January 24, 2009

The BIG preview: Horns take on arch-rival A&M

The Basics

After a week of rest the No.14 Texas Longhorns (13-4, 2-1) take back to the court on Saturday night with showdown against in-state rival Texas A&M (15-4, 1-3) at the Erwin Center at 7PM. The game will be televised by ESPNU.

Series vs. Texas A&M

Texas leads 130-83; Last meeting: Texas 77-50 (February 18, 2008; Austin).

Post-Texas Tech Notes

• Senior guard A.J. Abrams is three three-point shots away from establishing a new Big 12 career record for made three-point shots.

• Junior guard Justin Mason broke out of a slump with one of his best games of the season, as he poured in 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the win over Texas Tech. It was the first double-double of Mason's career.

• The Longhorns enter Saturday's game against the Aggies riding an 18-game home winning streak.

• Sophomore forward Matt Hill played a career-high 27 minutes and recorded season-highs in points (six) and rebounds (five) in Lubbock.

Abrams keeps gaining ground

A.J. Abrams has fallen to sixth in the Big 12 in scoring this season, but he is still on his way towards becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the program. So far this season, he's averaging 17.4 points per game through the first 17 games, while making 51-of-131 (38.9 percent) from 3-point land.

Heading into Saturday's game against Oklahoma, Abrams ranks sixth on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,684 points and trails No. 5 Joey Wright (1,819) by only 135 points. If Abrams can average a minimum of 20 points per game this season, he will move into the No. 3 slot all-time among Longhorn career scoring leaders and would have Terrence Rencher (2,306 points) and Travis Mays (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 averages only 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 and he'd still have the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments remaining to play.

The Big 12 scoring record is 2,256 points set by former Texas Tech star Andre Emmett.


6th Man of the Year?

Sophomore forward Gary Johnson is quickly emerging as one of the top sixth men in the Big 12 this year, ranking third on the team in scoring (11.1) and second in rebounds (7.2).

In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player on the Longhorn roster that has played better than the former Houston Aldine star in the month of the season, as he's averaged 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest while hitting 39-of-73 (.534) field goals and 27-of-33 (.818) free throws in his last seven games.

Here's a look at the Big 12's top scorers and rebounders off the bench:

Scoring

1. LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) - 16.8
2. Gary Johnson (Texas) - 11.1
3. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) - 10.9
4. Keiton Page (Oklahoma State) - 10.2
5. Fred Brown (Kansas State) - 9.2

Rebounding

1. Gary Johnson (Texas) - 7.2
2. Ron Anderson (Kansas State) - 6.0
3. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) - 5.8
4. Marcus Morris (Kansas) - 5.1
5. Jamar Samuels (Kansas State) - 4.8

Balbay starting to soar at the right time

After a slow start, sophomore point guard Dogus Balbay is starting to make a serious impact on both ends of the floor for the Longhorns.

In his last seven games dating back to the loss against Michigan State before the holidays, Balbay has dished our 25 assists and only turned the ball over five times during the same span for a nice little 5-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio.

In his last two Big 12 games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech, Balbay is averaging 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.


NBA Longhorn Notes

Former Naismith Award winner Kevin Durant continues to play at a level that has made him perhaps the NBA's top young player, scoring 46 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing out four assists in Oklahoma City's 107-104 loss to the L.A. Clippers on Friday night. Durant is currently averaging 24.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Former All-American Lamarcus Aldridge continues to play well in his third season with the Portland Trailblazers, as he scored 20 or more points in four straight games. Aldridge is averaging 17.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season.

D.J Augustin has been out of the line-up for Charlotte because of abdominal strain and is probably a week away from returning to action. Augustin has not played in a game since January 10th.

About Texas A&M…

When Texas and Texas A&M do battle on Saturday night, both teams will see an opponent that they are not only quite familiar with, but also one that will often remind them of themselves.

Throughout the season, the Aggies have struggled to score points and as they enter Saturday night's game in Austin, they currently rank among the bottom third of the Big 12 in a number of offensive categories, including points per game (9th - 69.9), field goal percentage (12th - .433) and three-point shooting (11th - .325).

On the other side of the court, the Longhorns rank 8th (scoring), 11th (field goal percentage) and 12th (three-point shooting), respectively.

