December 3, 2008

The BIG preview: UT, UCLA set to collide

The Basics

After four games in seven days last week, including three in Maui, the Longhorns (5-1) continue play on Thursday with another Top 10 showdown against No.9 UCLA (4-1) at the Erwin Center. Tip-off is at 8PM and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

Series vs. UCLA

UCLA leads 2-1. Last meeting: Texas 63-61 (December 2nd, 2007; in Los Angeles)

Post-Rice Notes

• The Longhorns have won the rebounding battle in all six games this season (three games by 10+).
• Damion James is the only Longhorn to finishing in double-figures in each game this season.
• After scoring a total of 11 points in the first three games of the season, junior guard Justin Mason has averaged 16.0 points per game in his last three games.
• Gary Johnson has scored in double-figures in five straight games.
• Dogus Balbay recorded career-highs in scoring (four points), rebounds (two) and assists (four) in the win over the Owls.

Horns maintain a strong position in the rankings

Not even a loss in Maui last week to No.7 Notre Dame could knock the Longhorns out of the top ten, as Texas was slotted eighth this week in both national polls. The Longhorns have been ranked inside the top ten all season.

Defense leading the way

If there's one thing we know that we can probably take to the bank about this year's, it's the fact that the Longhorns are going to be very salty on defense. After six games this season, the Longhorns have proven to be one of the nation's most intimidating defensive units, as they have held their opponents to 55.5 points per game, 34.0% FG shooting and 30.6% from three-point range. Through those first six games, the Longhorns have also recorded 55 steals and 38 blocks. By comparison, UT's opponents have tallied 38 steals and 19 blocks against the Longhorns.

UT's glue-guy is starting to stick his shots

After starting slowly on the offensive end, junior guard Justin Mason has picked up the pace in the last three games, averaging 16.0 points per game on 51.5% shooting (19-37) from the field.

Also, while the scoring is up, it's far from the only thing that Mason has been brining to the table in the last week. In addition to the 16.0 points per game, Mason has averaged 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.

Abrams keeps gaining ground

A.J. Abrams is not only the Big 12's top returning scorer this season, but he's also on his way towards becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the program. So far this season, he's averaging 15.8 points per game through the first six games, while making 19 of 45 (42.2%) from three-point land. Overall, he's hit the 20-point mark on 25 different occasions for the Longhorns during his career.

Heading into Thursday's game against the Bruins, Abrams ranks 11th on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,484 points and trails No.10 B.J. Tyler (1,502) by only 18 points. He passed former Longhorn star Johnny Moore (1,482 points) with his 10-point scoring barrage in the second-half against Rice. If Abrams can average a minimum of 20 points per game this season, he will almost certainly move into the No.3 slot all-time among Longhorn career scoring leaders and would have Terrence Rencher (2,306 points) and Travis Mayes (2,279 yards) in his sights.

If he averages 20.0 points per game this season, he'd be on pace to finish with 2,030 and that does not include any potential post-season games. Even if he only averages the 16.5 points per game that he averaged last season, he'd still be on pace to finish the regular season with 1,921 points, which would put him within 37 points of Reggie Freeman for the No.3 spot.

NBA Longhorn Notes

In their first match-up as pro players on Wednesday, former Texas stars Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin both showcased their lottery pick talents. Durant led the Thunder with 24 points on nine of 12 shooting, but the Bobcats got the win, as Augustin came off the bench to provide 10 points.

Former Wooden Award winner T.J. Ford scored 21 points and dished out eight assists in Indiana's 118-117 win over the L.A. Lakers on Tuesday. Ford is averaging 14.9 points and 5.4 assists per game this season.

LaMarcus Aldridge is 20.3 points per game in his last three games and is averaging a career-high 15.9 points per game this season. Aldridge tied a season-high 27 points against Detroit on Sunday.

Daniel Gibson has averaged 11.0 points in his last three games. So far this season, Gibson is averaging 8.4 points per game.

About UCLA…

If you're a fan of high-flying, high-scoring, break-neck paced basketball, you're going to be greatly disappointed in this top ten match-up because Thursday's game figures to feature two of the best defensive teams in the country.

In fact, UCLA is so good defensively that head coach Ben Howland was rumored to be up for Secretary of Defense in President-elect Barack Obama's new administration.

How good is the UCLA defense? Through their first five games of the season, the Bruins have allowed only 57.2 points per game, 43.2% shooting from the field and are forcing more than 16 turnovers per game.

Leading the way for the Bruins is National Player of the Year candidate Darren Collison, who surprised many by coming back for another season of college basketball. The 6-0, 175-pound Collison does everything for the Bruins, as he leads the team in scoring (15.0), assists (4.8), steals (2.2), three-point shooting (70.0%) and free throw shooting (94.1%).

