After winning a pair of difficult tests against top-10 opponents before Christmas, Texas will come out of the break to find one of the weakest opponents on its schedule.
The second-ranked Longhorns don’t figure to have much trouble handing Gardner-Webb its eighth straight defeat as the Runnin’ Bulldogs visit Austin on Tuesday.
Texas (11-0) eliminated any doubt about its status among the nation’s best with a pair of impressive victories before the holiday.
After a 103-90 win over reigning national champion North Carolina - then ranked 10th - at Cowboys Stadium on Dec. 19, the Longhorns knocked off the other 2009 NCAA tournament finalist, beating then-No. 9 Michigan State 79-68 last Tuesday.
Texas coach Rick Barnes’ biggest challenge after his team shot 56.1 percent against the Spartans may be keeping the Longhorns grounded.
“I told them it’s great. It’s December,” Barnes said. “I said if this is as good as we’re gonna be, we’re in trouble. We’ve got a lot of room for growth.”
Still, Barnes has to like what he has seen, especially from senior Damion James, who averaged 24.0 points and 14.0 rebounds in the games against North Carolina and Michigan State.
James broke Texas’ school rebounding record against the Spartans, stepping up while 6-foot-10 center Dexter Pittman was limited to 12 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I’m not even playing my best basketball right now,” James said. “And that’s what’s scary.”
The Longhorns also got a strong performance in that game from reserve freshman Jordan Hamilton, who had 14 points and was 4 of 6 from 3-point range. Along with J’Covan Brown and Avery Bradley, Hamilton is one of three Texas freshmen averaging more than 10 points.
“I think (facing Michigan State) was a great experience for the freshmen,” Barnes said. “They understand how this game is going to be played. The great thing is that those younger guys will continue to improve the way they have to.”
Texas certainly won’t need any improvement to beat Gardner-Webb as the Longhorns try to begin 12-0 for the first time since winning their first 14 games in 1981-82.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs (3-7) won their first three games, but none were against Division I opponents. Their seven consecutive losses to Division I foes have come by an average of 25.9 points.
Gardner-Webb hasn’t played since a 104-57 loss at Penn State on Dec. 19, during which coach Rick Scruggs benched seniors Grayson Flittner and Auryn MacMillan in the second half. Flittner is averaging 9.2 points after leading the team with 14.5 per game last season.
“I just didn’t think (Flittner) deserved to play much,” Scruggs said. “We just didn’t think the seniors showed a lot of leadership and we didn’t think they showed a lot of heart tonight so we just sat them.”
The coach will hope for more of the same, however, out of little-used senior Anton Silver, who had a career-high 26 points and was 6 of 8 from 3-point range against the Nittany Lions.