February 26, 2008

Horns handle their business at KSU

The No.5 Texas Longhorns entered another nationally televised "Big Monday" with a giant X on their back, but this game was a little different than some of their previous encounters on the sport's biggest national stage. The Longhorns have on Big Monday three times in recent weeks, but had to make the road trip to Manhattan this time around to face a Kansas State team that was undefeated at home in Big 12 play.

The result?

Just another game for the streaking Longhorns, who took care of business 74-65 on the heels of clutch play from Connor Atchley in the final moments.

There are a lot of words that can be used to define the play of Atchley this season for the Longhorns. Clutch is becoming one of the commonly used ones after another game in which the junior center dropped daggers on the Wildcats in the closing minute.

With Texas (24-4, 11-2) holding on to a 66-59 lead with 2:12 to play, Atchley scored a key basket on a running hook to put the Longhorns up by nine. Thirty seconds later, he fought for and secured a defensive rebound. After Texas milked the shot clock for another 30 seconds, the 6-11 junior sat patiently open after a ball screen and pop. A.J. Abrams found the wide open big man and he proceeded to knock down a 20-foot dagger that out Texas up 71-59 lead and all but delivered the knock out blow to the spirited Wildcats.

Kansas State (18-9, 8-5) misfired from the three-point line in the closing minute, while the Longhorns were having flashbacks at the free throw line very similar to last
week's win against Baylor in Waco. When the final horn sounded, Texas had earned a hard fought 74-65 road win against the third place team in the conference.

The loss by Kansas State was the first at home in Big 12 play.

That series of key plays in the waning moments of the game was the icing on the cake for the under appreciated pick and pop big man. Atchley, marred by first half foul trouble that limited him to just 14-minutes in the game, began making plays when the Longhorns needed them the most with 11:45 to play and the game tied 47-47. All told, the Clear Lake product scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked a shot in the near 12-minute span.

Before the late game heroics, Atchley received plenty of second half help from Abrams in the scoring department.

Abrams, who also sat much of the first half with two fouls, hit four three-pointers and 13 points total in the second half. In addition to the four key long-range bombs, the junior guard made a couple of key assists, including the pass to Atchley for the knock out blow.

Joining Atchley and Abrams in the second half scoring barrage was D.J. Augustin. Who scored 12 second-half points on an array of driving scores.

The first half, which ended in a 30-30 tie, was a slug fest of sorts with Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley imposing his will. The conference's leading
scorer and rebounder had his way with Texas in the opening half to the tune of 17 points and 10 rebounds, but got very little support from his teammates.

Only freshman guard Jacob Pullen could manage to help Beasley out on the offensive end, as he contributed seven points.

Augustin led the Longhorns with 12 first half points, despite three uncharacteristic turnovers.

The Longhorns found themselves in foul trouble for second straight game in the opening 20-minutes with Atchley, Abrams and Gary Johnson all saddled with two
personals.

As has been the case in recent games, much improved bench play kept Texas afloat. The quartet of Johnson, Alexis Wangmene, Dexter Pittman and Clint Chapman combined for seven points, seven huge rebounds and two blocked shots in the first half.

The Wildcats were led by Bealsey with 30 points and 15 rebounds, while Pullen chipped in with 19 points and four assists. Pullen's hot night from three-point land helped offset the 0-14 performance from the field by Bill Walker.

The Longhorns were led by Augustin's 24 points and five assists. Atchley finished with 14 points on 6-6 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocked shots, while Abrams netted 13 points.

With the win, Texas finished the month of February undefeated for the first time since the 1962-63 season.

A look at the numbers

Texas shot 47.4% (27-57) overall, 45.5% (10-22) from three-point zange and 45.5% (10-22) from the free throw line.

Kansas State shot 32.8% (22-67) from the field, 25.9% (7-27) from the three-point line and 60% (14-20) from the foul line.

Texas won the battle of the boards 41-37, but lost the turnover battle 13-10.

The good

The Texas bench was a difference maker again. In 48-minutes, the bench produced 11 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots with much of the production coming during a vital stretch in the first half when the Wildcats were surging.

Wangmene came up big again. With Johnson suffering from foul and broken nose issues, the freshman had to play extended minutes. Over the course of what turned out to be a career-high 21-minutes, he totaled five points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. Wangmene played very physical on the low blocks on both ends.

Texas knocked down the three-pointers in this game, which was a must for them coming in. James hit a pair of big three's in the first half along with Augustin, and then Atchley and Abrams combined for six bombs in the second half.

Texas went to a box and one for a few minutes with Mason shadowing Bealsey. Kansas State failed to adjust for the most part and decided to launch seemingly three after three for the short stretch.

The Longhorns played 2-3 zone much of the second half and the end of the first half due to foul trouble and the Wildcats willingness to settle for long range jumpers. Abrams, Augustin and Mason all played with active hands up top and created a handful of turnovers.

Wangmene, Johnson and Atchley played tough along the baseline and fought for every rebound.

The foul trouble of Blake Young was key for Texas. Young is the best on the ball defender for Kansas State and caused some early trouble for Augustin with his physical play, which didn't allow Augustin to create a straight line drive and led to three unforced
turnovers. When Young wasn't defending Augustin, the Longhorns leader got to the paint a number of times for easy scores or dishes to an open teammate.

Bill Walker drifting on the perimeter was a nice in-game development for the Longhorns. The talented combo forward has a tendency to drift and play facing the basket and he did so to the tune of 0-14 from the floor. Walker settled for too contested 15-footers. Kudos to Texas defensively for attacking his weakness, which was allowing him to drift and not overplay or close out without control.

Michael Beasley was held without a field goal for the last 13:16 of regulation.

The Longhorns defeated a Kansas State team that entered Monday 6-0 at home, including a win over Kansas. The Longhorns put another feather in their cap as far as the NCAA Tourney resume.

The bad

Augustin committed four or five unforced turnovers. Three were on plays in which he read the defense a split second late and delivered a pass in which the defender had already began to recover.

The free throw shooting of Augustin and Abrams in the closing four minutes was brutal for two players that came in shooting 80% or higher. Dead legs are sometimes to blame for short misses, but so is tightness caused from pressure that comes with closing out games. On Monday night both players repeated their struggles from last week's game in Waco, as both appeared tight and had the look of players lacking confidence.

Those two areas, unforced turnovers and bricks down the stretch can get one beat in the NCAA Tournament, so they must be watched closely. The unforced turnovers aren't a concern at this point, but the late game free throw shooting is becoming a trend on the
road.

Overall

Texas improves to 11-2 in Big 12 play and simply needs to win two of three to at least tie for the conference crown. If Texas can continue their winning ways in the last three and finish the regular season on a 11-game winning streak, the conference title will be theirs
outright.

With the huge road victory, Texas jumps Duke in the RPI and into the No.4 spot nationally, while the strength of schedule remains firmly at No.3. Chalk up another top 50 RPI win for Texas, who won their 10th (10-3) win on the season. The ten wins leads the nation.


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