Game Recap: The #14 Texas Longhorns rebounded from a sluggish game against TCU to produce one of their finest wins of the season, 81-62, over #24 St. Mary’s. The Horns have completed a daunting non-conference schedule with a 13-2 record and enter Big XII play with renewed confidence and their top six players all healthy and cleared to play.
The Horns were bruised early in this one by eight first half three-pointers by the Gaels and countless offensive rebounds. Texas led just 42-36 at the break despite holding St. Mary’s to just 33% shooting from the floor. The Horns picked up their game on both ends of the floor in the final twenty minutes. Texas controlled the glass much better, defended the three-pointer effectively, and continued to shoot the ball well from inside the three-point arc.
The outcome was: St. Mary’s is a very good basketball team, probably an NCAA tourney team, that has balanced scoring, depth, and a solid defense. To win going away by 19 points and to hold the Gaels to just 62 points and 35% shooting is very impressive. Given the circumstances that Texas had lost two of their last three games, I would rank this win as the second most impressive of the season, below only the win at #1 UCLA.
After St. Mary’s started the game by hitting just about every three-pointer they took, Texas stepped up their defense. The Gaels made just 1-of-11 three pointers in the second half and scored just 26 points. Both starting St. Mary’s big men scored in double figures but neither dominated the game like they could have. Connor Atchley, Gary Johnson, Ian Mooney, and Alexis Wangmene did more than an acceptable job on post defense this afternoon. For the first time all season, Texas faced a formidable front line and actually played solid defense. The presence of Johnson is already paying dividends.
The Horns were just as impressive on offense. For the first time in eight games, they shot over 50% from the floor, 52.5%, despite making just 4-of-16 from three. With the long jumpers not falling, DJ Augustin, AJ Abrams, and Damion James attacked the basket from the perimeter and Gary Johnson provided the inside scoring punch the Horns have been searching for all season long.
The Texas team that played against TCU would be one and done in the NCAA tournament. The Texas team that showed up today against St. Mary’s could reach the Final Four.
The Offensive MVP was: DJ was exceptional all game long. Augustin scored 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting, made 7-of-7 from the line, dished out four assists, and committed just a single turnover in 30 minutes of action. This was the DJ from the first part of the season. This was the DJ that should earn First Team All American honors. And this is the type of point guard play that becomes invaluable in March.
Augustin played as in control as I’ve seen him all season long. He never over-penetrated and preferred to finish with soft fade-aways over the outstretched hands of Gael big men. He was simply unstoppable off the dribble. When he wasn’t finishing the drives himself, he made some nice passes to Johnson for easy finishes near the rim. After a couple of off games, the real DJ is back.
The Defensive MVP was: Really everyone contributed in this one. After an opening onslaught of threes, DJ, AJ, Mason, and James all did a good job of contesting shots on the perimeter. St. Mary’s started about 5 or 6 of 8 from three, but finished the game just 9-of-29 for 31%. The interior defense was also solid. Connor and Damion each blocked four shots and Wingman and Sexy Dex swatted one each as well. The Horns could have done a better job on the defensive glass but with so many long-range misses, I’ll give them a slight pass. Texas did a much better job on the defensive glass in the second half.
The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: Wingman played 11 minutes, scoring four points and grabbing four boards. He was beaten a couple of times in the low post but played hard and physical. Rick allowed him to play through his mistakes and Alexis responded. You could almost see his confidence growing during the game. This was exactly the type of performance that will become even more critical in conference play. Clint Chapman did not play.
Three Things: And consequently, this team, with Gary, has the potential to be elite. It was truly amazing to see the Texas guards actually looking to the post in the half-court. Gary completed a couple of nice low post moves, and even more impressively, he showed an ability to score off offensive rebounds. Five of his six rebounds came on the offensive end. Johnson scored 15 points in just 26 minutes of action. His total would have been even higher if he could have done better than 1-of-5 from the free throw line. That must improve but his energy, his rebounding, and his post defense should make Horns’ hoops fans very excited.
With 15:42 left in the game, Texas was up just 50-47 as Augustin headed to the bench for a rest. Over the next three minutes, Texas went on a 12-4 run as AJ scored 8 points and got the assist on another bucket by James. In previous games, the Texas offense completely stalled with Augustin needed a breather or got into foul trouble. That was not the case tonight. Abrams handled his brief duties at point guard in style. With his three-pointer not falling, he instead attacked the basket off the dribble and scored back to back layups. He also made two mid-range jumpers off the dribble. AJ didn’t have any of these moves during his first two seasons in Austin. He is far from just the catch-and-shoot shooter that he was two years ago.
For the fourth straight game, Texas underperformed at the free throw line. As a team, Texas shot 15-of-28 (53.6%). That is horrible. The two worst performers were Johnson, 1-of-5, and James, 1-of-8. Both of these players will continue to get opportunities at the line as they attack the basket or get fouled on offensive rebounds. It goes without saying that Texas will not be win close games by shooting near 50% from the FT line.
In my biased opinion, the new look Texas Longhorns, with Gary Johnson in the starting lineup, have the potential to challenge Kansas for the conference title. Sure, Texas will need to continue to improve on defense and at the free throw line and still doesn’t have tremendous depth, but they already have an elite offense, the best point guard in the country, and get the Jayhawks at home on February 11th. Can’t wait.
Road vs. Missouri – Saturday 1/12 12:45 p.m.