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AJ and Mason Shoot #12 Horns Past Sooners

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Game Recap: Once again, the Texas Longhorns started slowly and fell behind early, and once again, the Horns rallied to win. While it would be nice to see Texas start quickly and lead throughout, this team is building a lot of character and confidence by consistently overcoming large first half deficits. #12 Texas improved to 18-4 overall and 5-2 in Big XII play, just a game out of first place, with an win 64-54 win over OU.

Texas was ice cold from the opening tip as they forced some shots and missed others. The Horns shot under 30% for the entire first half but managed to trail just 29-25 at the break. After OU hit their first three three-pointers of the game, the Sooners cooled just as fast. The Texas 2-3 zone did a nice job of limiting Blake Griffin’s ability in the paint and of forcing contested perimeter jump shots. After the initial OU surge, Texas basically controlled the game the rest of the way.

For the second straight game, Texas owned the final twenty minutes, 39-25. AJ Abrams got hot from long range and even Justin Mason added two crucial second half three-pointers. DJ Augustin ran the half court offense well and got into the lane a couple of times for layups and fade-away jumpers. The execution on the other end was just as effective and important. Again, OU hit their first two three-pointers of the second half and then hit just one more from long range the rest of the way. The Horns doubled Blake Griffin just about every time he touched the ball and dared the rest of the OU team to step up. B. Griffin is an outstanding player and despite the double teams was able to keep OU close by finding open teammates and converting at the line.

In the end, Texas was the team quicker to loose balls, stronger on the glass, and better conditioned for a 40 minute slugfest. As the game wore on, the Horns appeared to get stronger, while the Sooners appeared totally spent. It didn’t help that Longar Longar was out with an injury, but nonetheless, the stamina and overall fight of the Sooners was missing at the end.

The outcome was: Satisfying. After the disappointment of the Darrell Scott recruitment, beating a rival on the hardwood has maybe never felt so good. Texas steals their second road game in four tries and remains near the top of the conference. I thought going into conference season that Texas could conceivably go 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road to reach 12-4. In order to get to 5-3, winning either at OU or at Kansas State would be necessary. Check.

A couple of other reasons this one feels so good: 1) It was OU. Enough said. 2) AJ shot the ball well for the second game in a row. 3) Mason’s confidence level on offense is finally registering on the scale. 4) The half-court defense was extremely impressive in both man and zone.

The Offensive MVP was: AJ Abrams. After the Baylor game, I wrote this:

While still too much of the offense is geared around creating jump shots for AJ in the half court, it is very nice when he’s actually making them.

That statement is still very true after another game, but give AJ credit. He worked his butt off running around screen after screen, took good shots, and knocked them down. Abrams scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting (4-of-10 from three). Fran Frachilla was right on with his observation on the broadcast: when AJ’s jumper his falling, Texas is extremely dangerous. That was the case tonight as Texas prevailed with almost zero frontcourt scoring.

The Defensive MVP was: Perimeter Defense. From the opening tip, the Texas’ defense strategy was clear. Coach Barnes had Texas double B. Griffin on every catch and didn’t allow OU to dominate the game on the interior. Not only was Texas effective on pressuring the Griffin brothers but they were equally effective rotating back to perimeter shooters and contesting jumpers. OU shot just 6-of-24 (25%) from long range and at least three of those makes came in the opening minutes of the game. Texas also forced nine OU turnovers. That doesn’t sound like a lot but at least four of them came during a stretch of the first half when Texas wasn’t scoring in the half-court. The points the Horns scored off those turnovers allowed them to stay close over the first twenty minutes and survive their sub-30% field goal percentage.  

The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: Acceptable. Gary Johnson played 20+ minutes, scored four points, grabbed four rebounds, and played physical post defense. He did commit four fouls and was taught a few lessons by B. Griffin but played adequately. Clint Chapman drew the start for the Horns but played sparingly and didn’t score. Alexis Wangmene saw his first action since he was ejected from the A&M game a week ago but also was an insignificant player in the victory. At this point in the year, the bread and butter of this team isn’t going to change; Texas is a perimeter first team. The Horns are going to be carried by DJ, AJ, or Damion for just about every game. The freshman will see their minutes but won’t be expected to do anything spectacular. As long as they play solid post defense, screen, and rebound on both ends, then Coach Barnes will be pleased.

Three Things: (1) Jeff Capel and the Sooner fans whine too much. This isn’t a surprise to any of the readers of this blog, but the exasperated looks of Capel and the consistent booing by the Sooner faithful was pathetic. Capel was nowhere near as obnoxious as he was last year in Norman. He is, however, coming dangerously close to a dead-on Billie Clyde Gillespie impersonation.

(2) DJ played well. While it appeared that 6-5 David Godbolt was doing a good job defending Augustin, a quick check of his numbers reveals something different. DJ scored 19 points (6-of-14 from the floor), dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds, and committed just two turnovers in a full 40 minutes. If that is an off night, I’ll take it.  

(3) Conditioning played a role tonight. In the game thread, I made the point that OU looked tired late in the first half and that Texas should be able to take advantage in the second half. Right after halftime, Texas pushed the ball quickly up the floor on back to back possessions. The first ended in the Damion James slam and the second in a Johnson layup. Texas took control of the game because they appeared to want it more. They played harder and faster, were quicker to loose balls, and had no trouble moving their feet defensively throughout the game. Meanwhile, OU looked tired, was slow to change ends in the second half, and were pulling on their shorts a lot. I don’t know if Texas is in fantastic shape or OU is just in poor shape. Either way, conditioning was a factor in the Texas victory.

NEXT GAME: Away vs. Iowa State – Saturday 2/9 2:30 p.m. ABC