen contests, Texas was too deep and too strong down the stretch. The Longhorn defense tightened, eventually holding USC to just 30% from the floor, and Texas cruised in the final quarter of the game. The Trojans scored just three points in the final six minutes.

As PB noted, this one was not pretty. Texas came out ice cold from the floor and from behind the arc. The Longhorns started like 9-of-33 before eventually improving their shooting to a respectable 41% on the game. Texas was 0-for-8 from three before J'Covan Brown and Justin Mason both connected late in the second half.  Last, the free throw shooting went the other way. I think Texas was close to 80% early in the game before clanking their way home. The Longhorns finished a horrific, 19-of-34, 56%.

It's late, so bullet points will have to suffice:

  • Damion James was very good tonight (19 pts, 9 boards, and 7-of-10 FTs) and easily the offensive player of the game. He remains an effective trash man around the rim and fantastic off one or two dribbles.
  • Dexter Pittman was probably the defensive player of the game with his seven blocked shots. However, as impressive as that stat is, he tried to block at least ten more missing all of them and letting his man pick up easy second chance points around the rim. I would love to see Sexy Dex use a little more discretion when trying to block shots as a help defender. On the other end, with a foot in the paint, he is unstoppable at the college level. Perod. 

More after the jump...

  • Rick Barnes thought Justin Mason played well. I'm not so sure that Varez Ward's injury didn't give Mase a senior campaign that he otherwise would be enjoying from the bench. Don't get me wrong, Justin plays his tail off, does things that don't always show up on the stat sheet, and is a great senior leader. However, I'm still not comfortable with him and Dogus Balbay on the floor at the same time-not enough outside shooting and too many opportunities for defenders' to cheat on Dex and DaMo. It will be interesting to see how Barnes works in Jai Lucas when he becomes eligible in less than two weeks.
  • Dogus Balbay is a pest, in a good way. I can't imagine how tiring he makes the opposing guards. He is simply faster up and down the court as well as laterally than anyone else I've seen in college basketball this season.
  • Avery Bradley must get stronger with the ball around the rim. He was 2-for-10 from the floor. A few of those eight misses were jumpers but he had at least four shots blocked on layups or breakaways dunks when he went weak to the rim. The defense was phenomenal though.
  • J'Covan Brown is never going to be the quickest player on the floor, but like DJ Augustin, his change of pace is something to watch. Brown is always already adept at creating contact in the lane and getting to the line. Thankfully, J'Covan is the one Longhorn at the line that doesn't cause me to look away in horror.
  • Brown and Balbay's passes are often better than the hands of the Texas bigs. Other times, they are a little out of control.
  • Jordan Hamilton plays defense like he's already in the NBA. Neither the focus nor the lateral quickness is there right now. Expect Rick to demand more.
  • Thirteen minutes for Gary Johnson is fine with me.
  • Our free throw shooting is an abomination.
  • The 14 man rotation is already a lot smaller. Varez Ward's injury and Jai Lucas's ineligibility put us at 12. Matt Hill and Clint Chapman put us at 10. Shawn Williams is not there yet and really not close, from what I've seen. That's nine for now.

I said in the comments after the Rice game, this game and the next three (Long Beach St, Texas State, UT Pan-Am) are more about us than they are our opponents. The defense was very good tonight. I still don't think we've put it all together more than just in stretches. It will get there and I'm not worried at all. The freshmen are coming along, the chemistry is improving, and James and Pittman are playing like stars.

To be an elite team, though, the free throw shooting must improve, our three-point shooting must improve, our focus must become more consistent, and our ability to execute in the half court, especially when Pittman sits, has to get better.

Box Score

Next Game: Monday, 12/7 HOME vs. Long Beach State 8 pm ESPNU