Yes, it has a chance to be a very offensively challenged game.

Leading the way for the Aggies is 6-7 senior Josh Carter, who has been a notorious Longhorn killer throughout his career. Carter is averaging 13.1 points per game so far this season and the scouting report on him is pretty clear - don't let him his spot up and clean looks from the perimeter because he will knock them down. More than half of Carter's shots on offense this season have come from behind the three-point line and he's knocking down a respectable 37.8 percent of those shots, which lead the Aggies.

Overall, A&M doesn't have a plethora of guys that have the ability to shoot straight from the outside and once you get past Carter and fellow guards Donald Sloan (.351) and B.J. Holmes (.376), there's not a lot options for the Aggies.

If Carter is the player that the Longhorns cannot afford to allow to get into an offensive flow from the perimeter, Sloan is the guy that they've got to keep under control in every other respect on the offensive end for the Aggies, as he's the team's top playmaker and is perhaps the only guy they'll consistently put on the floor that can create scoring opportunities for others.

His 3.2 assists per game rank as a team-high for an outfit that ranks last in the Big 12 in assists and 11th in assists-to-turnovers ratio.

In the frontcourt this team has several able bodies, but there's not anyone that is playing at an All-Big 12 caliber. Junior Bryan Davis is averaging 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while 6-10 sophomore center Chinemelu Elonu is averaging 10.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Those four players, along with sixth man Holmes are the primary offensive threats on the A&M team and if those players are struggling at all on the offensive end, points can come at a high premium for the entire team.

Overall, when you look at the Aggies, it's easy to see why they've started 1-3 in Big 12 play after running through a non-conference schedule that would make Bill Snyder at Kansas State blush.

In addition to the scoring/shooting problems, the team ranks in the middle of the pack in most rebounding categories and 11th in the Big 12 as a team in steals.

Frankly, if this is a team that has an NCAA Tournament run inside of them, they are going to have to start performing at a level they haven't reached very often all season.

The Three Keys

1. Keep Carter under control. The Aggies don't really have a go-to-guy on the offensive end of things, but Carter is the one guy that could go off for 20+ in the blink of an eye if he gets warmed up from the perimeter. At 6-7 he can shoot over most defenses, but he's not a player that likes to work hard for his shots and while he can create shots for himself off the bounce, he's not always aggressive enough on that end of the floor.

2. Start fast. It's pretty simple - this A&M team just isn't constructed in a way that allows them to overcome big early deficits ands if the Longhorns can establish an offensive rhythm early on, this could be a game that they win fairly decisively. A.J. Abrams and Damion James both need to lead this team on that end of the floor from the opening tip-off.

3. Make the Aggies go to their bench. If any of the guys in the A&M starting line-up get into any kind of early foul trouble, especially in the front-court, this team doesn't have the depth to compete against a national power. Once you get past Davis and Elonu, there's not a much to worry about in the paint.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (17.4 points, and 2.2 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (7.2 points and 4.1 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.9 points and 8.3 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (11.1 points and 7.2 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.8 points and 2.1 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.4 points and 1.8 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (1.1 points and 1.8 rebounds)

The Texas A&M line-up

The starters

Guard - Donald Sloan - 6-3 junior - (11.3 points and 3.2 assists)
Guard - Derrick Roland - 6-4 junior - (5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds)
Forward - Josh Carter - 6-7 senior - (13.1 points and 4.1 rebounds)
Forward - Bryan Davis - 6-9 junior - (10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds)
Forward - Chinemelu Elonu - 6-10 sophomore - (10.2 points and 7.1 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - B.J. Holmes - 6-0 sophomore - (9.1 points and 2.2 rebounds)
Guard - Derrek Lewis - 6-5 sophomore (1.0 points and 1.0 assists)
Guard - Dash Harris - 6-1 freshman - (1.6 points and 1.8 assists)
Forward - David Loubeau - 6-9 freshman (4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds)
Forward - Nathan Walkup - 6-7 junior - (3.2 points and 2.7 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…

16-5

Texas head coach Rick Barnes has dominated teams from the state of Texas since he first arrived at Texas and his .762 winning percentage against the Aggies is a strong indicator that the Longhorns should rank as a strong home-court favorite entering tonight's game.


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