March 12, 2009

Horns hold off KSU, move on to semi's

Ugly. Messy. Sloppy. All very suitable words to describe the Texas Longhorns second round win against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday.

Once again, Texas was lead to victory by junior Dexter Pittman, who has come on in a huge way in the Big 12 tournament. This was his second straight game to set a career mark. Yesterday it was points (26), and today he extended his career rebound mark to 20. The TV announcers even made a comment comparing his play to Oklahoma's Blake Griffin.

I wouldn't go that far, but this Texas team only won this game because of the big man in the paint. The entire game was extremely sloppy, and every player had miscues, even Pittman. The first half was one of the ugliest the Horns have played in awhile with 12 total turnovers and foul calls galore.

The score going into halftime was 29-27 in favor of the Wildcats.

Fortunately for Texas, they showed some major improvement in the second half, as Pittman continued his dominance in the paint and the Horns received some key production from a few bench players, including true freshman Varez Ward and Clint Chapman.

With 15:54 left on the clock in the second half, the Horns found themselves down 35-31 and were in desperate need of a boost. That boost came from Ward, who decided he was tired of being in Rick Barnes' doghouse. Ward came up with a huge block that sent Damion James down the floor for an easy lay-up to cut the Wildcat lead to two points.

Ward then made a great pass to Pittman after a Denis Clemente turnover, which led to an easy bucket that tied the game up at 35-35 with 15:04 on the clock.

Later on at the 13-minute mark, Ward came up with a huge play as he drove to the paint, drew a foul, and hit the shot to make it a three-point play. On the next possession, Ward picked up a block on defense and was right back down the floor to draw another foul. His made free throw put Texas up 44-40 with 11:53 left.

The next nine minutes, however, saw more sloppy play by the Horns and after a series of turnovers, Texas found themselves down 57-54 at the 2:20 mark.

That's when A.J. Abrams stepped up and made his presence felt for one of the few times in the game. . The senior guard, who had an otherwise forgettable performance, came to the rescue with a great shot fake and three-point make to tie the game up at 57-57.

Some tough defense by UT on the other end led to a chance for Abrams to seal the deal for his team. On maybe the best play of the game, Abrams dribbled around the outside, passed up on a tough shot, and distributed the ball inside to Pittman, who made the basket and picked up a foul with 1:18 left. Texas went up 60-58 after the made free throw, and that finally wrapped up the win for the Longhorns.

The Wildcats' last chance to get a bucket was stymied by more excellent defense from Ward against Clemente, who could not quite finish a drive to the basket, and then missed a three-point attempt as time ran out.

Inside the Numbers

Texas committed 12 turnovers in the first half alone. Every player was sloppy, and the ball seemed to slip out of a Texas players' hand on almost every possession. The second half was not much better as the Horns still could not handle the ball, giving it away 10 more times for a total of 22 turnovers in the game. That doubled the 11 committed by Kansas State. Most teams don't come out on top after giving the ball away twice as many times as their opponent.

It was a poor performance by the Horns came on the defensive glass. Kansas State grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half alone, and five more in the second. Second chance points were huge and allowed the Wildcats to stay in the game until the very end.
Texas showed a ton of resilience by winning this game despite poor play by many of its starters. Only good teams win games like these.

Star of the Game

Once again, Pittman looked like a man among boys in the paint. With 12 minutes left, Pittman was the only Longhorn with more than six points. He had to carry the team most of the way, and ended up with 19 points and 20 rebounds.

We also must not forget his stellar play on the defensive end with five blocks, three coming in the last 15 minutes of play.

Unsung Hero

Texas could not have won this game with out the surprising performances from Varez Ward and Clint Chapman coming off the bench. Both players were extremely active on both ends of the floor, and both ended the game with nine points (two more than any player besides Pittman).

Chapman's nine points came in only eight minutes of playing time, and he also added a block and a rebound. He came in the game for Pittman and did not allow Kansas State to take advantage of the inside with the big man on the bench.

It looked as though Ward was not going to see many more meaningful minutes this season, but when he entered the game he looked to be on a mission to lead his team to victory. He had some very nice drives and made all three of his free throw attempts. His play should lead to a big increase in playing time in the next few games and beyond.

Tough Day at the Office

Damion James had a tough night and could never seem to find a rhythm. He got himself into foul trouble and picked up his fifth with 3:02 left and left with only seven points. He committed five turnovers throughout the game, and just could not seem to be his active self under the glass pulling down only three rebounds.

Dogus Balbay also had a sloppy performance, committing a total of five turnovers against the Wildcats. He made some poor passes that led to unnecessary points on the other end. His final stat line includes six points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal.

The Bench

The Texas bench was a huge factor leading to the Longhorn Victory. We've already mentioned the stellar play of Ward and Chapman, but Gary Johnson was also productive. He missed some shots, but played very tough on the defensive end causing a few turnovers by Kansas State. His biggest play of the game came with 54.2 left on the clock as he and Balbay teamed up to steal the ball from Jamar Samuels to help seal the deal for the Horns.

Top Three Plays of the Game

Bronze - Varez Ward almost broke a Kansas State defender's ankles with a beautiful cross over dribble and drive for a lay up to put Texas up 46-40 with 11:19 left.

Silver - Pittman's five huge blocks (three in the last 15 minutes) against Kansas State helped Texas keep the Wildcats from taking over.

Gold - Abrams made the excellent choice of not forcing a shot and found Pittman down low for a three point play that put the Horns up for good (60-58) with 1:14 on the clock.

Longhorn Dunk-O-Meter

Dunks in the Kansas State game:

Dexter Pittman - 1

Dunks for the season:

Damion James - 42
Dexter Pittman - 40
Gary Johnson - 8
Justin Mason - 7
Connor Atchley - 7
Clint Chapman - 5
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1

The Big Number

51.1%

Texas made over half of their shots from the field against Kansas State, and that number will usually turn into a victory. Many of the Horns' shot attempts came from Pittman underneath, and those high percentage shots are extremely helpful. It also helps when the opposing team shoots just 29.2 percent from the field. If Texas can cut down their turnovers and keep shooting close to 50 percent, the next few games could turn into victories as well.


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