How apprpriate that as the calendar turns from February to March, we're celebrating a 98-96 victory in one of the best games of the college basketball season. Acie Law, Josh Carter, and Texas A&M put up a whale of an effort last night and deserve mounds of credit for their performance, but it was our young Longhorns who pulled off one of the guttiest victories I've seen in some time.
As a college basketball fan, last night's action was all you could ask for. Both teams played at a high level. The superstars shone under the big lights. There were multiple late game heroics. It was as it's supposed to be, and because Texas emerged on top, we can actually enjoy it. Do you remember the feeling after the thriller in Stillwater? When we tried our best to say, "It was a great basketball game for fans of college hoops," but it didn't feel right - like we were somehow okay with moral victories?
I'm not sure I could have stomached that again this time around. After Acie Law hit that improbable, 23 foot, ceiling-grazing three pointer to send the game to overtime, my head nearly exploded. After Skankaluskus hit a three pointer to bring A&M back into a tie, my head nearly exploded. After Texas blew a four point overtime lead - with more Law superhero feats - my head nearly exploded.
But we still won. We still found a way to win.
Damion James is your Player of the Game (Mortals Division), finishing with 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks, none bigger than his stuff of Acie Law with 30 seconds left in regulation and Texas up one. James' ability to penetrate and work over Joseph Jones was as critical as anything else in the game, and there's no way Texas wins that game last night if Damion plays anything less than A-level basketball. And, really, Damion James hitting 8 of 9 free throws last night was as clutch as anything anyone else did.
Game ball, also, to DJ Augustin who had one of his best overall games of the year, playing 48 exhausting minutes and recording only two turnovers. His final line - 25 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals - was that of a senior, not a freshman. As much as anything else, his ability to maintain that level of high play throughout the game was critical to Texas winning. DJ went to the rim when it was there, and didn't force it when it wasn't. I was tremendously proud of his performance, and if he brings that kind of play to the Dance, Texas can get to the Final Four.
AJ Abrams didn't have a monster night, but he was an effective player for 47 tough minutes (16 points, 4 three pointers, 0 turnovers). In a game with that hectic a pace, you worry that AJ will play outside himself, but he was steady all night long and provided some huge baskets Texas couldn't have won without.
And then, of course, there's Kevin Durant. While the Burnt Orange Nation hopes and prays that there's an encore, if tonight was his farewell show, it was one for the ages. Another 30 point night. 16 monstrous rebounds. A thundering dunk. A stunning, clutch 23 foot three pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation that wound up being critical. Three blocks. Just one turnover. He's your National Player of the Year, and it's not close.
With all those stellar performances, it's easy to forget the conductor of the orchestra, Rick Barnes. AW and I are awfully tough on Rick. Because of what he's done in his time at Texas, we expect, and have come to demand, excellence. When the team falls anywhere short of that mark, we note the deficiencies, sometimes scathingly. Well, not a peep of complaint from us this evening. Only a hearty congratulations to Rick Barnes for directing this team to 12 conference wins - none bigger than last night's.
The improvement on defense, the maturation of Augustin, the explosive development of Damion James, the proper utilization of AJ Abrams - those don't happen on their own. They're the product of a great coach busting his tail to get the most out of his team. He got his team's best last night, and that's what you want from your head coach. Rick: congratulations. I thought 12 conference wins this season was out of reach.
I couldn't be more pleased to be wrong.
We'd be remiss not to mention the tremendous performance from Texas A&M last night. Josh Carter and Acie Law were both phenomenal - the latter nearly decisively so. His heroics in the last five minutes of regulation and both overtimes blew my mind, and just about won the game for Texas A&M. Joking about the Aggies is endless fun (and will, in fact, never end), but if we're just talking basketball - that's a heck of a team.
Winning in Austin when Texas was playing that well is a tall, tall order. They very nearly pulled it off.
Not so, though! Texas wins! Texas wins! Texas wins!
Oh, yeah - it's Thursday. Which means another Texas Basketball Report. What, you thought I'd run out of things to say?