We have Kevin Durant. . . and you don't. The best player in college basketball is on our team, not yours. That's basically what tonight's game came down to. The #23 Horns improved to 16-5 overall and 6-1 in the Big 12 behind an absolutely brilliant performance by Durant. KD scored 37 points, grabbed 23 rebounds, and outscored the Red Raiders in the second half by himself.
Durant was literally unguardable in the second half. He scored at will on the low block with his back to the basket, from long range, and off the dribble. Tech rarely double teamed Durant and he made them pay just about every time he touched the ball. The NBA rule has essentially forced an NBA pro to play college basketball for a year, and we, as fans, couldn't be happier. Durant does it with such ease and with such passion, it's impossible not to fall in love with him.
High Points (other than Durant)
Texas' man to man defense was excellent in the second half. The Horns played man briefly in the first half before switching to zone after Damion James picked up his second foul and Connor Atchley entered the game. Tech had no trouble exploiting our lack of size at both guard spots. With DJ and AJ at the top, our 2-3 zone is simply too small to affect many perimeter shots. The Red Raiders torched Texas for seven threes in the first half en route to a 42-38 lead at the break.
Coach Barnes decided to go man in the second half and it made all the difference. For the most part, the Horns did a great job shutting off dribble penetration and limiting second chance points. In the middle of the second half, it didn't appear that anyone other than Durant had a chance at a rebound. The only second looks Tech got were off long rebounds from missed three pointers. Tech made just two threes over the final twenty minutes, and one of them came in the final seconds of the game.
Barnes also decided to go with a bigger lineup in the second half. AJ Abrams sat down and Connor Atchley entered. This is usually not a trade most Horns' fans would be willing to make, but tonight it worked. Atchley matched up well with the slower Tech big men. He also provided another body that could shut off the drives when our guards got beat off the dribble. Durant was amazing, but Atchley's impact should not be overlooked.
DJ Augustin had another outstanding performance, limiting his turnovers, distributing in transition, and knocking down the open jumper. DJ finished with 14 points and nine assists. Augustin does exactly what you want a point guard to do on the floor: he makes everyone else better. Damion James isn't able to finish in transition if DJ doesn't deliver the ball perfectly; Durant doesn't get the ball in position to score without DJ; Abrams would rarely get an open look without DJ's penetration off the dribble. At this point, Durant is a lock for first team All Big 12, but if Augustin continues to play as he did tonight, he should be, as well.
The Horns also got strong and active performances from both Justin Mason and Damion James. Mason continues to play much bigger than his size. He scored just seven points but grabbed five boards and played solid defense, especially in man to man. James was all over the floor, and showed much softer hands in scoring situations tonight; three times he caught the ball in traffic and finished with the slam. James contributed eight points and five rebounds.
Last, Texas finally finished strong. I kept waiting for the Tech run, but it never came. The Horns continued to score and continued to play solid defense - even with the lead. Under Augustin's direction, we patiently took time off the clock after building a sizable lead with about eight minutes left. We saw the on-the-court lessons from Stillwater and Knoxville really pay off tonight.
The first half was hardly a low point, but considering our execution in the second half, it appears that way in relative hindsight. Our 2-3 zone was, on the whole, horrible. Jay Jackson and Jon Plefka shot the ball with ease in the first half. Abrams and Augustin allowed themselves to be screened too easily and moved too far out of position after perimeter passes. The back line of the zone wasn't much better, getting consistently beaten from the free throw line after jumping on pump fakes or taking poor angles to the ball. The Red Raiders also looked quicker to loose balls in the first half - probably a reflection of the weakness of zone rebounding.
Our free throw shooting was not good, either. Both DJ and Durant missed the front ends of one-and-ones in the second half, and the Horns finished a forgettable 4-for-10 from the line for the game.
This was a huge win for the Horns. Texas now has a signature road win on their resume, our RPI ranking and potential NCAA seed are greatly improved, and the Horns head into a tough finishing stretch of the season with some much needed confidence.
This is still a young team with weaknesses on the defensive end, but we saw tonight how good they can be when their defense improves and Durant dominates. Horns fans should be excited about watching their continued development the rest of the regular season, and Texas could very easily be the team no one wants to face in the NCAA tournament.
Next Game: vs. Kansas State Saturday 2:30 PM (ABC). . . in Austin. You're not really gonna pass up a trip to the Drum this time, are you?