Basically, we're talking about one of the nation's very elite players and the best part of his game is that he's such a complete player. As perhaps the quickest/fastest guard in the nation, Collison has the ability to break guys down off the dribble, but he is a deadly outside shooter and he gets to the free throw line.

The other returning starter is wing-man Josh Shipp. The 6-5, 220-pound Shipp has battled injuries throughout his career, but he's healthy and he's expected to carry a major load for a Final Four run. If the Bruins are going to beat the Longhorns, they are going to need Shipp to pick up the pace on the offensive end because he's been a season-long slump heading into the game.

Although he's not a great shooter, Shipp has been a productive three-point shooter in his career, but that has not been the case in the first five games of the season, as he's shooting 37.3% from the floor and 23.5% from long-distance.

While Collison and Shipp lead the way among the returning players on the team, the top freshman in an incredibly talented freshman class is Jrue Holiday. The 6-3, 205-pound Holiday is a do-it-all guard that comes into the game averaging 11.6 points on 63.9% shooter. Although some pro scouts believe that his natural position is at the point guard spot, the presence of Collison has allowed Holiday to get his feet wet in the college game without having the pressures of the entire offense going through him. With his long arms, quick feet and ability to defend anyone man-to-man, Holiday is a perfect prospect for Howland and if you want to see the kid in person before he heads off to the NBA, you better buy a ticket this year because he has star written all over him.

As you can see, the Bruins are deep and talented in the front court, but if they have a weakness that the Longhorns can exploit, it's in the front-court, where nobody has been able to replace what Kevin Love brought to the team in the way of scoring, rebounding and passing.

Senior forward Alfred Aboya has been the Bruins' top post-player this season, as he's averaging 8.6 points and a team-best 5.2 rebounds per game. In some ways Aboya is the glue-guy for the Bruins because he's an unselfish player that thrives on defense and doesn't need a lot of shots to have an impact on a game.

In their 55-52 loss to Michigan in New York City last week, there was one issue that probably concerns the Bruins and one that does not. One of the numbers that jumps out from the game is the 17 turnovers that the Bruins committed, including 10 by Shipp (six) and Collison (four). There aren't going to many games when these two perform so sloppily. On the other hand, the Bruins have to be concerned about the lack of scoring from anyone not named Collison or Holiday, as the rest of the team combined to shoot 10 of 32 shots (31.3%) from the field and three of 10 from three-point range.

Overall, the Bruins have only two players that average in double figures and if they are going to beat the Longhorns in Austin, someone besides Collison and Holiday is going to need to step up on the offensive end of the floor to help offset the fact that the Longhorns probably enter this game with more proven offensively capable players than the Bruins at this point in the season.

The Three Keys

1. Transition, transition and more transition. The Bruins specialize in half-court defense, which makes it imperative that the Longhorns use their own pressure defense to create some easy baskets.
2. Get Damion James going offensively. James should be a very tough match-up for the Bruins, but James has struggled at times to find himself offensively within the structure of the Texas offense. This is a chance for James to showcase his talent and the best way for him to do that is to get into the open court.
3. Make someone other than Collison or Holiday beat them. If the Bruins are going to win this game, the Longhorns need to force them to do it with Shipp breaking out of his slump or someone else in the line-up performing at a level that they haven't really shown so far this season.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (15.8 points, and 2.7 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (9.8 points and 4.7 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (8.5 points and 4.7 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.8 points and 1.0 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.5 points and 1.8 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (0.0 points and 1.3 rebounds)

The UCLA line-up

The starters

Guard - Darren Collison - 6-0 junior (15.0 points and 4.8 assists)
Guard - Jrue Holliday- 6-3 freshman - (11.6 points and 2.8 rebounds)
Forward -[db]Josh Shipp- 6-5 senior - (9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds)
Forward - James Keefe - 6-8 junior - (3.8 points and 4.4 rebounds)
Center - Alfred Aboye - 6-9 senior - (8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Malcolm Lee- 6-5 freshman (4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds)
Guard - Michael Roll - 6-5 junior - (6.0 points and 2.2 rebounds)
Forward - Nikola Dragovic - 6-9 junior - (6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds)
Forward - Drew Gordon - 6-8 freshman (2.0 points and 3.2 rebounds)
Center - J'Mison Morgan - 6-10 freshman - (4.3 points and 1.0 rebounds)

And finally…

In our quest to provide you with a tidbit in each preview that teaches you something you might not have otherwise known, we give you this…


In 10+ seasons in Austin, Texas head coach Rick Barnes has a 45-50 record against ranked teams. When Tom Penders was the head coach at Texas prior to Barnes, the Longhorns had a 10-45 record against ranked teams.

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