Three years ago, a UT freshman by the name of Kevin Durant formally introduced himself to the Big 12 in a 102-78 rout of Colorado. In 35 minutes, he scored 37 points, grabbed 16 boards, and gained widespread national recognition. Avery Bradley isn't Kevin Durant, but he had a similarly impressive performance against Colorado in his first conference game.
Today, in front of a Longhorn fanbase desperately needing a pick-me-up, Bradley played his best game of the season, showing deadly accuracy with his mid-range jumper (and pretty much everything else) and shattering his season-high for rebounds. In 36 minutes, Bradley scored 29 points (on 12-14 shooting), corraled 9 rebounds, and added three assists. He knocked down each of his 3 shots from behind the arc and seemed to be gaining confidence as each subsequent jumper went through the net. It was the second consecutive game Bradley has played over 35 minutes, after only playing over 30 minutes in only 1 out of the first 13 games.
But today's victory isn't simply the story of Avery Bradley. In fact, I really think the analysis should primarily focus on the whole rather than the individual parts. Colorado came to play today, and we came out and beat them in a team effort. At halftime, Colorado was shooting 62% from the field, had knocked down their free throws, and essentially shut down Dexter Pittman--they were still losing by 15 points. This wasn't a virtuoso performance by the Horns, but it reiterated the fact that this team can dominate opponents without either side playing either extremely well or extremely poorly.
Let's break this down...
In a high-scoring first half loaded with ticky-tack fouls, it took a little while for the Horns to start rolling. Colorado was knocking down shot-after-shot and benefitted from our inability to prevent penetration and lay-ups. I dont want to dwell on some of the defensive miscues, but it was pretty frustrating to watch Colorado have 6 lay-ups in their first 12 shots. On the flip side, the early Texas offense was entirely composed of Damion James and Avery Bradley. The duo combined to score our first 15 points and a third Longhorn didnt score until the 13:00 mark. It was clear from the beginning that Bradley was feeling it, and he demonstrated effective offensive aggression throughout the entire game. With 8:00 left in the half, Texas was up 32-28, but it was clear that the 'Horns were about to go on a run. When CU failed to score on 5 out of 6 possessions, Texas went on a 16-2 run over the next 3:15 to extend their lead to 48-30. The teams traded baskets and free throws to close the half, which was fittingly ended on a twisting lay-up by Avery Bradley as time ran out to make the score 57-42.
The Texas run in the first half was partially driven by our ridiculous rebounding advantage. Texas killed Colorado on the glass during the entire game, finishing with a 39-18 advantage. At one point, I think Damion James had as many rebounds as the entire Colorado team. This prevented the Buffs from getting second looks after missed jumpers. In an impressive stat, Texas prevented CU from having a single second-chance point during the first half and held them to 6 for the entire game. Conversely, the Longhorns grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and had 22 second-chance points.
In the second half, both teams cooled off in their shooting, but kept piling up points on the scoreboard. The early part of the second half was marred by Texas racking up a string of whistles and turnovers. In the first 2:30 of the second half, Texas accrued four fouls and had three turnovers. These miscues allowed CU to pull within 59-50, which would be the closest they got for the rest of the game. The fouls became a theme of the second half, for both sides. As a bi-product of all the whistles, Colorado had three big men foul out, Texas lost Damion James, and the teams combined to shoot 38 free throws in the second half. After Texas quickly pushed their lead back up to 16 points, they were never seriously challenged again. Any time that CU made a mini-run, Texas simply put their foot back on the gas pedal. Near the end of the game, the Horns stretched their lead to 100-78 before coasting to the finish line.
The outcome was: Satisfying. After a series of clos(er) calls, it was nice to see Texas come out and steamroll a conference opponent. We struggled with CU last year, but, as you should all know by now, this isnt last year. They played good, we played good, and we beat them by 18 points. Good stuff.
