December 5, 2008

The BIG Review: Horns make a statement

In their first high-profile national match-up against Notre Dame last week, the No.8 Texas Longhorns weren't quite ready for prime time.

With a second opportunity to pick up a NCAA Tournament resume-building win on Thursday night at home against No.9 UCLA, the Longhorns showed the kind of grit and determination over the course of 40 minutes that gave them a reward that wasn't afforded in Maui last week - they won.

Behind the career-high 31 points from senior sharp-shooter A.J. Abrams, the Longhorns (6-1) held off a Bruins (4-2) squad that finally flashed some of the top-ten potential that they possess that's been missing all season with a 68-64 win.

In a match-up with UCLA's own sharp-shooter Darren Collison, the senior from Round Rock McNeil traded big shot after big shot with the Bruin All-American, but when the dust settled, Abrams' gunslinging ways proved to be too much to handle. Overall, Abrams knocked down nine of 18 shots, including five of nine from three-point land, in 39 minutes.

Meanwhile, Collison knocked down nine of 22 shots, including two of five from downtown, to finish with 22 points.

On a night when Collison was outstanding, Abrams was great, and that was ultimately the difference in the game.

Joining Abrams in double figures on Thursday was junior forward Damion James, who finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds. James was especially tough down the stretch, as he scored seven points and six rebounds in the final 11 minutes of the game.

His biggest play of the game was probably his defensive rebound of UCLA senior Josh Shipp's missed free throw with 15 seconds remaining in the game. That set up Abrams' free throw with 10 seconds left that sealed the victory.

Inside the Numbers

The Longhorns finished the night 24 of 55 from the field (43.6%), nine of 20 (45.0%) from three-point land and were 11 of 19 (57.9%) from the free throw line. The Longhorns beat the Bruins in points in the paint (24-22), blocks (6-2) and assists (12-11). Both teams tuned it over 13 times in the game and received only nine points from their benches. The Bruins outrebounded Texas (39-38) and edged the Longhorns in points off turnovers (17-14), steals (9-6) and fast-break points (10-5).

Star of the game

When the No.10 scorer in the history of your program scores a career-high while shooting 50% from the field and 55.5% from three-point range, you're going to have a very easy decision on your hands. With more than two-dozen NBA scouts on hand, Abrams showed everyone on hand that he could get a shot off on pretty much any defender that the Bruins threw at him. Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday are both outstanding on-ball defenders, but Abrams worked for his shots and whenever he had a sliver of space, his quick release allowed him to get the shots he wanted. Although he didn't have an assist in 39 minutes, he only turned it over twice and he played some outstanding defense.

Unsung hero

It was another Justin Mason kind of night. The junior guard had his finger prints all over the stat sheet with five points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals. Whenever there was a loose ball, it seemed like Mason was there to get his hands on it. Mason wasn't as comfortable with his own offense on this night, but he makes up for the lack of scoring in some many other ways.

Rough night at the office

The Texas coaches love the potential of 6-10 big man Clint Chapman, but the 6-10 sophomore struggled to find a rhythm in 12 minutes of action, as he finished with two points on one of seven shooting. One of those misses was a dunk, a couple of more were point-blank shots and he was a shaky 0-4 from the free throw line.

UCLA's not-so-secret weapon

If you're wondering how the Longhorns could outshoot UCLA 43.6% to 39.4% from the field, 45.0% to 36.8% from three-point range and 57.9% to 50% from the free throw line, and still win by only four points, the answer is pretty simple…

Offensive rebounds.

The Bruins simply dominated the Longhorns on the offensive glass for much of this game, with 20 of their 39 rebounds coming on the offensive side of the game. UCLA forward Alfred Aboya reeled in seven offensive rebounds by himself and all of those extra possessions allowed the Bruins to take 11 more shots than the Longhorns in the game

Top three plays of the night

Bronze - The Longhorns were able to create some separation from the Bruins in the first half when they went on a 12-2 run in span of slightly less than four minutes. The highlight of that spurt was a lay-up from Mason on a no-look pas from freshman Varez Ward that made it 32-24.

Silver - When Shipp's missed free throw with 15 seconds hung in the air after clanging off the rim and with the Longhorns holding a three-point lead, James climbed a higher ladder than anyone else on the floor and pulled down a man's rebound to seal the game. That was the kind of athletic, high-effort play that the scouts will notice.

Gold - You have to give the gold medal to Abrams' three-point shot with 2:51 remaining in the game that broke a 62-62 tie and gave the Longhorns a lead that they never gave up again.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

All season long we plan to keep a running tally on which Longhorns are flying above the rim the most. Although the Longhorns were aggrieve in going to the basket at times in this game, they only finished with two dunks on the night.

Here's tonight's scoreboard:

Clint Chapman - 1
Dexter Pittman - 1

Here's the season scorecard:

Damion James - 9
Dexter Pittman - 7
Justin Mason - 4
Clint Chapman - 3
Gary Johnson - 3
Connor Atchley - 2
Alexis Wangmene - 1

The BIG number

6.

After James knocked down a jumper to tie the game at 62-62 with 3:46 left in the game, Abrams closed out the scoring for the Longhorns by scoring the team's final six points, with three coming on his three-point winner and three free throws.


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