February 10, 2009

The BIG Review: UT breaks out vs. OSU

Let's preface everything by saying Oklahoma State plays some of the worst defense in Division I-A, but …

db]Dogus Balbay[/db] got his first career start. And Damion James and A.J. Abrams couldn't miss at the start of Tuesday night's 99-74 party in the Erwin Center over the Cowboys, ending a three-game losing skid.

But this game will be remembered for the reappearing act of Connor Atchley a.k.a. White Out. Maybe it took starting Atchley on the bench after starting every game he played this season. Whatever it took, Texas needs more of it. Atchley made his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. That's as many 3s as he made in the first eight Big 12 games (2-of-19).

"It just kind of helped me realize I need to get it in gear," Atchley said of coming off the bench for the first time this season. "I have to do something to help our team be productive and help our team get going.

"I felt the energy back inside me, and I felt the team get energized out there."

Atchley scored 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting. That matched his season-high, a total he had in the season opener against Stetson way back in November. Atchley hadn't scored in double digits since the Rice game on Nov. 30 (11 points).

"C.A. (Atchley) got going and that's what we need from him," said Abrams, who hit 6-of-9 shots, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range to finish with 20 points. "We lost three in a row, dug ourselves a hole. When Connor is making shots and we're getting inside play from Gary (Johnson), Damion (James) and Dex (Pittman) and Dogus is pushing the ball and creating opportunities, it makes the game a lot easier."

The game changed when Atchley hit his first shot with 13:52 left in the first half. Suddenly, Oklahoma State had to extend what little defense it plays, and Texas was able to find driving lanes. Justin Mason drove to the rim, as did James and Johnson.

Rick Barnes said he was reluctant to take Atchley out of the starting lineup before the Oklahoma State game because he didn't want to shatter Atchley's confidence. But Barnes said he started Balbay over Atchley on Tuesday, in part, because Oklahoma State was a team that could press the Longhorns.

"I knew he was having some problems with his confidence and I wanted to stick with him," Barnes said. "He's put in too much work here, and you knew sooner or later it was going to happen for him, and the team is so excited for him."

Of his drought between double-digit games and simply looking for his shot and playing with confidence, Atchley said, "Sometimes things happen like that, and it's about not letting it affect you. It's just making sure I come out the next game and do it again."

Texas will be desperate for Atchley to keep this up - especially on the road at Colorado Saturday, a team, like Nebraska, that will try to slow things down and turn every possession into week-long mini-series.


A close second to Atchley's flash of confidence was the man who replaced him in the starting lineup - Balbay.

He had a huge night in his first start (again prefacing with OSU's almost comical lack of defense). Balbay was 5-of-9 shooting for 10 points with seven assists and one turnover, two steals and two rebounds.

This is the guy who looked like the court general in the final four minutes of that one-possession victory at Baylor on Jan. 27, a game in which he played starter-type minutes (31). But then he played only 14 minutes in UT's 85-81 overtime loss to Kansas State and only 2 minutes in UT's 69-65 loss at home to Missouri.
I asked Barnes if he regretted playing Balbay only 2 minutes against the Tigers, and he looked at me like I had three heads.

"No. It was a good learning experience for him," Barnes said.

I would argue differently. Balbay is the point guard of this team. Barnes would do well to build him up as the point guard and to do everything possible to give this kid some confidence over the last seven games instead of getting pissed at the kid for dribbling into a trap on the sideline like he did in the first 120 seconds of the Mizzou game.

"He did exactly what I told him not do in that Missouri game," Barnes said. "That's why I didn't put him back in."

Barnes can get hacked at a player and be unforgiving. Ask James Thomas, UT's all-time leading rebounder, who got only four minutes in a Sweet 16 loss to Xavier in 2004 when it appeared UT could have used Thomas' bulk against a red-hot David West in Xavier's upset of the Horns. (Barnes gave him the hook for two early turnovers and never put him back in. That proved to be Thomas' final game as a Longhorn. After the game, Thomas sat in the corner of the locker room behind an easel.)

