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March 1, 2007

Big 12 Player of the Year? Too close to call

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AUSTIN, Texas - Acie Law IV gave a quick answer to the question that dominated the conversation after one of college basketball's most thrilling games of the season.

Who's the Big 12 player of the year? Better yet, who's the national player of the year?

Is it Kevin Durant, the all-world Texas freshman who is the only player in the nation to rank in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding?

Or is it Law, the Texas A&M point guard whose clutch shooting has sparked one of the most remarkable turnarounds of any program in the nation?

"I talked to Durant last night," Law said late Wednesday after the Aggies' 98-96 double-overtime loss to Texas at the Frank Erwin Center. "I told him that if I had a vote, it was him. Anyone who can have 28 (points) and 12 (rebounds) as a freshman and dominate games the way he is, (should win it) hands down. But I'll leave it up to the voters."

The answer didn't seem nearly as simple to anyone else.

In perhaps his final home game as a college player, Durant collected 30 points and 16 rebounds to help the 15th-ranked Longhorns (22-7, 12-3 Big 12) upend the seventh-ranked Aggies (25-4, 13-2).

Law arguably was better than Durant on this night.

The senior point guard continued his recent history as Texas' chief tormentor by keeping the Aggies in the game almost singlehandedly.

Josh Carter the NCAA leader in 3-point shooting fouled out in the final minute of the regulation. Star forward Joseph Jones picked up his fifth foul in the first minute of overtime.

That forced Law to carry the Aggies on his back.

He scored 33 points and made a pair of miraculous 3-pointers in the final minute of regulation and the first overtime session.

"His performance tonight was as good as any I've seen," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.

Law and Durant exchanged big shots the way a pair of heavyweight fighters trade body blows. The debate over which player is the best in the conference or nation continued with every shot.

Durant landed an apparent knockdown punch by sinking a 3-pointer from in front of the Longhorns' bench to give Texas a 76-72 lead with 19 seconds left in regulation.

"Really, I was supposed to take it to the basket," Durant said. "I just wanted to take the big shot. I'd never taken a big shot like that, and I'm glad I hit it. My teammates did a great job setting me up. I didn't know where I was. I knew I was behind the 3-point line. If it went in, it was a good shot. If I missed, it was a bad shot."

Durant rarely missed when it mattered.

Who should it be?
Any other year, Texas A&M senior Acie Law IV would probably be an easy choice as Big 12 Player of the Year. But Texas freshman Kevin Durant has burst onto the scene with a historic season of his own. A look at their numbers:
Kevin Durant 24.9 11.5 1.4
Acie Law IV 17.6 3.1 5.4
Neither did Law.

Three weeks ago, Law collected 21 points, 15 assists and only one turnover in a 100-82 blowout of Texas. In the rematch, he nearly broke the Longhorns' hearts again.

Texas led 78-75 in the final seconds of regulation when the Aggies set up for one final shot. Law was about to fire up a 3-point attempt when the 6-foot-9 Durant lunged forward and put a hand in his face.

That would have been enough to drive just about any shooter to distraction.

Not Law.

He arced his shot in such a manner that it eluded Durant's hand and slipped through the net with one second remaining.

"When I got the ball and saw him guarding me, I just tried to put as much arc on it as I possibly could," Law said. "He made a great (attempt at) the shot and reached up as high as he could, but I was just lucky and fortunate for it to fall."

When it happens once, it's luck.

When it happens twice, it's Law.

Texas grabbed a quick seven-point advantage in the first overtime session and still led 88-85 when the Aggies got the ball in the final minute. Once again, there was no mystery about who would take the last shot.

Once again, a Texas defender this time 6-foot-7 swingman Damion James put a hand in Law's face.

Once again, it didn't matter.

"You want to go crazy when he's hitting shots when you're in his face," James said. "I'd understand if they weren't contested, but these were contested shots. You can't say anything about him. He's just a big-time player."

But he wasn't the only big-time player on the floor.

Instead of getting frustrated every time Law revived Texas A&M, Durant calmly put the Aggies away for good. The freshman phenom went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line to make sure Texas never trailed in the second overtime period.

Pressure? What pressure?

"Acie and me are great friends," Durant said, "so it was like a fun battle between me and him."

And it's a battle that figures to continue until the Big 12 player of the year is finally announced.

While Law didn't hesitate to give his opinion on who deserved that award, Durant was considerably more circumspect.

"That's y'all's job, not mine," Durant told the media. "I'm just here to play ball. You tell me who it is."

Durant's coach had an equally tough time making his choice.

"I'd have to say they probably both deserve co-player of the year," Barnes said.

That might be the only reasonable solution.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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