|Great start is over, Big 12 up next for No. 12 Texas|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 10 January 2008 10:15|
The 11-game winning streak to start the season was pretty impressive, but the Big 12 is the second season within the season, where every game is a 40-minute struggle and the Longhorns are among the top contenders for the league title.
``It's going to be a tough race this year, we know that,'' said coach Rick Barnes, who has won two conference championships in his 10 seasons at Texas. The No. 12 Longhorns (13-2) open league play Saturday at Missouri (10-5).
``We've had a pretty good non-league start, but that's all behind us,'' Barnes said. ``We're still shaping our team.''
Johnson gives Texas more muscle in the interior to compete for points and rebounds and just as importantly, allows 6-foot-7 forward Damion James to move out to his natural position on the wing.
James spent last season playing center and power forward. In the two games with Johnson in the lineup, James is averaging 22 points and 10 boards.
``Damion would tell you his natural position is playing on the perimeter,'' Barnes said. ``For him to be here for a year and a half and doing whatever he had to do to help his team speaks volumes about him. You can tell he's excited.''
The move to the wing has opened up more scoring options for James, who has shown a soft touch and accuracy on 3-pointers.
``The wing is my home. That's where I roam,'' James said.
Perhaps more importantly, standout point guard D.J. Augustin appears to have pulled himself out of a mini-slump.
After getting criticized by Barnes for his effort and decision-making in the two losses and the win over TCU, Augustin rebounded with a 30-point game against Saint Mary's.
Barnes had said he thought Augustin was tired, but the point guard now seems ready for the nightly slugfest of the Big 12. He is second in the Big 12 in scoring at 20.5 points per game and first in assists, averaging 6.1.
M. The Aggies and Longhorns will play twice during the regular season.
Texas finished third in the Big 12 last season with much of the same lineup, minus one huge impact player: Kevin Durant.
Durant left after his freshman season for the NBA and instead of taking a step backward, this year's version of the Longhorns returned as a more mature, intelligent team that no longer waits for one player to make the big play.
The 11-0 start was the program's best since the 1981-82 season and included impressive road wins over No. 5 UCLA and No. 8 Tennessee. The skid hit with consecutive losses to No. 7 Michigan State and unranked Wisconsin.
``We think we've played the toughest schedule in the country,'' James said. ``We can take the lessons of those games into the conference and have a great chance every night.''