"I don't know (why Barnes made the switch)," Balbay said. "Maybe Coach feels more comfortable about putting me in the lineup. We made a change. I don't know why. I just tried to push the ball hard and get in the paint and try to create some open shots for Connor, AJ and the other guys. I think we did a great job knocking the shots down."

Balbay, like Atchley, needs to keep getting better from here. Not many teams put out the red carpet to the basket like the Cowboys - except for maybe Baylor and Texas Tech.


Damion James, A.J. Abrams and Gary Johnson. They combined to shoot 20 of 43 from the field and 5-of-7 from 3-point range and 6-of-6 from the foul line. Not a bad night from your three leading scorers.


Clint Chapman missed a free throw with 1:10 left that would have given Texas 100 points. Harrison Smith missed three 3-pointers in the final 2:44 that would have helped the Longhorns crack the century mark. Hey, we're nitpicking here.


Bronze -
Dogus Balbay's spinning drive to the lane to put Texas up 44-28 with 4:57 left in the first half, a lane to the basket created, in part, by Connor Atchley hitting his second 3-pointer less than a minute earlier.

Silver - Varez Ward's steal from Obi Muenelo and coast-to-coast drive for a layup and a 72-52 lead with 12:38 left to play.

Gold - Damion James' alley-oop jam on a long-distance lob from Atchley after Connor dribbled the length of the court to break Oklahoma State's press with 10 minutes left, putting UT up 81-59.


Dunks against Oklahoma State:

Damion James - 1
Dunks for the season:

Damion James - 33
Dexter Pittman - 30
Gary Johnson - 7
Justin Mason - 6
Clint Chapman - 5
Connor Atchley - 5
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1



Justin Mason had the Omen line in the box score - 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.



On his team shooting 56.9 percent from the floor (33 of 58) and 46.7 percent (7 of 15) from 3-point range after averaging a Big 12-worst 43.2 percent from the floor and Big 12-worst 31.4 percent from 3 heading into Tuesday night's game …

"You have nights like that. I'm not thinking we're going to have it like this every night. But the shots we took are the ones we've been talking about all season. We have guys who can make shots."

On what he told the team after the game …

"I told the team we've got a seven-game season left. It's going to be a totally different game against Colorado. That's going to be a low possession game where as this one was high."


On UT's hot shooting …

"It was one of those nights. Texas played like a team that was a little upset. They played on both ends of the floor like that. They played really, really good. One of the better games I've seen them play. Their guys made shots, played with a sense of urgency and we didn't.

On Balbay …

"We knew he wasn't a good outside shooter, but he energized his team, and I thought he was the difference in the game. He had a very impressive stat line. That's what you want out of your point guard when you've got good players around him.

On Byron Eaton, who had 18 points …

"I thought our point guard did all he could, but he found himself alone out there."

On UT's offense …

"They've got the potential to do that. They made shots they haven't been making. I can't say we're the greatest defensive team in the world, but they made shots and hurt us on the glass. They were the better team tonight."

On James Anderson, who had 35 points on 12-of-16 shooting …

"He competed. He shot the ball, drove it and made some free throws. He was more aggressive tonight.

On UT's attitude …

"Texas played like a team that lost three games in a row. You could tell from the beginning they were pumped up and ready to roll. I thought our lack of size was exploited tonight. They just kind of went over us. Our guys played hard. It was just one of those games. There's a game or two a year when things don't go your way.

On the defensive gameplan for Abrams …

"We tried. We didn't do a great job guarding. But you don't just stop him. You have to hope he misses a few shots. He was a on roll. Got hot. Shot a great percentage tonight. He's one of the fastest shooters I've ever seen. He gets it off smooth. He's a great player and played like it tonight. He was 6-of-9 and didn't overly force things. They played well.

On his team's downfall …

"Turned it over 17 times. But we've got to have more help. We can't have just two guys show up each game. Marshall Moses doesn't score a point. Anthony Brown and Teeng Akol didn't score a point. We didn't have any of our post guys score. Lack of physicality and size really bothered us tonight. They just kept going over us.

"There's a reason Texas was ranked fifth in the country at one point this season. We may have just woke 'em up."

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