This one is going to be ugly. The #7 Horns (24-4, 12-2) travel to College Station tonight for a stiff test against Texas A&M (18-7, 8-6). The game will be the last true road game of the season for the Horns, the last home game of the regular season for the Aggies, and will be senior night for three Aggie bench players. ESPN2 will be broadcasting this critical Big 12 battle. Tip time is 7 PM CST.
The Horns must win this one if they are to win the Big 12 regular season title outright. They currently have a one game lead over Kansas. The Jayhawks finish with Colorado on Wednesday night at home and at Kansas State on Saturday. I don't think they will lose either one. For the Aggies, this one is even more important. I can't believe I am writing this, but A&M has an outside shot at an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. They are currently tied for fourth in the Big 12 with Colorado. After tonight's game the Aggies finish at Texas Tech on Saturday. Two wins would assure them a fourth place finish in conference, a first round bye in the Big 12 tournament, and the right to make a case for an at-large berth. Lose tonight and they don't even get to open their mouths.
Even with a victory tonight an NCAA berth is still not likely. The Aggies are currently 57th in the RPI rankings but will be dismissed because of their non conference schedule. A&M completed their cupcake row at 10-1. Their best win pre-Big 12 was probably against Auburn in College Station, and the Tigers are currently below .500 overall. Their non conference strength of schedule is 246th out of 334 teams. Nice job scheduling Billie Gillespie.
Back to the game at hand. A&M comes into the contest on a five game winning streak. Their best win during that stretch and for the season was a three point home victory over then #25 Colorado. The Aggies are a much better team at home. They boast a 5-2 mark at home in conference play. Their two losses were by ten to Kansas and by just one point to OU. For the season, A&M is 14-2 at home. The Aggies beat the Horns 74-63 last year in College Station.
The Horns took the first meeting this season, 83-70 with PJ Tucker going off for 25 points and 12 rebounds. I don't expect this one to be that high scoring or that easy. In Austin, the Horns had no answer for 6'9" 250lb. sophomore center, Joseph Jones. Jones torched Texas for 31 points. The Horns won the game because they didn't allow anyone else to get hot. Junior guard Acie Law had a quiet 15 points and sophomore guard Dominique Kirk scored ten points. No other Aggie contributed more than six.
Jones is averaging 15 points and six rebounds in conference play and is the key to the Aggies success. When he gets going, the guards get easier looks and usually start scoring. Law is the most experience Aggie and also a key to their upset hopes. Law leads the team in scoring at over 16 points per game and also contributes nearly four assists per contest.
Keys to the Game
- Half Court Defense I know this is always one but it is the real reason this team is so good. When the Horns hold opponents under 80 points, they are 24-0. When the Horns hold opponents under 40% shooting, they are 20-0. Our zone looked much better against Kansas. We must stay active: pressure the ball, limit dribble penetration, and rebound.
- Limit Law and Kirk Jones is going to score and rebound. He is a force on both ends and could outplay Lamarcus Aldridge or get him in foul trouble. If Jones is the only one scoring, we win. But if Law or Kirk gets hot, it could be a long night.
- Crowd We must keep the crowd out of the game. It is Senior Night and the Longhorns are in town. Reed Arena and all 12,000+ crazed Aggies are going to be pumped. An early lead will be huge for limiting their excitement. Nothing is more devastating than jumping out to a quick ten point lead. Second, limit any Aggie runs or long stretches without made baskets. Every time Kansas had a mini run, we hit a three pointer. Watch to see if Coach Barnes uses his timeouts quicker, especially in the first half, in an attempt to keep the crowd out of it.
- PJ Tucker He really is the X factor for this team. The reigning Big 12 Player of the Week is simply unguardable at times. But other times he still makes Horns' fans shake their heads. He gets frustrated on offense after missing a few shots, tries to play point guard, and sometimes picks up stupid fouls. As Tucker goes, so goes this team. If he is anywhere near as effective as he was in Austin, we win.