Stats of the Game: Rebounds and Second Chance Points. After we lost the rebounding battle to Texas A&M CC, it was nice to see the Horns completely dominate the Buffs on the glass. As mentioned above, this prevented CU from making any type of sustained run and sealed their fate once they quit hitting 70% of their shots from the floor.
Another potential "stat of the game" is that Texas scored 103 points in a game where Dexter only contributed 4 points in 12 minutes. A lot of that has to do with the two players mentioned in the next section.
The Offensive MVPs were: Avery Bradley and Damion James. Bradley's numbers speak for themselves--he was fantastic. While Bradley deserves the lion's share of the spotlight today, I also wanted to recognize Damion James. He supplemented Bradley's fantastic effort by adding his own 20 points and 14 rebounds in only 28 minutes. The last two games, Damion has been plagued by foul trouble, but his combined stats are incredible. In his last 45 minutes, DaMo has scored 40 points and grabbed 23 rebounds.
I'm going to write more about this in a few weeks, but I think one of the more fascinating subplots of this season is the legacy of Damion James at Texas. In four more games, he will have started more games than any player in the history of UT Basketball. It takes a unique skillset for such a talented player to stay four years in school, and I think Damion's deficiencies have caused people to criminally underrate his impact on this team. Dexter is most popular and Hamilton/Bradley are the most talented, but Damion James is simply the best "player" on this team. As I said, more to follow on this topic, perhaps in a Roundtable format.
The Defensive MVPs were: No one. No one really stood out to me. We got lit up by their backcourt and Marcus Relphorde led their team with 24 points of his own. In fact, you could make the argument that this was similar to the game against Arkansas.
The Jordan Hamilton Watch: Jordan's stat line doesn't jump off the page, but this was an important game for him. In giving him a season-high 29 minutes, Rick Barnes allowed Hamilton to play through some mistakes, as he received several admonishments from Rick during CU free throws while being allowed to stay in the game. Even though he didnt have a great night shooting, he continued rebounding well and made some really nifty passes, including one behind his back. Yes, he attempted a goofy shot and made a handful of dumb decisions, but Rick showed today that he's willing to give Hamilton a longer leash than others have received in the past.
Hamilton has been criticized in the comments for having a low basketball IQ, and I saw several things today that support this theory. First off, he forgot on two separate occasions about the automatic TV timeouts. On one occasion, he started heading to the opposite end of the court; on the other, he started walking to the blocks to set up for the free throws. The more egregious action came when he fouled a CU player at midcourt with only 26 seconds left in the game. As you can imagine, Rick nearly blew a gasket. Hamilton is pretty much the box-of-chocolates on the roster...never know what your gonna get.
Gary Johnson's Minutes: Perhaps the most unsung player in the current 10-man rotation--with the possible exception of Wangmene--Gary Johnson had another really solid game today. After the Arkansas game, it appeared like Gary might be in line for some additional playing time. Today, with Pittman glued to the bench, Gary was rewarded with a season-high 28 minutes and delivered with 16 points (5-7 shooting) and 3 rebounds. His energy and effort were fantastic throughout the game. He also had 4 assists--just kidding, he had 0.
The PG Play: It seems weird to say this about a game where we scored 100+ points, but I didnt think any of our PG's were all that impressive today. Balbay/Brown combined for 10 assists (5 apiece), but Dogus struggled with turnovers and Brown drew three quick whistles and took a few bad shots in only 15 minutes. Brown also had some bad body language, particularly when he knew he was going to get taken out after taking a bad shot too early in the offensive set. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by some of their games from earlier in the season. Lucas is poised but limited on the floor, and he's clearly the 3rd option at the position right now.
Looking Ahead: While each conference game should be taken seriously, the next two games are both favorable for the Longhorns. The team travels to Iowa State on Wednesday, then returns home to play the Aggies on Saturday evening. Moving to 17-0 before a Big Monday showdown in Manhattan with K-State seems like the most likely scenario.