Hamilton’s play silencing critics

Will Anderson

During last Friday’s loss against No. 5 Pittsburgh, Jordan Hamilton led Texas in scoring for the fourth-straight game. Doubts are quickly receding about whether Hamilton can handle the pressure of being one of the Longhorns’ go-to playmakers, and the sophomore swingman has also shown improvement on defense and in rebounding.

He posted 28 points against Pitt, twice as many as the Longhorns’ second-leading scorer, and put in the final basket that made it a two-point game with about 10 seconds left. With such hot hands, his only misstep was not taking the last shot.

“We’ll be fine once we get adjusted to what we’re doing,” said Hamilton, who the Big 12 named its player of the week on Monday. “It’s early. We have time to get better.”

His performance was a bright spot for the Longhorns (3-1), who defeated 13th-ranked Illinois on Thursday before falling to the Panthers. The weekend in New York City helped Texas break into The Associated Press poll for the first time this season at No. 20, one of only five teams in the Top 25 with a loss.

Now the team returns home for a decidedly easier test against Sam Houston State (2-0) of the Southland Conference on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Under head coach Rick Barnes, Texas has a 100-15 record against in-state opponents. Also, the team hasn’t lost to Sam Houston State since 1950.

It’s the team’s third-to-last home game of the semester, with Rice and Lamar still on the schedule before classes let out on Dec. 3. The Longhorns are on a 19-game home winning streak versus non-conference opponents, including victories last year against Southern Cal and Michigan State.

“We’re not even close to being as good as we can be,” Barnes said.

Hamilton is part of a balanced Texas attack that represents the Bearkats’ toughest test so far this season. They have won their first two, against Mary Hardin-Baylor and Northwestern Oklahoma State, but face a serious height and scoring disadvantage in Austin.

Texas has also out-rebounded every opponent it has faced and possesses the fourth-ranked scoring offense in the Big 12 thanks to an average 15 assists per game.

“I do think for the most part we have had pretty good shot selection,” Barnes said. “We want to keep moving the ball and making people play on both sides of the court. So far it’s been good, but we’ve got a lot of work we can do to make it better.”

Barnes is just one win short of 500 career victories, a distinction currently shared by 11 active Division I coaches. The Longhorns’ head coach will get his first shot at that milestone tonight in the Erwin Center and could move up to No. 50 on the all-time Division I wins list.