It wasn't the prettiest exhibition of the season, but Texas played well enough to advance through the first round of the tourney by defeating New Mexico State 79-67 tonight in Spokane. The Longhorns advanced behind 27 points from Durant, 19 from Augustin, 16 from Abrams, and a welcomed dose of Good Connor to take out the truly thugtastic Aggies of New Mexico State.
The Aggies worked hard to stay close with Texas, but they were pretty clearly outmatched throughout the game. I thought New Mexico State head coach Reggie Theus did a fine job of convincing his team that they could (and should) come out and slug Texas in the mouth - his players clearly believed they could pull off the stunner. Unfortunately for the Aggies, Theus also insisted on sticking with a full court press that yielded exactly two turnovers of significance all night (while helping Texas score at least five wide open baskets in transition).
Let's walk through the critical points of tonight's game:
The Three Blind Mice Have you ever seen a more poorly officiated basketball game? I don't mean to insinuate that the referees had it out for Texas; rather, I just thought they were wholly incompetent. They (consistently) botched calls on both ends of the floor, leading to a choppy game that often lacked a good flow. While the Aggies had their fair share of opportunities to wonder what the officials were thinking, no one got screwed quite like Damion James did. When James picked up his fourth straight foul, I wondered aloud whether the zebras were actively trying to keep him fresh for Sunday. It was just an atrocious game for the officials.
(Mostly) Good Connor! Come on, come on! You gotta hand it to Connor. He had a very solid game. (Mostly!) Aside from three turnovers, Athcley gave Texas tremendous minutes off the bench - minutes that were critical with the officials inexplicable desire to get Damion James off the floor. Atchley played 28 minutes, chipped in 7 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, and blocked three shots. Honestly - as hard a time as we've given Connor for that end of season slump, he deserves our praise for a gutty effort today. And really, Texas is in big trouble without Connor stepping up tonight. He was outstanding.
F*ck The Critics Wait, what, Bill? You want Kevin to shoot the ball every possession? Think he's invincible? That Rick's at fault for all the team's shortcomings? Please. . . The best player in college basketball had five critical turnovers tonight and - despite being supreme once more - had to be picked up by his teammates tonight. We'll save the bulk of this "debate" for the offseason, but mark my words: Rick Barnes has done an outstanding job with this -team- and the 18 year old Kevin Durant is as dependent on his teammates as they are on him. No matter what the callous and flippant outsiders will try to have you believe.
Team Effort All the stories tomorrow will be about Durant's 27 points, but make no mistake about it: this was a team effort. Justin Mason gave Texas outstanding minutes on defense, limiting what the Aggies best scorer (Justin Hawkins) was able to do. Craigory chipped in four points in eight minutes, DJ had one of those outstanding overall games that we take for granted these days, and the team picked up the win with contributions from everyone - as opposed to being heaved on Kevin's back. Critics of this Texas team fail to realize how important the role players on this squad are. Believing that Kevin Durant will (or can) just throw up 50+ points in a game is adolescent analysis.
Looking Ahead The bad news is that Texas was a little flat today. The good news is that we won despite:
- A subpar game from Kevin (who was a little over-excited tonight)
- Bizarre officiating (that didn't mesh well with what we like to do)
- Most breaks going New Mexico State's way
The key for Texas is limiting turnovers and making USC work hard on transition defense. I've been saying for some time now that I think USC is too offensively challenged to beat Texas, but I do know that Tim Floyd will get his team ready to put forth a good defensive effort on Sunday. Expect a hard fought game, but look for Texas' superior scoring to prevail. Much more on this game in the next 36 hours, but my initial call is: Texas 75 USC 70.