A victory over Texas A&M last month extended Texas’ perfect start. After a rough few weeks, the 21st-ranked Longhorns now just want to finish strong.
Texas and Texas A&M meet in College Station on Saturday with the teams trying to gain an inside track to a first-round bye for the Big 12 tournament.
Damion James scored seven of his 26 points in overtime and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Longhorns (22-6, 8-5) beat the Aggies 72-67 in their first game as the No. 1 team in the country, improving to 17-0.
Texas, though, has dropped six of nine since that victory and is in a three-way tie for fourth with Texas A&M (19-9, 8-5) and No. 24 Baylor, one game behind Missouri. The top four teams receive a bye into the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals in Kansas City, Mo.
While the Longhorns did go into a month-long swoon that had them drop six of nine, they appear to have regrouped and are trying to win three in a row for the first time since their 17-0 start. Senior center Dexter Pittman, who averaged 4.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in his first six games in February, had 16 points and eight rebounds in a 69-59 victory Wednesday over Oklahoma State.
James finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while Jordan Hamilton added 13 points off the bench.
“Dexter went 5-for-5, Damion 6-for-9 and Gary 2-for-4, those guys have got to get it more,” coach Rick Barnes said. “We’ll keep working on it. Those guys need to touch it more.”
The 6-foot-10 Pittman may be the key for the Longhorns to regain their status as a top team in the nation. He averaged 6.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in the 10 games before Wednesday’s victory, and his 16 points were the most since he had 21 against Arkansas on Jan. 5.
“I knew what to when I got the ball tonight: just go up strong, dunk it or use my skill,” the senior center said. “Sometimes I overthink the game.”
Pittman, though, wasn’t much of an offensive factor in the win over Texas A&M, going 0 for 5 from the field and finishing with four points. He did, however, block six shots in 28 minutes.
Pittman will match up with Texas A&M forward Bryan Davis, who has averaged 11.5 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last six games. The Aggies enter this contest trying to regroup from a 70-66 loss at Baylor in which the senior had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Donald Sloan added 22 points, but the duo had little help as Texas A&M failed to overcome a 13-point deficit despite a second-half rally.
The 6-9 Davis will anchor a frontcourt that will try to neutralize a Texas team that leads the nation in rebounding at 43.7 per game. The Aggies allowed the Longhorns 17 offensive rebounds in the first game between the teams, including five by James.
James is scoring a team-high 17.7 points per game with a Big 12-leading 10.7 rebounds. He is averaging 23.3 points and 10.0 boards in the last three games versus Texas A&M.
Slowing down Aggies senior guard Donald Sloan will likely be a defensive priority for Texas in this matchup. Sloan, the No. 4 scorer in the Big 12 this season with 18.1 points per game, scored 21 in the Jan. 16 game in Austin.
Texas, which has lost five straight at Texas A&M, leads the all-time series 132-84.