A deep, balanced attack has helped Texas live up to its billing during a dominating start, and the third-ranked Longhorns will be rewarded with a tournament title if they can get one more victory.
The season hasn’t begun in quite the same fashion for Pittsburgh, but the rebuilding Panthers will try to pull off an upset over Texas in Tuesday’s CBE Classic final in Kansas City.
A loaded roster combining seniors Damion James and Dexter Pittman with one of the nation’s best recruiting classes earned the Longhorns (3-0) their lofty early rank, and they’ve lived up to the hype with a trio of victories by at least 25 points.
They used a ruthless second half to beat Iowa 85-60 in the tournament semifinals on Monday after the game was tied at the midway point. James and Pittman were two of the five Texas players to score in double figures, with Pittman scoring 11 of his 15 after the break.
James added 12 rebounds to become the third player in school history to total at least 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“Coach told me and Damion we didn’t show the first half,” Pittman said. “I took it on myself to go out there and make a difference.”
Highly touted freshmen Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley also chipped in, with Hamilton scoring a team-high 16 and shooting 4 of 8 from 3-point range in 20 minutes off the bench.
Bradley got his first collegiate start, scoring 11 points with a 4-of-6 performance from the field, helping Texas shoot 55.6 percent. The Longhorns have made more than 53.0 percent of their field goals in each of their three games.
Their defense has been perhaps even more impressive, with opponents shooting a combined 28.4 percent from the field - among the best in the nation. The team is also outrebounding opponents by an average of more than 14 per game.
While Texas has reloaded after earning a No. 7 seed in the 2009 NCAA tournament and losing in the second round, Pittsburgh has moved in the opposite direction after it was a top seed last spring. This season’s team was picked to finish ninth in the Big East by the league’s coaches.
The Panthers (4-0) have moved on after losing Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields, their top three scorers on the team that went 31-5. While they’ve remained unbeaten, their victories include a three-point win over Wofford and an 11-point victory over Eastern Kentucky, both at home.
Pitt beat Wichita State 68-55 in the semifinal on Monday night, with redshirt freshman guard Travon Woodall leading the way. The 5-foot-11 Woodall had a career-high 19 points, adding six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Sophomore Ashton Gibbs, who has emerged as the team’s leading scorer, added 18 points, just missing his third straight game with at least 20. He averaged just 4.3 points in a reserve role as a freshman.
The programs haven’t faced off since their only previous meeting, a 91-87 Pitt win on Nov. 29, 1991 in the Preseason NIT.
Longtime Longhorns fans may remember Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Texas 55-54 while playing for TCU in 1986.