Texas center Dexter Pittman has had no trouble dominating opponents from mid-major conferences—it’s the opponents from BCS schools that have given him problems. That isn’t encouraging news for coach Rick Barnes with Big 12 play starting this weekend.
Pittman looks to build off the best game of his career in his final non-conference tuneup on Tuesday when the seventh-ranked Longhorns visit Arkansas, which knocked off a Top 5 team from the Big 12 a week ago.
The 6-foot-10 Pittman averaged just under seven minutes per game as a sophomore last season, but Barnes has expanded his role this season for Texas (11-2), which has been picked to finish second in the Big 12.
Pittman has started the Longhorns’ last 12 games and finished with career highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds in Friday’s 78-43 victory over Appalachian State.
With leading scorer A.J. Abrams, who is averaging 19.0 points, struggling and finishing with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, Pittman took over and scored Texas’ final seven points of the first half and the first six of the second.
“I was doing the execution that coach wanted, when coach told me to look inside, get the ball and duck in, and it worked all game,” the 298-pound Pittman said.
Pittman is averaging 19.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in the Longhorns’ last three home games against Appalachian State, Texas Southern and Texas State, but away from Austin when the competition is a little stiffer, the big man has struggled.
Texas has faced then-No. 15 Villanova, then-No. 19 Michigan State and Wisconsin in its last three games away from home, and Pittman averaged just 6.0 points and 3.3 boards in those games.
“Overall Dexter is getting better and he’s putting the time in,” Barnes said.
With the Longhorns opening Big 12 play Saturday against Iowa State, Barnes would probably like to see Pittman duplicate Friday’s performance against Arkansas (11-1) and its center Michael Washington.
After leading the Razorbacks to a 96-88 win over then-No. 4 Oklahoma last Tuesday, Washington scored a career-high 34 points in Saturday’s 86-75 win over North Texas on Saturday.
Washington was 12-of-15 from the floor and also added 11 rebounds on Saturday after scoring 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting in the win over the Sooners. The 6-foot-9 Washington is averaging 20.8 points on 69.9 percent shooting and 10.7 rebounds in his last six games.
“Michael Washington isn’t surprising me at all this year with the way he has been playing,” said Stefan Welsh, a junior like Washington. “I knew he could play like this every night when I came to school here as a freshman with him. He’s capable of playing like this every single night.”
Welsh added 19 points on Saturday for Arkansas, which has won nine straight games since a 62-57 loss to Missouri State on Nov. 22.
The Razorbacks and Longhorns haven’t played since Texas’ 80-76 home win on Dec. 20, 2006, as Abrams finished with 14 points.
Texas leads the all-time series 85-65 over its former Southwest Conference rival, but it hasn’t visited Arkansas since the Razorbacks’ 101-89 win on Jan. 10, 1991.
Arkansas is 5-2 against Top 25 teams since the start of last season, and has won its last three home games against Top 10 opponents.
“Texas is a good team, but we’re not going to get caught up in the pre-game hype,” said freshman guard Courtney Fortson, who is averaging 15.3 points. “We’re just going to go out and play hard just like any other game, so go ahead and get your hardhats and lunch pails because it’s going to be a good game.”
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