November 26, 2008

Horns finish strong in Maui

The Texas Longhorns have been a work in progress on the offensive side of the ball through the first four games of the season heading into their final game in the Maui Invitational this week.

Yes, senior guard A.J. Abrams has handled the scoring load early on and the Longhorns have been able to dominant three of their first four opponents, but with juniors Damion James and Justin Mason struggling to find their offensive rhythm, the team has been misfiring a bit.

Against Oregon on Wednesday in the third-place game, both players woke up in a big way and in a very productive week in Maui, the final game emergence of both players might have been the best sign of all.

James scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Mason added 18 points, five rebounds and five assists in the No.7 Longhorns (4-1) 70-57 win over the Ducks.

"You're always disappointed when you don't get to play in a championship game. Consolation games are really hard to play in, but I told the team last night this would be a character game and a chance to find out what we're about," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "Our experience and maturity allowed us to overcome a sluggish start."

As has been the case all season, the Longhorns got things going on the defensive side of the ball, as they trailed 7-2 in the early minutes, but after Oregon guard Garrett Sims knocked down a three-point shot with 16:08 remaining in the first half, Texas head the Ducks without a field goal for 12 minutes and 49 seconds, as they built a 27-10 lead.

From that moment on, the Longhorns were in complete control of the game, although the Ducks did cut the lead to nine with eight minutes remaining. However, the Longhorns retook control of the game on a steady stream of aggressive shots at the rim, as James and Mason combined for six lay-ups and dunks to finish off the Ducks.

"Our coaches did a great job of getting us ready for the game," James said. "This is what we do, this is our life. It's like a job. It was just another day for us."

Texas sophomore forward Gary Johnson was the only other Longhorn in double figures, as he finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Leading the way for the Ducks was Joevan Catron, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. The only thing that kept the Ducks in the game was their three-point shooting, as they knocked down eight three's to Texas' two.

Star of the game

It's a good thing that James and Mason made this a tough decision, but after James' offensive struggles to start the tournament, his incredible efficient night on both sides of the ball make him today's pick. The junior awards candidate converted nine of 11 shots and after a somewhat shaky start, he really turned it on by attacking the glass with nastiness and being aggressive on the offensive end. On the defensive side of the ball, James blocked two shots, recorded a steal and he had only one turnover in 32 minutes.

Unsung hero

This is a running theme, but it can't be anyone other than their rising sophomore - Johnson. Although he was only three of 10 from the field, Johnson did hit six of six free throws, never stopped playing hard on either side of the floor and his final stat sheet was solid, as he finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block.

Pittman paints himself into a corner (Part II)

For the second straight game, junior Dexter Pittman started the game in the post, but spent much of the night on the bench because of foul trouble. After picking up four fouls in five minutes against Notre Dame, Pittman committed four more fouls in only seven minutes on Wednesday. Pittman is a good player and when he's on the floor the Longhorns are a better team, but eight fouls in 12 minutes of an 80-minute, two-game sequence is not good. I have a feeling that Rick Barnes will have his attention when the team gets back to Austin.

Top three plays of the night

Bronze - Considering the rest of the team was four of 11 from the charity stripe in this game, we'll go with any of the six free throws that Johnson made.

Silver - James finally got his offensive game going in a two-minute stretch in the first half when he knocked down two free throws, knocked down a jumper and when he knocked down a three-point basket from the top of the key, you could see the James we all thought we'd see this season start to come out.

Gold - The Longhorns started slowly in the second half and the Ducks had cut the Texas lead to 31-24 when Mason decided to take matter into his own hands by driving to the basket and slamming home the ball with authority. That basket ignited a 6-0 Texas run and the Longhorns were never in any real danger the rest of the night.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

All season long we plan to keep a running tally on which Longhorns are flying above the rim the most. After only two dunks against the Fighting Irish, the Longhorns exploded for eight dunks tonight.

Here's tonight's scoreboard:

Damion James - 2
Justin Mason - 2
Dexter Pittman - 2
Clint Chapman - 1
Gary Johnson - 1

Here's the season scorecard:

Damion James - 8
Dexter Pittman - 6
Gary Johnson - 3
Justin Mason - 3
Connor Atchley - 2
Clint Chapman - 2
Alexis Wangmene - 1

The BIG number

2

That's how many shots the Ducks' bench made on the night. When a team is struggling to find offense, you've got to get some help from your bench and a team that goes ten deep couldn't find any held from their second five.



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