HOUSTON (AP)—All those hours on the exercise bike, all those yummy desserts he skipped—it all finally paid off for Texas center Dexter Pittman.
The guy with the wide body and the baby face used every ounce of his girth to pound and pester Stanford’s 7-foot Lopez twins, wearing them down like a boxer throwing body blows. Once they slowed, D.J. Augustin and Texas’ usual stars ripped off a 20-3 run, sending the second-seeded Longhorns past the Cardinal 82-62 in an NCAA South Regional semifinal Friday night.
“Dex did a great job,” said Augustin, who scored eight of his 23 points during the game-breaking run. “He put his body against him and I don’t think Brook could handle that weight.”
With Pittman helping answer the question of how the Longhorns would handle the Cardinal’s big guys, his little teammates did the rest.
Damion James scored 18 points and A.J. Abrams scored 12. Augustin added seven assists and five rebounds and Justin Mason had seven points, eight rebounds and six assists, providing plenty of thrills for the tens of thousands of Texas (31-6) fans at Reliant Stadium.
The crowd turned quiet when Stanford (28-8) made it 52-51, but then Lopez went out, Augustin turned a loose ball into a one-man fast break and the rout was on.
When James threw down a dunk so electrifying that he began celebrating on his way down, the Longhorns faithful knew they’d better find another burnt orange shirt because they will be coming back to the stadium Sunday for a game with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
Texas will play top-seeded Memphis on Sunday. The Tigers beat Michigan State 92-74.
“We had a feeling we’d have a good load of our fans down here,” Abrams said. “They did a good job of getting this place loud and really supporting us. It really helped us out when they started coming back and they got into it.”
Pittman is an unlikely star. A sophomore who arrived in Austin weighing 366 pounds, he’s down to 299 but still only a bit player. This time, coach Rick Barnes made him the first guy off the bench and told him to make sure Brook and Robin Lopez felt his presence in the most obvious way.
The brothers didn’t like it, especially not Brook—whose frustration was obvious every time he got banged. Which just led to more banging.
Brook went from scoring 24 of Stanford’s first 48 points to not making a basket over the final 13:55. Pittman kept him from getting to his favorite spots and even when the jumbo defender was on the bench, Lopez didn’t have enough energy left to beat whoever took his place.
“I felt he was getting frustrated because I heard him talking,” said Pittman, who had four points and six rebounds in 10 minutes. “My goal was to make sure I keep my body at him on all times—whenever the ball goes up, whenever the ball is in the guard’s hands, make sure my body is on him. Even on offense, I could clear the lane out and move him where he couldn’t block shots.”
As time ran out, Brook pounded the court in anger as he walked to the postgame handshake. In the interview room, he turned his head away when asked questions about Pittman.
“I think I just stopped playing aggressive since he was guarding me, throwing up low-percentage shots,” said Lopez, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. “He just bodied up against me and tried to push me off the lane.”
Barnes gave Pittman a scholarship because he thought the kid could play. But he refused to use Pittman until he got into shape. Even as well as he was playing Friday, Pittman still had to come out to catch his breath.
“I told him, `I don’t know if I would ever say (this) to you up to this point, but tonight your weight was a factor,”’ Barnes said. “I thought he was huge.”
Just to be clear, he meant that as a compliment.
Stanford had nowhere but Brook Lopez to go for offense. The second-best scorer, reserve Landry Fields, had only 11 points. The game was 17:29 old before the Cardinal finally hit anything longer than an 8-footer.
“For whatever reason, we didn’t hit shots we normally make,” said point guard Mitch Johnson, who was 2-for-10 for six points. Fellow starting guard Anthony Goods was 0-for-6 and scoreless.
The Cardinal already were on their deepest run since 2001. Whether they can get back next year might depend on whether Lopez and his 7-foot twin brother, Robin, stick around for their junior years. Regardless, coach Trent Johnson told his team how proud he was that they gave UCLA a run for the regular-season Pac-10 title and in the conference tournament, then made a nice run in the NCAAs.
“As hard as it is for me to say, they are better,” Johnson said of Texas. “They have got three, four guys who are pretty good basketball players, and it would be easy for me to sit up here and say, `Well, we ran out of gas or didn’t do this or didn’t do that.’ We have done what we’ve done all year long. We competed and came up short because they were better at crucial times.”