Game Recap: The 8th ranked Longhorns picked up their biggest win in regular season school history with a true road win at top-ranked UCLA Sunday night, 63-61. The Longhorns led by 16 in the first half and 12 at the break, but found themselves in a tight game at the end after UCLA used a 16-3 second half run to tighten the game.
Damion James and DJ Augustin each scored 19 points for the Longhorns to pace the win. The victory moves the Longhorns to 7-0 and, in all likelihood, a top five national ranking.
The outcome was: Reeling from a mediocre football season, this Longhorn basketball team has absolutely exploded out of the gates to start the '07-'08 season, winning its first seven, including two over Top 10 teams. As nice as the Tennessee win was, this one was far, far more impressive - winning at UCLA is a rare feat. Point in fact: the Texas victory snapped a 25-game home win streak for the Bruins. If you're on the fence about whether to jump on board with this team or not... please, do yourself a favor - join the party.
The Offensive MVP was: For the second game in a row, Damion James was Texas' best player on offense, and without him, Texas loses by double digits. After Texas got out to a big lead doing what we've done well all season, the Bruins came out in the second half playing absolutely smothering defense. Augustin's dribble-drives were cut off, Abrams was harassed on the perimeter, and the Bruins took away much of our transition game. Our only answer was weakside rotation of the ball to Damion James, who provided the one thing UCLA couldn't shut down - a pure, high-elevation jump shot. Absolutely sublime performance from Damion James with his mid-range jumpers today, and an emphatic game-winning slam to propel Texas to victory.
The Defensive MVP was: As much as anyone, Mason was the reason UCLA struggled as much as they did with their outside shooting. The guy is freaking relentless. An awesome player to have.
The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: The numbers weren't big, but Chappy (12 minutes) and WingMan (15) gave Texas huge minutes off the bench as Texas tried to keep UCLA from doing what it does. Chappy had what was by far his best game of the season, playing great positional defense, boxing out, banging - just doing lots of little things to help the team. Rick Barnes should be enormously proud of and grateful for each.
Dexter Pittman Watch: Dexatrim didn't play much, but he made a critical inside hoop while he was in there. You gotta love him....
Three Things: Few have been harder on Rick Barnes than Andrew and I, but I was talking to my father tonight, and I noted that one of the things I love about Rick is his evolution over the years. As we've just spent a horribly frustrating fall talking about the "same old problems" plaguing the football team, it's been a great pleasure to watch our basketball coach live and learn over the years. Rick arrived in Austin a solid coach with a good plan for Texas. He's executed that plan, but he's also become a much, much stronger coach over the years in the process. We're lucky to have him.
It's over. The Good Connor/Bad Connor talk is just gone. The guy has developed into a fabulous role player and gives Texas so many different things that it needs. Credit to him, credit to Todd Wright, credit to Rick Barnes.
At halftime, I was grousing to my father on the phone about how limited AJ Abrams seems in games where the opposition plays lock-down perimeter defense, but he made a great point. Watching from the stands at Pauly Pavilion, my Dad said he noticed how Abrams was critical in making a Bruin defender constantly run around the perimeter, thereby keeping at least one Bruin 25 feet from the rim at all times. It's a good point. We're all shocked that UCLA didn't kill us on the glass, and chasing Abrams is at least part of the reason why. Just goes to show that even when we're playing a game in which he's not a critical scoring component, he can play a useful role.
North Texas – Wendesday 12/5 7:00 p.m. (Erwin Center)
PB covered the official game review, but with a win of that magnitude, here are a few additional thoughts.
Poise. That is about as good as it gets. The Horns dominated the first half but knew a run was coming. UCLA comes out and gets a quick six points to cut the Texas lead in half. Do we blink? No. The Horns didn’t look nervous at all. They played like they deserved to be there: on the floor with the top-ranked team in the country. It all starts with DJ Augustin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it today and for the rest of the season, DJ is the best point guard in the country and will be the best player on the floor in every regular season game this season. Rick Barnes wouldn’t trade DJ for anyone else in college basketball and neither would I.
Rebounding +6 Are you freaking kidding? I am the first, and not the only one, to eat crow on this one. I didn’t think the Horns had any shot against the bigger, more physical Bruins. If you had told me before the game that Texas would control the glass on both ends, I’d have just laughed. Our three starting guards, an undersized four in Damion James, and Connor Atchley just won the rebounding battle. WOW! UCLA may be taller and more physical but Texas was quicker to the loose balls, did an excellent job blocking out, and simply wanted it more. Fantastic effort!
Quickness If there is a quicker starting five in college basketball, I don’t know about them. The first half was a joke. It wasn’t just Augustin beating his man off the dribble but Damion James and Justin Mason as well. Throw in Connor Atchley’s ability to run the floor and beat his man to the basket and you have a very difficult to defend ball club. What do you do? You can’t step back to take away the drive because AJ Abrams, Connor and DJ can all knock down the three. Texas may lose a few offensive rebounding opportunities by starting three guards but, man, do they put pressure on opposing defenses.
Damion James. Connor is getting lots of BON love. DJ is getting my love and will be getting national attention all season, but the Horns get beat by 15 points without James. 19 points and 10 rebounds. Another double-double for our undersized and underappreciated power forward. Damion must have worked his tail off this summer. He appears to be in much better shape. He is more explosive off the floor with his jumper, has better handles with the dribble, and has really filled the rebounding void left by Durant’s departure. What a beast!