March 29, 2008

Breakdown: Too many stars to name in UT win

The Texas Longhorns continued their record-setting season on Friday with an 82-62 win over the No.3 seed Stanford in Houston at Reliant Stadium. The Longhorns broke open a one-point game mid-way through the second half, ending the game on a 30-11 run led by the play of D.J. Augustin. With the win, Texas is back in familiar territory, the Elite Eight on Sunday in front of thousands of Longhorns fans with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

The Longhorns are certainly battle tested.

Even with a 43-34 lead at the half, there was little doubt that the Cardinal would make a run that push the Longhorns. When Stanford reserve guard nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key to bring the Cardinal within one at 52-51 with under 13-minutes to play, the pressure was squarly on the shoulder of the Texas players to answer back.

Texas (31-6) responded by breaking open a one-point game with a decisive 16-2 run highlighted with a two-handed dunk by [db]Damion James off of a nifty Augustin feed that brought the Longhorn faithful to their feet.

The run began with an A.J. Abrams mid-range jumper and was followed up by a James tip in and Augustin score off of a loose ball to up the lead to 58-51.

After a pair of Brook Lopez free throws cut the lead to five with 9:25 to play, the Longhorns scored 10 straight points highlighted by an Abrams three-pointer from the left wing before the emphatic dunk by James.

With 5:15 remaining, the Longhorns had opened up a 68-53 lead on the Pac-10 runner-up.

While the lead seemed insurmountable, the issue of whether the Longhorns would face another free throw shooting nightmare closing out a game was in play. When Connor Atchley swished a three-pointer from the right wing with 2:53 to play, the question was answered as Texas extended the lead to 19-points at 75-56 leaving zero doubt about the final out come.

As impressive as the Longhorns were on the offensive end, they were equally adept defensively holding the Cardinal to just nine of 32 shooting in the second half in the 82-62 win.

Stanford (28-8) and Texas played the opening seven minutes of the game nearly even before a mini-run by the Longhorns gave them a lead that Stanford would not cut into until the second half.

Leading 10-8, Abrams hit a 16-footer for a four point lead with 12:49 to play in the opening stanza. Abrams jumper was followed by an Augustin three for a 15-8 lead. After a Stanford free throw, Abrams nailed a three of his own for an 18-9 lead.

The Cardinal could never cut the lead to less than four the final 9:36 of the half.

Stanford had the lead only once in the entire game, 2-0 15-seconds in after Brook Lopez scored the first two of his game high 26 points.

The Longhorns were led by Augustin with 23 points and seven assists. The sophomore All-American was joined in double figures by James with 18, Abrams with 12 and Atchley with 10.

A look at the numbers

Texas connected on 49.2% (32-65) from the floor, 31.8% (7-22) from the three-point line and 61.1% (11-18) from the foul line.

Stanford managed just 33.8% (22-65) from the floor, 35.3% (6-17) from three and 66.7% (12-18) from the free throw line.

The Longhorns closed strong to tie up the battle of the boards 42 each, while winning the turnover battle 10 to 6.

The good

There's almost too much to accurately cover without feeling like someone's key contribution had been left out.

Justin Mason played yet another terrific all-around game for Texas. Quietly, the sophomore is playing the best all-around basketball on the team. His help defense in man or zone was timed near perfectly. On the ball defense, although not tested against Stanford, has been exceptional. His ability to allow Texas to use Augustin on the wing, attack off the dribble, keep possessions alive with key offensive rebounds and make the correct pass on penetration has been very key in the Longhorns offensive output.

Dating back to the beginning of the Big 12 tournament, Mason has 36 assists and just nine turnovers and is averaging 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, not to mention the being the top defender on the team.

Clint Chapman made three key plays in the first half. First, he made a hustle play to keep a possession alive and then he then followed with a tip in score off of a James miss before finally scoring on another offensive rebound off of a Mason miss. Those are three key plays that can fly under the radar in a game with many stars.

Entering the game, Augustin was going to have to make plays in the mid-range in the half court. He did so and really looked to get to the mid-range shot and he didn't seem to want to penetrate too deep. He scored in the mid-range, but also did a very good job of working to get to quality passing angles finding open teammates.

Abrams was going to be defended very tight as Stanford had shown against Arizona earlier in the year that they would face guard and not rotate off of a key scorer. Abrams didn't force bad shots and continued to move without the ball on every possession even when face guarded and understanding that he likely wouldn't see the ball on many possessions. His continued movement without the ball keeps him in the forefront of a teams mind. The junior misses were good looks and in the flow of the game.

Texas' ability to take a 43-34 lead into the half with Atchley, James and Mason only having one foul each was huge. That left the staff with complete freedom in the second half.

Pittman gave Texas 10 terrific minutes and it was probably his best minutes of the year when you consider the magnitude of the game. In the first half he didn't body up and use what he has to affect Lopez on the block, but made a difference in the second half. He kept Lopez from quickly pivoting and scoring on point blank bank shots. He also scored four key points, blocked two key shots and pulled down six rebounds when the Longhorns needed them the most.

James attacked in the mid-range game against a zone look early and he stayed in the mid-range in the opening minutes with success as that is where Stanford is vulnerable. In the second half, he did a very good job of attacking off the dribble from the perimeter. Going into the game, Texas had a chance to really inflict damage against the Cardinal with James and Atchley on the offensive end and James on follow-ups. He took one shot way too quick in the shot clock in the second half when the same shot would have been there at any point, but has was in attack mode against Robin Lopez.

Atchley was giving up size and strength as he has many time this year, but battled and played without foul trouble, which was key as the Longhorns have to have him on the offensive end to change the way big men defend. He made a couple of key blocks as he always does and basically ended the game with a three from the right wing with under three-minutes to play. Took very smart shots and kept the Stanford big men moving.

Gary Johnson contributed some key minutes in the second half and Alexis Wangmene in the first half.

Texas went into the game with the notion that Stanford couldn't beat them off the dribble and they were correct. With the outside jumpers not falling, not unexpectedly, the Cardinal were left with only Brook Lopez as a scoring threat. While Lopez scored 26 points, he did so on 10 of 22 shooting.

Robin Lopez' early second half foul trouble was key. Going to the bench with his third was key in taking away the decided interior advantage on offense. At the point when he picked up his third foul, it appeared as if the duo would score around 40 points and pull down 20+ rebounds. They ended with 32 and 15.

Texas was quick to loose balls and took advantage with transition chances.

The bad

Stanford got tremendous minutes off the bench from Taj Finger. Why bring this up? He made a number of active plays rebounding, keeping possessions alive and jumping passing lanes. Those plays are what Memphis will get from Robert Dozier or Shawn Taggert to a certain extent on Sunday. Memphis won't feature the low post presence that requires the help defense and rotation off of a player such as Finger, but will on dribble drive. The Longhorns have to do a better job on Sunday of keeping the trash player off the offensive glass.

Overall

Texas set a record for wins in a season on Friday with 31 and advanced to a third Elite Eight in the last six years.

The Longhorns are now 3-2 in Sweet 16 games under Rick Barnes. With the win, Barnes improves his NCAA Tournament record at Texas to 16-9.


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