Texas is thumping teams at home this season by an average of 31 points, and there was about as much of a chance of McNeese State pulling the upset as there is of Trent Lott being elected president of the NAACP. But it was the way Texas won this one that was particularly gratifying for Rick Barnes.
The fifth-year coach (who emphasizes working the ball inside and resisting the easy option of "jacking up a three") pointed out to his team earlier this week that its strength is its post play. Against the Cowboys, Texas registered 66 points in the paint.
"I thought we showed great patience," Barnes said, "and good interior passing to get the ball in there."
The ‘B' Boys (Brad Buckman and Brandon Mouton) were the bookends of a solid shooting night when Texas hit 54.5 percent of its FG attempts (42-of-77). Starting his second game, Buckman's point production was a career high (11 first-half points and 15 overall) while Mouton blew this one open in the second half after the Cowboys had climbed back to within 16.
Mouton led the team the scoring last season (13.7 ppg) but was mired in a shooting slump lately, averaging just 5.5 points in consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Arizona. After connecting on 1-of-4 FG attempts in the first half, the junior scored 10 points in 83 seconds to put Texas up, 71-47, with 9:14 remaining. His scoring barrage included a pair of treys and concluded with a thunderous slam dunk (the result of a Royal Ivey steal and a T.J. Ford assist) that brought most of the 7,127 on-lookers to their feet.
"That one dunk was huge for him," Buckman said. "It was as if this huge weight was lifted off his shoulders."
Mouton would finish with a 6-of-11 shooting night and three rebounds. During his two-game slump (in which Texas narrowly lost to a pair of Top 10 teams), Barnes instructed Mouton to continue to excel at other parts of his game.
"I had two, wide-open looks in the first half and I knew (the ball) would roll in, but it didn't," Mouton said. "I decided to go back and concentrate on playing good defense and being in position and letting the game come to me. I'm a hard-worker. I knew if I keep working hard in practice, and keep putting up a lot of shots and stay confident, I knew the game would come to me."
Texas led 40-22 at intermission on the strength of an 11-0 run followed by a 12-0 run. Meanwhile, Texas held the Cowboys to a 32.3 first-half shooting percentage (35 percent for the game) despite the fact that no Longhorn was whistled for a personal foul until C James Thomas picked one up with 8:44 remaining in the half. (The Cowboys did not shoot a single free throw in the first half.)
Texas missed all ten 3-point attempts in the first 20 minutes (hitting 5-of-9 in the second half) but ultimately worked the ball inside. Thomas (AKA "Mister Double-Double") added 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 10 boards.
"Every time we'd get the ball into the post, we'd score," Buckman said. "We played to our strength in this game, and our strength is our post play."
Ford contributed nine points (4-of-8 FG) and 11 assists in 22 minutes. The All-America candidate averaged 8.43 assists-per-game during the first seven games of the season after becoming the first freshman to lead the NCAA in that category (8.27 apg) in 2001-02.
After opening the season with five-of-seven road games, Thursday's contest tipped-off a five-game home stand for the Horns. Texas faces Princeton at 4 p.m. (CST), Sunday at the Erwin Center in an ESPN-televised contest.