Shooting the basketball covers a lot of ills and makes up for all kinds of deficiencies. The game of basketball becomes a simple, simple game when you can ring the bell at a high rate of success. We saw that last night when the number 7 Texas Longhorns delivered a knockout blow by hitting on 4 three point bombs and a couple of midrange field goals to jump out to a 16-4 lead in the first five minutes of a revenge game. The Aggies never truly recovered getting no closer than 9 points the rest of the way.
Shooting the ball well is fine, but when you couple it with stifling perimeter defense and aggressive helping interior defense, you get the outcome Texas enjoyed last night, a 27 point destruction of an in state rival. On a night when Texas was a smoldering 9-27 from the field, Texas held the bigger and purportedly more physical Aggies to just 30% from the field and played even with them on the backboards leaving no doubt as to which team is the big dog in the State of Texas. On to the grades.
DJ Augustin. A+.I wonder if DJ heard or read about his slump a time or two in the last couple days. I'm guessing yes after he played what amounts to the most complete game of the year for him in a 27 point 9-14 offensive barrage that left the Aggies without any answer defensively. And for the purists, he dished out 9 assists, blowing by every Aggie defender Turgeon ran at him in an effort to defend the high screen and roll. We've been calling for some midrange game out of the all-American point guard and we got it last night. Couple his feathery pull-ups and drive and dish dribble drives and I think he's found his answer to the hyper-aggressive helping defense that has stifled him over the last two weeks. Obviously DJ was your player of the game, and deservedly so. This team can be scary good when he's playing the role of floor general.
Damion James. A. A nice response here from James rebounding against the opponent that got him benched just two and half weeks ago. I thought he looked for his face up game within the flow of the offense on all but 1 or 2 looks. His deep perimeter threat makes this offense so dynamic in general and opens up driving lanes for Damion individually. You saw that with his explosive drive to the goal off a dribble hand-off out of our 3 man weave look. A nice wrinkle that took advantage of this hybrid forward's unique skill set. And, as per usual, James pulled down his customary 9 boards and defended the bigger Aggie frontcourt like a monster. Terrific game.
Connor Atchley. A. When you talk about Connor in this game you have to start with defense. He played tremendous positional defense on bigger, stronger frontcourt players all night using a variety of full and 3 quarter fronts to make entry into the post difficult. When the ball was entered he was able to hold his position well enough to contest and even block a couple shots. He remains the best helping big man on the team and we saw that tonight as well. If he didn't score a point he still gets the A. But he did, hitting on a huge early 3 attempt that made the Aggies honor him the rest of the night.
AJ Abrams. B. Look, I get that AJ is our gunner and he's going to continue shoot, but I think he regressed a little from his terrific shot selection game just two nights ago. When he hit his first 3, a look that was contested in transition, I turned to my friend and said that'll cost us in the long run. And sure enough a few forces later, it did. But to AJ's credit he did play one of the better defensive games he's played all year, drawing Josh Carter on more than a few possessions and limiting the terrific wing player's strength which is catch and shoot. This allowed Mason to harass Kirk or Sloan on the ball and keeping the Aggies from getting into the meat of their offense until deep in the shot clock.
Justin Mason. A.I think it was Steven Bardo that called this Mason Elmer's on more than one occasion during the Baylor telecast. God I hope that doesn't stick. But JM certainly is the glue for this team. When he's at the top of his game he allows Texas to do so much more both offensively and defensively. His stat line was a modest 2-4 for 5 points, but he dogged Aggie perimeter players all night, ran a little point (zero turnovers) to get us in our double stack look, and boarded like a power forward pulling down 8 boards. He was also 1-2 on 3 balls. Another great game for Justin.
Gary Johnson. B+.Once again, Gary Johnson gave Texas a bonafide interior scorer and defender. I thought he had a couple looks inside that he was hacked on, but he also had a goal tend that wasn't called, so that's a wash. Still, a solid night for Gary going 4-9 for 8 points and 7 boards in 23 minutes. He also hit a nice face up 15 footer that makes him such a difficult guard for big defenders. If he knocks that down consistently, he can be a dynamic scorer. The only knock was the two turnovers.
DJ runs the show.
Wangmene. A. Best game of the year for Wangmene. He bothered the big Aggie frontcourt on defense early on in the game and pulled down two big boards when the game was still in doubt. On offense, he showed a couple nice turnaround jumpers giving us a glimpse of the future. Great athlete that's slowly developing into a good basketball player.
Clint Chapman. A. Throw out the stat line eventhough it was good, more importantly Clint just looked like he belonged on the floor tonight. In eleven minutes and aside from his 2 points, 3 boards, and 2 blocks, Chapman played confidently and seemed like he could have contributed 20 quality minutes if this team needed him to. He's going to be an all-Big 12 caliber player and it's not a matter of if but when.
Pittman.B+. I think there were more minutes out there for Dex in this game and it's one of the only knocks I have with the staff on this night. Up nearly 30, I would have liked to see Texas run some offense through Pittman to see what we truly have here and at the very least get him some much needed PT. His turnovers were a function of inexperience and I think that could have been addressed last night. Five minutes in a 30 point blow out for Dexter doesn't make much sense and is my lone gripe with the coaching staff.
Coaching. A. Defensively, I don't know if you can prepare a club any better than Texas was prepared last night. And keep in mind any and all preparation was done in a short two day turnaround. But you have to give it to Coach Barnes for scouting the Aggie personnel and getting the kids to execute their defensive assignments to near perfection. If it wasn't for 23 foul shots, it's somewhat in doubt that the Aggies crack 40 in this game. So, what did we do? We executed a defensive gameplan that addressed the skills, strengths, and weaknesses of each individual Aggie player but did so with a team concept.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about with respect to individual skill recognition and team concept. To start the game, we immediately doubled Jones when he caught the ball on the low block forcing him to make decisions with the basketball. Not his strong suit, as he turned the ball over twice leading to easy buckets. Helping off the double team, we defended/denied one pass away, making Jones skip the basketball using the longer pass to give us time to help and recover. When the skip was to Donald Sloan we'd close out in a manner that enticed a jumper and limited dribble penetration. Sloan shoots under 30% from deep, and he started the game 0-2 and finished 0-3. If it was skipped to Kirk, we closed out aggressively forcing Kirk to put it on the floor and while staying aware of his penchant for dishing off penetration. If Carter caught it we closed out aggressively forcing him to put it on the floor given his terrific shooting ability. With Josh being a much better finisher, though, the interior defenders were coached to aggressively step up and take away penetration after the initial help.
We executed defense based on individual scouting reports all night and held the Aggies starters + Jordan to just 15-52 from the field. Outstanding work.
On offense, I don't think we did anything different from the last couple games. We did look for post entry off of the pick and pop which got us an open 3 with a post man kicking out. We ran our high low, our 4 out 1 in, our stack, and our bread and butter high screen. But all and all the difference in this game is we shot the ball well. And DJ Augustin controlled the game with his shooting and distribution off of penetration. I'm thoroughly surprised Turgeon was too stubborn to get out of his man-to-man, and either zone us or junk us with some triangle and two. Perhaps with the short turnaround he didn't have the time install anything.
In any event, it was a tremendous exclamation point to a stellar week of basketball. It's interesting that this team has shown the resilience it has and now is sniffing a 2 seed when it looked destined for no better than a 4. Hell, if the breaks fall just right, Texas could sneak into a 1 seed. If they keep improving the way they have from January to February, anything is possible in March.