So who said it was difficult to beat a team 3 times in one season? Whoever it was the Longhorns weren't listening. In a ho-hum workmanlike fashion the top seeded Texas Longhorns controlled and finally finished off the OSU Cowboys 66-59 to advance to the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament. The game wouldn't have been nearly as close as the score indicated had it not been for the Horns' lax effort rebounding the basketball early in the first half allowing the Cowboys nine extra looks that kept OSU from getting run out of the gym before halftime. Throw in the 7-12 where the f' did that come from shooting exhibition put on by Ibrahima Thomas and the Cowboys even went to the locker room with a 1 point lead.
The second half was a different story as the Longhorns locked down the Cowboys and the backboards playing the same caliber of defensive basketball that helped them go undefeated in the month of February. Offensively the Horns were able to address and overcome the three factors mentioned in the last game review tired legs, interior offense, and the favorable defensive match up that OSU enjoys.
Obviously a week off took care of the tired legs evidenced by a Longhorn team that was far more active on the offensive end than last Sunday, moving without the basketball with crisp and decisive screening and cutting. The Horns also made more of an effort to enter the ball into the post in both man and zone offenses. And finally, Texas punished the Cowboys for switching screens by finding James and Atchley inside with Byron Eaton on their hip by simply being patient and moving the ball until the angle was there to deliver the basketball.
Overall, with the exception of a two or three minute stretch when Texas led by 13 with 7 minutes to go and settled for some quick jump shots when they could have been more patient, I thought Texas played an above average offensive game that was certainly better than the offense they played the three games previous. That type of offensive execution coupled with the tough brand of defense Texas has continued to play should come as good news to Longhorn fans. On to the grades.
DJ Augustin. A-. A very efficient 24 points on 6-11 shooting for DJ. Credit DJ for taking good shots mostly in the flow of the offense off of screen and rolls. You also have to credit Rick Barnes for getting DJ off the basketball on some sets allowing him to run slower defenders off of screens to wide open looks. I thought DJ dominated the basketball a little during OSU's last spurt with under 7 to play, but overall DJ did his thing. I'd still like to see more than 3 assists, but Mason's PG play made up for that today helping the Longhorns to 15 team assists. You also have to be pleased with 7-8 from the foul line with half of those coming late in the game.
Damion James. A. Look out everyone, the perimeter light has come on for the 6'7" forward, and his deployment in our pick and pop or pick and fade game makes Texas downright dangerous. When the Cowboys realized Byron Eaton would foul out before halftime defending the pick and roll, Sutton took a swig of Stoli and poured a little on the court to honor JamesOn Curry's homies, and went to a 2-3 zone. Texas countered by having its explosive glass eating power forward step out to 20 ft and drill back to back 3 balls. What a weapon. Damion finished 3-4 from deep on his way to 23 points and led the team with 11 boards. If James could learn to avoid charging by jump stopping off of penetration, his game would be unfair. The dime he dropped to Wangmene just before charging came off of an explosive move to the goal. Great game for Damion.
Connor Atchley. B. Connor continues to be mired in a a woeful shooting slump as he went 2-9 today and wasn't really close. Still, his rebounding on the offensive glass and overall suffocating interior defense (4 blocks), make him invaluable. He needs to ask Erin Andrews for his stroke back since he hasn't been able to throw it in the ocean since the KSU post game interview, but his overall team play even in this slump has been great.
AJ Abrams. B. See Connor Atchley. Rinse. Repeat. Having trouble hitting open looks, but is doing so many other things really well right now. His transformation from a heat checking pull from anywhere no defense shooter, to one of the better perimeter defenders in the conference is simply astounding and a credit to Rick Barnes and AJ. AJ's activity in Texas' zone led to a couple steals and easy buckets. His hustle plays getting on the floor for the basketball were great to see and a testament to AJ's buy-in to being a team guy. Eventhough AJ was just 2-8 on the day, his lack of attempts are a sign of maturity and certainly benefit other players who are hitting like DJ and Damion James. We'll still need AJ's deep ball come tourney time, but atleast we know we have a well rounded basketball player instead of just a hired gun.
Justin Mason. B+. If you briefly scan the boxscores you'd almost certainly think Justin played a subpar game. Not so. Mason was very active on the defensive end as always, but on offense despite scoring just 2 points on 1 of 3 shooting, his impact was even more significant. Justin's ability to handle the ball allowed Abrams and Augustin to run defenders off screens in sets that compliment our bread and butter screen roll game. And, in running the offense, Mason finished with a team high 8 assists. By stepping into the point guard role, Justin allows Augustin to enjoy some in-game rest, as well as catch and shoot opportunities. It's a facet of Justin's game that will be much needed next weekend and beyond.
Gary Johnson. A. Before his injury it looked like GJ was on his way to a monster game. He had a nice quick drive going to the goal that drew a foul, and a pretty little elbow jumper that could become a staple in our high low attack. Four points in two minutes of game action. Here's to hoping Gary's alright because the light was just starting to come on for him on offense.
Clint Chapman. C. He was pretty active screening and posting on offense, and we missed him in the post a couple times. On defense, his physical limitations allowed the Cowboys to have a couple two shot possessions which is why Rick pulled Clint early in the first half. He needs to get stronger so guys like Ibrahima Thomas can't push him under the goal.
Pittman. C. Dexter did a good job of establishing himself in the post and giving post passers a good target. The problem is he has to kill the bunnies and get some "and ones" if he wants more playing time.
Wangmene. B+. Good solid 14 minutes out of Alexis today and that's exactly what we need out of him every night. Aggressive defense and high energy and activity rebounding the basketball on both ends. Alexis had a really athletic offensive rebound and left hand finish which is hopefully a sign of things to come. On defense he was very active, but got lost on a help situation that led to an open look. But again, his athleticism and physical skills are off the charts and I'm really looking forward to watching this young guy develop.
Coaching. A. Rick really has this team's buy-in on the defensive end of the court. The transformation to a team with this caliber of aggressive help and recover defensive basketball is nothing short of amazing based on what we saw last year. All the credit goes to Barnes for that. I also have to credit him with the adjustments he made offensively between last Sunday and today. You could tell we were much more committed to getting some interior presence and we really looked to punish guard to forward switches especially Eaton's. That adjustment alone accounted for Byron Eaton being saddled with foul trouble the entire afternoon, which hurt OSU in other areas. Rick surely didn't coack like a guy that doesn't put a lot of stock in the Conference tourney today.
Good game that almost certainly guarantees a two seed. Survive and advance fellas. Next up, the Oklahoma Sooners.