January 28, 2009

Texas extends win streak over Baylor to 23

WACO - A.J. Abrams walked off the floor of the Ferrell Center and an angry, frustrated voice from the Baylor student section yelled, "Abrams, you are so overrated!"

Abrams smiled and pointed to the scoreboard without saying a word as he walked into the tunnel and disappeared.

The scoreboard read Texas 78, Baylor 72 - ensuring the 11th-ranked Longhorns' decade-long win streak over the Bears reached 23 games.

"That was the best team win we've had all season," coach Rick Barnes told Orangebloods.com after the game. "We stressed that all week in practice. We said we were going to need everyone, and every single player who went on the floor contributed to this win.

"I saw some leadership emerge, too. Guys were letting mistakes just roll off their back and moving on to the next play."

For Baylor's Scott Drew, this game appeared to be his best chance to get an NCAA Tournament resume win and end his team's futility against Texas. Drew threw a water bottle in disgust when LaceDarius Dunn fouled Dogus Balbay with .3 left on the clock and Texas holding a 77-72 lead.

"I was very proud of our team's effort," Drew said. "I felt that Texas made a couple more plays down the stretch and we missed a couple of free-throws and they made a couple of free-throws. I feel for our fans and I feel for our team because I know that they know the effort that everyone put out tonight."

Baylor was a one-point favorite in Las Vegas, and things appeared to be falling into place for the Bears to knock off Texas in the first half. Damion James, who had 28 points in UT's victory against Texas A&M on Saturday, was 2-of-11, and Connor Atchley was 0-of-6 in the first half. Gary Johnson, who had 15 points against A&M, played only one minute in the first half because of foul trouble. Baylor outrebounded Texas (25-22). The Longhorns didn't shoot a single free throw in the first 20 minutes and only hit 34.3 percent from the field.

But the halftime score was Texas 27-24. Baylor, which came into the game shooting a sizzling 48.4 percent as a team, could hit only 29 percent in the first half against an aggressive UT defense.

At halftime, Barnes told his players they had just endured one setback after another and still had the lead. He told his troops to be aggressive in the second half, draw fouls and take the game at Baylor. The Longhorns ended up shooting 27 free throws in the second half (making 19). Baylor led 49-45 with 9:45 left to play on a second, straight 3-pointer by Tweety Carter. But Texas ripped off an 8-0 run that included a jumper by Johnson, two free throws by Atchley, two free throws by Varez Ward and a jumper by Dogus Balbay.

The surge marked the 13th lead change of the game and put Texas up for good, 57-53, with 6:42 left.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

In the theme of a great team win, Texas got a big night from its bench. The Longhorns' bench outscored Baylor's bench 26-17, led by Dogus Balbay and Varez Ward, who each scored eight points; Dexter Pittman (six points); and Matt Hill (four points).

STAR OF THE GAME

A.J. Abrams was back Tuesday night. He had hit only 26.8 percent of his shots (22 of 82) from the field and just 25 percent of his 3s (11 of 44) the previous six games against Appalachian State, Arkansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Against Baylor, Abrams hit 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-6 from 3 and finished with a team-high 19 points. Abrams also had two steals to offset three bad turnovers without an assist.

"I never got too bogged down with (the shooting slump)," Abrams said. "But when you're knocking down shots you feel like you're helping your team on both ends of the floor."

UNSUNG HERO(ES)

There were two unsung heroes in this game, and they came off the bench - Dogus Balbay and Varez Ward. Watch out, Balbay is starting to earn the trust of Barnes at the point. In a game very much in doubt the final four minutes, Barnes stuck with Balbay at the point. Aside from missing two free throws in the final 46 seconds (Balbay is hitting only 40 percent of his free throws this season - 6 of 15), Balbay calmly directed the offense at crunch time. Ward helped hold Baylor leading scorer Curtis Jerrells (14 points) without a point over the final 4:48. Ward also went 6-of-6 from the free throw line and looked confident, something that had been lacking the last few games.

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

Indicative of the up-and-down nature of the Longhorns' season, Damion James went from unstoppable against Texas A&M Saturday to a blooper reel Tuesday in Waco. James missed his first seven shots and didn't get the ball through the hoop until he finally hit a 14-footer with 3:26 left in the half. James was 2-of-11 the first half and 6-of-20 for the game, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

"I was the reason we shot so poorly in the first half," James said.

Connor Atchley finished 0-of-6 from the field and didn't take a single shot in the second half. Atchley hit all four of his free throws, including two with 22 seconds left that extended UT's lead from 75-72 to 77-72. But Atchley lost track of Baylor's Kevin Rogers several times in the second half as Rogers went 4-of-4 in the final 20 minutes - all from point-blank range as BU outscored Texas in the paint, 37-32.

TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

Bronze - There were a bunch of rim-bending dunks midway through the second half (two by Dexter Pittman and one by Damion James), but my pick for the bronze came on a steal and coast-to-coast layup by Dogus Balbay with 4:03 left in the game. It set the tone for UT's stretch run and put Texas up, 66-62.

Silver - Damion James threw down a monster dunk on an alley oop pass from Gary Johnson with with 3:02 left that put Texas up, 70-64, and sucked the air out of the Ferrell Center.

Gold - Baylor had just cut Texas' lead to 72-70 when A.J. Abrams hit a 17-footer with 59 seconds left to quiet the crowd and let the Bears know it wasn't going to be their night.


LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

In our never-ending quest to provide you with some fun numbers, we update UT's dunks in the Baylor game and for the season.

Against Baylor:

Damion James - 2
Dexter Pittman - 2


For the season:

Damion James - 29
Dexter Pittman - 20
Gary Johnson - 6
Justin Mason - 6
Connor Atchley - 5
Clint Chapman - 4
Alexis Wangmene - 1


THE BIG NUMBER

.317


Texas was 3-of-14 from beyond the arc against Baylor, dropping UT's season 3-point shooting average to .317 - making this year's UT team the worst 3-point shooting team of the Rick Barnes era.


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