February 14, 2009

The BIG Review: Texas pulls one out at Colorado


Answer baskets.

A.J. Abrams, who had a team-high 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting, came up with answer baskets. Otherwise UT's 85-76 overtime victory at Colorado could have gone the other way.

UT had a 10-point lead on the Buffaloes cut to two - 54-52 - on yet another 3-pointer by CU's Cory Higgins, who finished with a career-high 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting.

(Higgins is the third player in the last five games to go for at least 34 points against UT, joining K-State's Denis Clemente, who had 44, and Oklahoma State's James Anderson, who had 35.)

But just as the CU fans at the Coors Center were starting to get vocal, Abrams drilled a 3 with 8:36 left. Then, when the Buffaloes scored five straight points to tie the game at 57, Abrams drilled another 3 with 7:11 to play.

Texas needed Abrams the way Saturday Night Live needs Tina Fey. It was Abrams' who also stole the ball, went coast-to-coast, missed a layup, but scored on the follow to give Texas a 66-59 lead with 4:47 left.

Abrams also dove on the floor and appeared to have control of a loose ball with 9.8 seconds left as Texas players called timeout with the Longhorns up 72-70. But officials called it a tie-up and Colorado maintained possession. A subsequent foul called on Justin Mason allowed Jermyl Jackson-Wilson to shoot two free throws for CU with 7.6 ticks on the clock to tie the game at 72.

If Damion James could have made one of two free throws with 1.6 seconds left on the clock, Texas probably would have won this one in regulation. But he missed both. In the extra period, it was all UT as James scored on a drive and a jam, and Abrams hit another 3, and the Buffaloes went cold (hitting only one field goal) as the Longhorns won their second straight.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

The move of Dogus Balbay into the starting lineup at point guard appears to be a winner. Balbay's move to the point has allowed the four returning starters from last year's Elite Eight team to settle back into their roles. The confidence of the team is soaring, especially on the offensive end, where the Longhorns shot a sizzling 57.4 percent.


Balbay had six points on 3-of-4 shooting, but he had seven assists with only one turnover in 37 minutes of play. Balbay missed both of his free throws. Considering he's only hitting 36.4 percent of his free throws this season (8-of-22), that's something that could be a factor in the last six games.

I'm surprised Colorado didn't foul Balbay late in the game and force him to make free throws. Hope teams don't discover the Hack-A-Dogus strategy.

UNSUNG HERO

Even though he missed the two free throws at the end of regulation, Damion James was aggressive throughout the game and helped instill a winning attitude in his teammates. James was 9-of-14 shooting for 21 points with 14 rebounds.

Justin Mason was a close second. He only had seven points, but he had four rebounds - all on the offensive end, helping the Longhorns get some critical, second-chance points. With Balbay at the point, Mason is back to attacking the offensive glass, something UT sorely needs.

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

Texas' lack of defense and poor free-throw shooting made this game a whole lot closer than it needed to be because the Longhorns dominated the first half and led by only four (36-32). Texas allowed CU to hang around in the second half by failing to stay in front of Higgins. (Varez Ward was the only one who could check Higgins, but he got into foul trouble doing it, so his minutes were limited.)

UT also allowed Colorado to hang around by missing free throws. The Longhorns were 17 of 28 from the foul line (60.7 percent), including James' huge misses at the end. Colorado, by contrast, hit 25 of 29 free throws.

The Longhorns' defense has got to improve, including some horrible transition defense that allowed Higgins to get down the floor for a three-point play that tied the game at 70-70 with 1:22 left. Let it be said, however, that Higgins, a 6-5 sophomore averaging 17.2 points before Saturday's game, is a rising star.

Texas was also in foul trouble much of the second half as five Longhorns finished the game with four fouls - Gary Johnson, James, Balbay, Connor Atchley and Varez Ward.

THE BENCH

One game after it appeared Atchley had snapped out of his season-long funk with 14 points against Oklahoma State, he was back to being passive on the offensive end. Coming off the bench for a second straight game, he took one 3-pointer, missed it and didn't attempt another shot. The good news is Atchley was more assertive on the defensive end with two blocked shots but only three rebounds in 14 minutes.

Ward had eight points and three rebounds in 28 minutes for UT, while Dexter Pittman had four points and no rebounds in 12 minutes. Matt Hill played five minutes and didn't post a stat. Clint Chapman did not play.


TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

Since we have given so much love to Abrams already, let's spread it around …

Bronze - Varez Ward driving to the basket, getting fouled and hitting both free throws with 41.2 seconds left to put Texas up 72-70.

Silver - Damion James' strong drive to the basket with 3:46 left in overtime, setting an aggressive tone and putting Texas up, 76-74.

Gold - James' putback jam on a missed driving layup by Balbay with 2:26 left in OT. It put Texas up, 78-74, and gave Texas all the cushion it would need.


LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

Dunks in Colorado game:

Damion James - 4
Justin Mason - 1

Dunks for the season:

Damion James - 37
Dexter Pittman - 30
Gary Johnson - 7
Justin Mason - 7
Clint Chapman - 5
Connor Atchley - 5
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1


THE BIG NUMBER

50.4

Texas has allowed its last five opponents - Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Colorado - to shoot an average of 50.4 percent in the second half of those games. The second-half totals for those teams were as follows - K-State (13 of 31, 41.9 percent), Missouri (15 of 27, 55.6 percent), Nebraska (10 of 22, 45.5 percent), Oklahoma State (12 of 23, 52.2 percent) and Colorado (12 of 20, 60 percent).

That has to change in a hurry with a road game at Texas A&M up next on Big Monday.

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