February 7, 2009

The BIG Review: Texas drops its third straight

So Texas tries to take advantage of its superior size with Dexter Pittman, and Nebraska, the smallest team in Division I (the Cornhuskers' average height is 6-3), still finds a way to make the Longhorns pay in a 58-55 upset in Lincoln.

When Pittman was in the game, Texas went to a 2-3 zone defense, and Nebraska suddenly started hitting 3s to take an eight-point lead, 18-10, with 7:46 left in the first half. So Rick Barnes took Pittman out of the game, and the Longhorns ended up reeling off a 24-4 run to take a 34-22 lead with 17:25 left in the game.

Texas led by 10 (42-32) with 10:56 left in the game, but when the Longhorns went to their big lineup with Pittman on the floor, Nebraska coach Doc Sadler had his players attack UT with the dribble and go to the foul line.

The aggressive play paid off as Nebraska went to the line and made 9-of-10 free throws, wiping away Texas' lead with a 16-3 run to go up 48-45. In that run, the Cornhuskers' also hit a prayer 3 by Cookie Miller from 24 feet with no time left on the shot clock.

The Longhorns, who have struggled on offense all year, scored just three points (a 3 by Damion James) over a nearly six-minute span as Nebraska erased UT's 10-point lead.

With the game in the balance, the Cornhuskers double-teamed A.J. Abrams and made his life miserable.

But Abrams moved to the point and helped UT end its drought by smartly forcing Nebraska big man Chris Balham, who is 6-8, to defend the pick and roll. Abrams split the defense for a deuce with 4:02 left. And Abrams forced Balham to do it again a minute later, leading to a dunk by Gary Johnson and a 52-51 lead by the Longhorns.

Nebraska, however, couldn't miss in the final 2:25 (3-of-3 from the floor), including a dagger 3-pointer by NU's Ade Dagunduro with 50 seconds left over Gary Johnson that helped put the Cornhuskers up for good, 56-52.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

Folks, at 15-7 and 4-4 in the Big 12 and on a three-game losing streak, it's time to start counting the number of victories Texas can pull out of its final eight games.

Tuesday - Oklahoma State
Feb. 14 - at Colorado
Feb. 16 - at Texas A&M
Feb. 21 - Oklahoma
Feb. 25 - Texas Tech
Feb. 28 - at Oklahoma State
March 2 - Baylor
March 7 - at Kansas

How many do you count? I count five or six if Texas can get hot. I count three if UT keeps playing like this. If the latter were to happen, Texas would be 18-12 and 7-9 in Big 12 play. No Big 12 team has ever gotten into the NCAA Tournament with a losing conference record. Time for the Horns to get hot.

The last time Texas lost three straight games was the 2004-05 season, when UT lost LaMarcus Aldridge to a hip injury and P.J. Tucker to academics. That was also the only time Texas was in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament under Barnes.

Barnes compared this team to that 2004-05 squad after losing to Missouri because Barnes said both lacked vocal leadership.

STAR OF THE GAME

We might need to start renaming some of these categories until the Horns start winning again. But A.J. Abrams tried to hold this thing together. He made the smart plays at the point and hit a big 3 with 36 seconds left to cut Nebraska's lead to 56-55.

Abrams, who finished 6-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range for 16 points, tried to hit the tying 3 at the buzzer but was hounded by three defenders. Sadly, there probably isn't another option from 3-point range at this point of the season - although Connor Atchley hit his second 3 in conference play Saturday. He's now 2-of-19 from 3-point range in league play.

UNSUNG HERO

Pittman continues to put up good numbers in limited minutes. He was 3-of-4 shooting for seven points with six rebounds in 13 minutes. Contrast that with Atchley, who was 1-of-2 shooting with three rebounds and a team-high-tying four turnovers in 12 minutes (Damion James also had four turnovers).

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

Texas is 14-of-47 from 3-point range during its three-game losing streak and is the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 (.312). UT was 7-of-20 from 3-point range Saturday, which is actually an improvement (.350).

UT also had 16 turnovers and only eight assists as Abrams, Justin Mason, Johnson, Damion James and Pittman all had more turnovers than assists.

TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

Bronze
- Connor Atchley's 3-pointer to start the second half. Thought it might be something to build on. But Atchley never took another shot.

Silver - Damion James' 3-pointer with 9:50 left putting Texas up, 45-37, on a great feed from Dogus Balbay.

Gold - A.J. Abrams' 3-pointer with 34.4 seconds left over the long arm of Ade Dagunduro. It cut Nebraska's lead to 56-55 and silenced the crowd, but Nebraska made sure it was UT's last basket of the game.

LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

Dunks against Nebraska:

Dexter Pittman - 2
Gary Johnson - 1

Dunks for the season:

For the season:

Damion James - 32
Dexter Pittman - 30
Gary Johnson - 7
Justin Mason - 6
Clint Chapman - 5
Connor Atchley - 5
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1

THE BIG NUMBER

8


The points Texas got from its bench after getting 33 bench points against Missouri on Wednesday. Nebraska had 20 points from its bench. Dogus Balbay, Varez Ward and Clint Chapman all went 0-for in the game.

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