An 81-80 win over the Louisville Cardinals by the No. 15 Texas Longhorns on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in the Empire Classic thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper by senior guard Max Abmas pushed head coach Rodney Terry’s team into the finals against the No. 5 UConn Huskies on Sunday.
“We were fortunate to have the ball at the very end and Max made a big-time play and big-time shot,” said Terry.
UConn advanced with a 77-57 win over Indiana in Saturday’s early game as senior East Carolina transfer guard Tristen Newton recorded 23 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists and two-time transfer guard Cam Spencer added 18 points on only eight field-goal attempts. Of the nine rebounds by center Donovan Clingan, seven came off the offensive glass as the Huskies recorded 15 total offensive rebounds.
Against the Huskies, the Longhorns will try to bounce back from a 2-of-17 shooting performance from three in the win over the Cardinals that stood in stark contrast to the 45.7-percent start from distance over the first three games. The three-point attempts were highly concentrated, too, with 10 attempts for Abmas and no more than two attempts for any other players. Beating UConn will require a better effort from beyond the arc, though perhaps Terry doesn’t agree.
“We got some great looks today and we have been shooting the ball extremely well,” said Terry. “We made 30-something threes in three games. Tonight we got great looks and they didn’t go down for us. We never go into a game saying we’ve got to shoot our way into a win — we’ve got some interior guys that can play inside, we can play inside-out, but even then with the shots we still want to play two foot-plays in the paint, play inside-out basketball. But again, we’ll be a team that shoots the ball well all year long, but we never want to be a team that has to live and die by it.”
Defending without fouling was also an issue for Texas in its first game at Madison Square Garden as the Longhorns committed 21 fouls leading to 31 free-throw attempts by the Cardinals while only forcing 11 turnovers. To have a chance at upsetting UConn, Texas needs to generate more giveaways by the Huskies and commit fewer fouls.
With senior forward Kadin Shedrick playing through a setback to his surgically-repaired right shoulder sustained in practice during the week, the size of UConn could be an issue for Texas. Clingan is 7’2 and while he’s offensively limited, he’s a high-level rim protector and offensive rebounder. At power forward, the Huskies start 6’8, 220-pounder Alex Karaban while bringing 6’10, 225-pound forward Samson Johnson and 6’10, 220-pounder Youssouf Singare off the bench.
Since the Longhorns can’t match the size of the Huskies, getting out in transition to score on the fast break and creating spacing with shooting in the halfcourt will be crucial since the offensive-rebounding success against the Cardinals probably isn’t sustainable — on Saturday against Louisville, Texas had 17 offensive rebounds, a 50-percent offensive rebounding rate, although the Horns only turned those extra opportunities into nine second-chance points.
UConn leads the all-time series between the two programs 6-3 with the last matchup coming in Austin in 2015, a 71-66 win by the Huskies.
How to watch
Time: 6:00 p.m. Central
Odds: The Longhorns are 6.5-point underdogs at DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.