Dexter Pittman and No. 2 Texas ready for showdown with No. 9 Michigan State

Spartans just the latest target in sights

December 22, 2009|By Shannon Ryan On college basketball

AUSTIN, Texas - Dexter Pittman admits he needed to get mad. And Texas coach Rick Barnes knew how to push the proper buttons to accomplish that.

Before the Longhorns faced North Carolina on Saturday, Barnes led Pittman into the gym for an early season message. Running and conducting drills for an hour and a half was a way to jolt Pittman out of his "mentally relaxed" mode, Pittman said.

"Like an NBA predraft camp but harder," he said.

Pittman grasped the message and delivered with 23 points and 15 rebounds in a 103-90 victory against the Tar Heels. Everyone else got the message too.

"Me and Damion James just had to go out and show (we) belong in the top front lines in the country," the 6-foot-10 senior center said.

Pittman knows the next challenge is following through.

After taking out the 2009 national champion, the No. 2 Longhorns (10-0) have a shot to wipe out the runner-up when No. 9 Michigan State (9-2) visits Austin on Tuesday night.

"We have to go out and be tougher than they are and put our will out there," Pittman said.

The Longhorns aren't eager to smooth the chips on their shoulders - Kansas being ranked No. 1, North Carolina's front line being deemed best in the nation.

"We're the underdog even in football, playing Alabama," Pittman said, referring to the BCS championship game.

With a strong backcourt but inexperienced post players, Michigan State poses different challenges than the Tar Heels.

Barnes called Spartans point guard Kalin Lucas "arguably the best in the country."

The Spartans have won three straight against Texas thanks to forward Raymar Morgan, who averages 14.7 points against the Longhorns. While the Spartans have stumbled against quality teams so far, Morgan could determine their success. In the last six games, he's scoring 13.8 points per game while shooting 63.6 percent.

Of course, Texas is as far from a solo act as a symphony orchestra.

Led by James' 16.4 points per game, four starters average double digits and nine players average at least 17 minutes. Pittman averages 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds.

He has lost about 100 pounds since arriving on campus and now weighs 290, which has allowed him not only to attack the basket more freely but also to walk around a little more comfortably in the locker room.

"Look at his before and after pictures," Barnes said. "He wouldn't take his shirt off in a dark room. Now he takes it off and says, 'Hey, look at me.' He feels good about how hard he's worked, and he should."

Barnes aims for Pittman to play about 26 minutes. He hit that target against North Carolina.

The feeling from that gym session with Barnes won't wear off soon, Pittman said.

"I see why he did it," Pittman said. "I'm angry, so I'll just take my rage out on the team we're playing."

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