Abrams Carries Texas Past #2 Oklahoma

(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)

The Texas Longhorns took the floor Saturday night with their backs firmly against the wall. After losing four of the last six games and entering the showdown with the #2 Oklahoma Sooners sitting at 6-5 in Big 12 play, the Longhorns were in desperate need of a big win. What they got was a sensational performance from A.J. Abrams in the closing minutes resulting in a 73-68 win.

When Willie Warren knocked down a three pointer, his sixth of the contest, to give the Sooners a 61-56 lead with 5:14 to play, it appeared as if the finish of this game would be like many others this season with the Longhorns coming up short down the stretch.

When the Longhorns needed their senior A.J. Abrams more than at any other time in his career, the sharp shooter stepped up with his best five minute scoring stretch of his career in Austin.

Abrams first hit a jumper, assisted by Dogus Balbay, to cut the lead to 61-58 with 4:57 to play. After a Taylor Griffin miss with his brother looking on from the bench after suffering a first half concussion, Abrams got loose again. This time the result was a three pointer, again assisted by Balbay, to tie the score at 61-61 with 4:26 remaining.

The Sooners (25-2, 11-1) answered Abrams initial spurt with a three-point play by Taylor Griffin to take a 64-61 lead with 3:59 to play.

After the under four television timeout, Abrams knocked down another jumper, once again assisted by Balbay, to cut the lead to 64-63 with 2:56 to play.

After an Oklahoma turnover, Abrams hit another three pointer to give the Longhorns a 66-64 lead. It was a lead that they would not surrender.

Sooners forward Ryan Wright was fouled and sent to the line for two free throws, but converted just one to cut the lead to 66-65.

Abrams then hoisted another long-range jumper, but missed. Connor Atchley chased down the rebound and Texas (18-8, 7-5) quickly called a timeout.

Abrams then threw the three-point dagger with 1:13 remaining to give Texas a four point advantage, 69-65.

As the Sooners did all night, they continued to fight getting three straight points from Juan Patillo to cut the lead to 69-68 with 42 seconds left on the clock.

Texas then handed the ball to Abrams and he dribbled more than 20 seconds off the clock before misfiring on a 24-footer, but Dexter Pittman came up with the biggest offensive rebound and put back score of his career, giving the Longhorns a 71-68 lead with 16 ticks remaining.

Oklahoma junior Tony Crocker then misfired on a three point attempt. Balbay snatched the rebound out of the air and quickly got the ball to Abrams with the Sooners fouling right away.

Abrams then put the finishing touches on a 73-68 win with a pair of free throws and the Longhorns suddenly stamped their NCAA Tournament resume needing only two more wins in the final four conference games to unsure an 11th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

All told, Abrams scored 16 straight points and 18 of the last 20 points for the Longhorns.

Texas appeared to be in complete control much earlier in the half after scoring seven straight points out of the locker room to grab a 41-29 lead.

Willie Warren had other thoughts and went on a scoring rampage of his own going right every time. Warren scored 17 points and dished out three assists in the following 13 minutes.

National Player of the Year front-runner Blake Griffin suffered a concussion in the first half and was limited to eleven minutes scoring just two points.

The Longhorns led 34-29 at the half.

Warren led the Sooners with 27 points and six assists. Tony Crocker added 14 points, while Austin Johnson turned in a solid all-around performance with six points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Abrams led Texas with 23 points, while Damion James scored 16 and grabbed 10 rebounds before fouling out with 2:35 to play. Dogus Balbay added 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for the Longhorns.

A Look at the Numbers

The Longhorns shot 46.2% (30-65) overall, 40.0% (6-15) from three and 77.8% (7-9) from the free throw line.

The Sooners converted 48.9% (23-47) from the floor, 35.7% (5-14) from the three-point line and 86.2% (25-29) from the foul line.

The Longhorns won the battle of the boards 36-35 and the turnover battle 14-8.

The Longhorns scored 17 points off of turnovers to six by Oklahoma as well as out scoring the Sooners 13-5 in fast break points.

The Good

The Longhorns got a win with their backs against the wall. That was what was most important no matter how it got done.

Texas committed just eight turnovers and Dogus Balbay did a terrific job of pushing the ball and creating some transition chances whether it was off of his own rebound and push or a turnover.

Speaking of Balbay, he posted 10 points, nine assists (two turnovers) and eight rebounds. The sophomore grabbed four key rebounds in the final five minutes and assisted on three of Abrams' makes with a couple coming on dribble handoffs. Balbay also did a very good job of defending the ball as he always does.

Abrams, obviously, came through with the best scoring stretch of his career at Texas. While the last four minutes of Texas games have been feast or famine since they are so jump shot dependent, Saturday night was feast when Texas needed to have a win. After Blake Griffin went out with the concussion, the pressure was turned up even more as the Longhorns simply had to have a win against a team playing without the probable National Player of the Year.

Something minor when looking at the box score, but Clint Chapman gave Texas seven quality minutes tonight. He scored a basket inside of five feet. He has struggled finishing this year, so any basket is big from him at this point. He also grabbed a couple of rebounds and played physical in the paint.

Damion James was terrific on the offensive glass and glass in general. Again, James is a much tougher matchup when he is playing the undersized four man that can step out and take a big man off the dribble and play closer to the basket on the weak side more consistently.

Connor Atchley was very good in help defense in the first half. He cut off drives and rotated to take away catch and shoot clean looks on numerous occasions.

Texas did a good job of not allowing Austin Johnson clean catch and shoot looks from three, but that was aided by the absence of Blake Griffin.

Speaking of Griffin, the Longhorns did a very good job of running the quick double at Griffin on the catch with a big man (Gary Johnson or Atchley). Because Griffin doesn't back his defender down and often times turns and faces after the catch and when he recognizes the double team attempt, Texas had ample time to recover.

The Bad

Willie Warren took 20 shots Saturday night and just one was a forced drive to the left. Warren is a right hand dominant player and Oklahoma does a very good job of getting him the ball on the move going right. With that said, Texas did a poor job of forcing Warren away from his strength after the catch whether it be a big man hedging or Justin Mason head up without having to fight through screens. Mason failed to take away his right hand or play on his right hip at all. Texas failed to adjust at all.

Overall

Texas now needs two wins in the remaining four games to ensure they make the NCAA Tournament. While 8-8 could get Texas in with the win over Oklahoma, finishing 8-8 would mean Texas lost seven of the last 11 games of the regular season and that could still make it very questionable if Texas gets in without winning at least one Big 12 Tournament game.

Texas will likely need to win three of four to have a shot to finish 4th in the conference and get a first round Big 12 Tournament bye and that is only if Kansas State finishes 9-7 due to the head to head win.

The key news over the next few days will be the health of sophomore forward Gary Johnson, who sprained his ankle late in the game. The Longhorns need every scorer to have the ability generate enough points to win games, especially on the road, as they will be Saturday in Stillwater.

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