AJ Abrams had scored the last 16 points for the Horns. Who could blame you if you thought his bid to make it 19 in a row with 21 seconds would be all nylon? I couldn't. Austin "toast" Johnson wouldn't. And all you AJ haters shouldn't. But thank the good Lord that Big Dexter Pittman took nothing for granted and instead bear slapped Taylor Griffin, carved out a space under the bucket big enough to fit Mark Mangino, and grabbed the biggest offensive board of the night leading to a little drop step lay in for a huge 3 point lead with 16 seconds to go. It was possibly the biggest play in a ballgame that included double digit leads by the Longhorns, two separate double digit runs by the Sooners, Sooner histrionics, and big game performances by players from both squads.
Before I get to the players, let me say that I've never seen anything as bizarre on a basketball bench as I saw tonight. Trainers constantly rubbing Blake Griffin in various places. Shielding his eyes from the scorching Erwin Center overhead lights. Restraining the big forward from standing and cheering. Jeebus. If it's that bad, get him to the lockerroom or take him to Brackenridge. And if Dexter exacted that concussion with a wave of his hand, as Scipio put it, get Pittman's ass to the NFL. Just weird. That said, I hope the young man is okay. And I hope they find whoever shot Willie Warren in the calf. Good grief, man, at least Warren was man enough to drill a 3, fall down onto the floor to stop the bleeding, and then check back into the ballgame 30 seconds later. Weird. On to the players.
In soccer parlance, he's your man of the match. He scored 18 of the team's final 20 points, and was instant offense when the team decided to go screen roll with AJ and Connor. I thought his 3 ball with 4 seconds on the shot clock down 5 late in the game was the biggest play of the game for Texas. A miss there followed by an ou make at the other end and Texas starts getting down on themselves. AJ only really forced 2 shots that I could see, and he was fouled on one of those.
Damion is going to be Damion. A little helter skelter at times but his athleticism and heart to get after the glass is unquestioned. Seven offensive boards against a talented frontcourt is just sick. He was called for two fouls that were a direct result of the inanity that is our ball screen defensive strategy. As a 4, Damion's usually the rotating help forward when our 5 is hedging. If our 5 is hedging 40 feet from the bucket and charged with keeping Willie Warren from, umm, dribbling, I don't see how you can use a term more favorable than inane. I challenge you. Tell me it's not inane. Then tell me why. But as James Hale would say, I regress.
Connor nickeled and dimed the hell out of ou tonight. Hit a big 3. Grab a big board. Get a big block and a steal. He was also an integral part in our screen roll game down the stretch providing the slightest perimeter offensive threat necessary to free up AJ Abrams for some looks. We need you Connor. Fight through it bud.
Mace had the unenviable task of guarding a red hot Willie Warren who happened to be ON tonight. And through no fault of JM. Willie hit tough pull up midrangers, fade away 3's, and bullshit banks. Tip your cap and move on. More concerning was Mason's lone rebound and 1-4 from the field.
Once again, GJ brought it tonight. He was a sprained ankle away from having a typical 14 point 7 rebound night. I love the pressure he puts on big forwards having to guard him 15 feet from the basket. Attack his competent 15 footer and he's blowing by you for an easy layup Linda Ronstadt style.
Doge can be a very good player if he could learn to hit a simple 15 foot pullup. That's it. That's all. His ability to change directions and get by good perimeter defenders is elite. His ability to finish at the rim and absorb contact to finish is even better. Passing the ball, he's the Turkish Magic (Büyücülük Balbay). He just needs to be a credible jump shooter to really tap into his ability. It's stupid watching players guard him with their heels in the paint. It's frustrating because Balbay can still blow by them. Can you imagine if defenders had to close out on his jumpshot? Defensively he did precisely what we predicted. He was all up in Johnson's jock holding that goofy looking SOB to just 6 points. That's what happens when you're quicker and stronger than another player. Great, great game by the Doge. Oh by the way, Balbay had a ho hum 8 boards and 9 dimes. Sham Wow!!
Ward came in to provide depth and a bonus bucket. He's a very capable defender and guarded Warren admirably. If he could find his shooting stroke he'd be an upgrade over Mason.
Chapman gave the Horns very valuable minutes, outscoring Griffin in his brief 7 minute stint.
Had the biggest rebound and put back of the year in my opinion. His play vs. Blake Griffin has to solidify his status as a draftable NBA player. He physically matched BG on the defensive end, and pinned everybody's all american repeatedly on the low blocks on offense. If Texas had more capable shooters and entry passers, he likely draws two more fouls on Blake. Next year, surrounded by 4 players that can shoot, dribble, and pass, Dexter Pittman is going to absolutely wreck shit on the weakside block. Help defense to the talented Horn perimeter players will dictate that weakside blockout assignments come from guards or the small forward. If Taylor Griffin can't keep Dex off the glass, how can a 2 guard? Dex's statline in this game doesn't tell the story.
What can you say? The kids brought it tonight and played like their season was on the line. OU fans will whine that the outcome is different if Blake Griffin's occipital bone hadn't been crushed by Dexter Pittman's pinky. But I disagree. I think the boys were provided with a solid defensive gameplan to attack Griffin and they were executing it to perfection prior to the injury. Hell BG was 1-5 with no sign of life up until that point. Give Barnes credit. It's not his fault Griffin's skull is made of balsa wood.
Overall, it's a season saving win for the Horns. A win they can build on and ride into the big dance. If a couple players can come out of their slumps, this team will be a force in the first couple rounds depending on matchups.
Be sure to check in with PB @ BON.