Texas Basketball Wins Final Tune-up

In their second and final exhibition game, the Longhorns took on Xavier (no, not that Xavier) at the Erwin Center on Monday night, coming away with a 103-53 win over Division II Xavier of Louisiana.

The big scorer for Texas was sophomore guard A.J. Abrams. Abrams was on fire from the three-point line, hitting six of seven from beyond the arch and finishing with 24 points.

"Last year I had a different role, now I'm much more of a shooter. Switching roles is the main project for me," said Abrams.

Most of his shots came from the corners of the court, which is actually Abrams' least comfortable spot.

"I hate the corner," said Abrams. "It's just where I ended up most of the time."

As a team, Texas made 12 of 29 three-pointers and was obviously aided greatly by Abrams' six. The Horns managed to shoot 76 shots (converting 36 of them) thanks to aggressive play under the basket, out-rebounding the Golden Rush 49-27.

"Rebounding was one of the things we talked about and tonight we swarmed the boards," said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. "Even D.J. (Augustin) got down there."

Throughout the night, the running attack of the Longhorns was evident. Time of possession is not an official statistic in basketball, but if it was, Texas would be on the short end each night, spending little time in the half-court game and instead using their superior size and speed to beat the opponent to the rim. One of the biggest struggles for Texas last year was dictating the tempo of the game. That will not be the case for the 2006-2007 Longhorns.

"This year we will be a running team and we will not use the shot clock as much as we did last year," said Abrams.

These guys are going to be in shape by season's end. Another positive note from the game is that the offense did not change when freshmen center Dexter Pittman entered. The 6'10", 315-pound behemoth ran up and down the floor, made all three of his shots and grabbed five rebounds in his 11 minutes in the game.

"Dexter was very good," Barnes, "and what you've got to realize is Dexter went though a whole workout today before the game. He's still trying to get his weight down and I was impressed with what he was able to do out there."

It was a relatively quiet night for forward Kevin Durant, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. He made his presence much more felt on the defensive side of the ball, grabbing five steals and registering one block. The turnovers made a big difference, as Texas scored 38 points off turnovers, compared to Xavier's 7.

"I think Kevin improved a lot tonight defensively from playing Lenoir-Rhyne," said Barnes. "But it all started in practice and I think he learned a lot from the tape."

Fellow freshman forward Damion James continued to work inside and outside of the paint and totaled 15 points and five boards in his 22 minutes. In Texas' two exhibition games, James has shown himself to be surprisingly adept at playing in both on the wing and under the basket.

"Wherever my coach puts me, I will play," said James, concisely.

Xavier gave the Horns quite a fight to start the game. A fast-break dunk from Xavier's Kelechi Okora narrowed the early Texas lead to 5, meaning after 10 minutes of play, the Runnin' Horns only lead their Division II foe, 25-20. The Horns quickly responded by kicking the ball down low to Durant, who put in an easy lay-up over the smaller opponents, but a three-pointer from Alfred Williams took the lead down to 27-23.

Abrams took over and started to create some separation for his team. The sophomore guard hit a three to extend the lead to seven and followed up with an amazing steal, leaping at mid-court, catching the ball and throwing it backwards over his head to Craig Winder. Winder passed the ball to J.D. Lewis, who hit a three to give Texas a ten-point lead. At that point, Texas never looked back.

Xavier head coach Dannton Jackson was impressed with the Horns' ability to play defense and create turnovers.

"Having such a young team, it is very surprising the kind of defense that they play," said Jackson. "They play with big hands and they all have long arms…they get their hands in the passing lanes a lot."

The Longhorns also gave the assembled fans in burnt orange some highlights to remember. Riding the momentum the Horns were building, point guard D.J. Augustin lobbed the ball over a defender's head to Durant, who threw it down for the ally-oop jam, giving Texas a 44-25 lead. It's one thing to try that play on a fast break, but Augustin executed the fearless pass with defenders in the lane. Also, late in the game, Xavier's Williams tried to lay-up the ball on a fast break, but Texas center Connor Atchley, coming from behind, proceeded to swat the ball out of the building, firing up the crowd that remained on hand.

"I thought Connor was really aggressive tonight," said Barnes.

From Atchley's block to Pittman's powerful dunk (from which the rim is currently still shaking), each player had their moment. The entire roster got involved as every player on the team played at least 11 minutes, except for junior Ian Mooney (5). In addition, everyone on the roster, including Mooney, scored in the game. Depth on this team will be exceptionally important as the season progresses. This being an exhibition game was not the only reason all twelve players saw time on the floor. The aggressive style of this team will mean a lot of rotation to the legs fresh.

"Last year we had athletic players on the inside and this year we have players that can run," said Abrams.

The Golden Rush gave Texas and early fight, but the Longhorns outscored Xavier 78-33 in the final 30 minutes of play to take the win.

The Longhorns open the 2006-2007 season against Alcorn State on Thursday in the opening round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Tip off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at the Erwin Center.

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