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Houston Trip Diary: Part Two

This is Part Two of yesterday's amazing trip to Houston to watch Vince Young take out the Texans and the Longhorns tip off with LSU. You can read Part One about the Titans game here.

4:00 p.m. I'm bordering on emotionally spent. The fourth quarter and overtime of the Tennessee game - not to mention the raucous celebration among VY fans in the Reliant concourse and stadium lots - have me feeling like I'm at the end of a long day. Amazingly, though, we're only halfway there. Texas tips with LSU at the Toyota Center in downtown Houston in just three hours. And I'm going.

On our way out Reliant, passing the south entrance of the stadium, we notice a group of VY fans congregated by a gate. Erin and I decide to check out the commotion, and arrive just in time to see Vince pull out of the player's lot in a powder blue Escalade. He has his windows rolled down to acknowledge his fans and flashes a hook 'em as he escapes. "Unbelievable," I hear more than one Texans fan mutter. The level of anguish among Texans fans is astounding.

6:50 p.m. After a pit stop to refuel - car and hungry stomachs - Erin and I have settled into the upper deck of the Toyota Center, the home of the Houston Rockets. The crowd is an impressive one for a neutral floor site. Whereas normally you expect a 60% filled arena, 80% of whom are not affiliated with either school, tonight's game has the arena at near full capacity, and probably three-quarters of the fans in attendance are displaying their affiliation in some form. My best guess is that the crowd is about 50-50 - maybe a slight edge to Texas fans.

First Half DJ Augustin starts things off with a beautiful layup plus one, giving Texas an early lead. I note that Augustin must play better than he did against Gonzaga, where he looked overwhelmed. So far, so good.

After Texas extends the early lead to 7-0, LSU starts hammering Texas on the interior glass, and before you know it, we're tied at 9-9. The early rebounding edge is killing Texas, but we're getting some outstanding defensive effort so far - easily our best of the season.

Justin Mason looks "off" tonight to me. Mason remains one of the most interesting prospects on this team, and he's going to have a marvelous freshman season, but it's clear that he's not a consistent player yet. That's fine, and that's probably true of most our players. The beauty of this team, though, is that there are so many talented guys: when you've got five guys that can be "on" and help carry the team on a given night, you can afford to have "off" nights from a player or two.

Tasmin Mitchell is killing us with his outside shooting early, but other than that, Texas is playing outstanding defense. I'm especially pleased with the interior defense on Glen Davis. The great zone defense isn't helping us rebound particularly well, but it's a price we're willing to pay to slow down what LSU likes to do.

Connor Atchley! Great minutes in the first half from Connor, to my surprise. He's banging on the interior fearlessly, and contributing in small ways. Other than one awful back-to-back series, he's been giving us huge minutes. We need that, as Matt Hill's not -quite- ready for a team this athletic.

As the first half closes out, I'm impressed with Damien James' performance. So far this year, he's looked a little bit like a miscast athlete. Not so tonight. He's putting that athleticism to great use, playing outstanding defense, rebounding, and creating problems inside for LSU. Great to see.

At halftime, we're all tied at 35, and I'm proud of this team for their gutty effort.

Second Half LSU's clearly going to get Davis more involved this half. He's touching the ball on every possession - smart move by Brady. Davis looks a little tired, but he's powerful enough to get the shots he wants. He's clearly not enamored of dealing with Texas' zone right now, though.

Oh, my! This is what we've been waiting for from DJ Augustin. He's killing the Tigers with his dribble penetration. The guy sitting next to me says that Augustin doesn't look that fast or quick, but watching him tonight, one thing's sticking out - he has a terrific first step. That's as, or more, important, than any natural speed or quickness.

Atchley's still giving Texas big time minutes, and thank goodness. LSU's so athletic that the level of play here is above Matt Hill's head right now. As much as I want to see Dexter Pittman, I'm not sure this is the game for him, either.

Durant is spending a -ton- of energy on the defensive end and on rebounding. It's affecting his offense, and he's almost using offense as a chance to rest up for the defensive end. All the NBA scouts that are here tonight must love what they're seeing, even though he's not doing too much on offense. The defensive and rebounding play from Durant tonight is - by far - his best since he got here. Wow.

Texas finds itself up three points with 42 seconds left. I tell Erin, "Time to go to man to man. No sense in staying with a zone up three."

Whoops. Texas stays in a zone and Tasmin Mitchell hits another three pointer. Tied, Texas gets the last shot, and I'm desperately hoping that, for once, Rick gets the team a good shot. Texas ended the first half with the basketball, and couldn't get off a shot. I keep waiting for Rick to call a timeout, but it never comes. Amazingly, the ball never gets to Augustin. AJ Abrams - who is not a good penetrator - is the man with the ball and he ineffectively drives into the lane before kicking out to Augustin for a desperate three. The ball misses and Connor nearly wins it with a last second tip. No good - we're going to overtime.

I'm stunned. As great a job as Rick Barnes has done getting his team ready for this game, the inability to get a good shot at the end of either half is beyond maddening. Here's to hoping Texas has enough left in the tank for overtime.

Overtime After LSU takes an early 72-68 lead, it's time for AJ Abrams to do what he does best - catch and shoot. I said in Saturday's Texas Basketball Report that Abrams is Texas' best pure deep shooter in years, but Rick's got to understand Abrams' strengths and limitations. Abrams can't create his own shot, and shouldn't be handling the basketball to set up a final shot in the closing seconds.

I've said before that it looks like Damien James has bad hands, and he's now missed four straight free throws. He has as much touch as James Thomas did. The comparison between the two is an interesting one, actually. James is a far superior athlete, while Thomas was a better pure rebounder. Still, James can develop into a double-digit rebounder if he wants to be. I'm not sure he's going to be a big time scorer, though. He has no touch.

Down one, LSU has a chance to win the game on the final possession. Amazingly, they use Davis as a decoy and bomb a deep three. Ball is short, Texas gets the rebound, game is over.

Eyes of Texas time. Unbelievably great win for Texas. Mark it down as a potential turning point of the season.

The ugly realization that I have to drive back to Austin hits me and we hustle out the stadium. What a day...