This Longhorns team is young, but Sunday night represented Texas' biggest win of the year and proved a great deal to Texas head coach Rick Barnes about the progress his squad has made and what they can do.
"If you're going to run with the big dogs, you need to get off the porch and these guys hadn't run with ‘em yet," said Barnes.
Sophomore guard A.J. Abrams, more than atoning for an uncharacteristically poor outing against Gonzaga, had 18 points and says that this past week built up to the turning point in the team's development.
"We're taking strides everyday. We took huge strides this past week of practice," said Abrams.
However, without a doubt the most impressive performance of the night came from freshman point guard D.J. Augustin. Augustin, a native of New Orleans whose family now makes its home in Houston, was booed in the opening introductions by the LSU fans for his choice to play for Texas. With 31 members of his very large and very close family in the crowd, Augustin played inspired basketball. He finished with a career-high 25 points, five assists and six rebounds. His numbers were impressive, but more impressive was his ability to manage the game and control the tempo.
"We pushed the ball the whole game, they really couldn't stick with us in transition," said Augustin.
Abrams believed that Augustin's control played a huge part in the win.
"DJ pushing up the court, getting to the paint got them (LSU) fatigued," said Abrams.
In many ways it was the exact opposite of the Horns' loss to LSU in last season's NCAA Tournament. The issue for the Longhorns last time was control of the tempo. But this year's squad, like last year's LSU team, was the more athletic and more aggressive in the contest. This aggressiveness showed up in first half in speed, but not in strength, as the Tigers used their big bodies to out-rebound Texas in the first frame. But by the end, even that stat fell to the Horns, winning the rebounding battle 49-46.
A big part of this was the dominant play in the paint by freshman forward Damion James. James was matched up with LSU's star, Glen "Big Baby" Davis. James battled with the 6-9, 295-pound forward all night.
"Damion set a great tone for us using his quickness and athleticism," said Barnes.
Barnes also said a big part of James' development is learning who he is.
"We told him to be who you are. Be yourself. Bounce around. Jump around," said Barnes.
Being himself, the high-jumping James finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds, although Davis, who played all 45 minutes of the game, felt there was more to his struggles than just James.
"It wasn't him (James). It was the help side. It was the team effort," said Davis.
"If it was one guy, I'd of loved that match-up all night long," interjected LSU head coach John Brady.
It was a team effort for Texas on defense as Barnes frequently dropped his team into a zone. Brady said that the Tiger's struggled to adjust to the zone and missed many of the shots that opened up.
"We knew Texas was going to play us in zone and at some point you've got to make a basket outside of 7-8 feet," said Brady.
It was also a team effort on the offensive side of the ball, as forward Kevin Durant was held under 20 points for the first time this season (Durant finished with 10 points), but Texas still managed to find offensive firepower in sometimes unexpected places.
"That's what Texas is. We have players that can step up at anytime," said Abrams. "Anybody can go off and have a big game."
Barnes said that the offensive scheme he used against LSU was one of the main reasons for Durant's lower point total.
"He wasn't as smooth because we played him (Durant) more on the perimeter, and that's my fault," said Barnes. "But we're going to need him to play a lot of different positions."
Durant's time under the basket also netted him 11 rebounds during the contest.
It was an exciting finish to a titanic match-up. The game went to overtime tied at 68 and LSU quickly jumped out to a 72-68 lead. But a driving lay-up from (who else?) Augustin narrowed the lead to 2.
Then came Texas basketball's most heart-pounding minute of the year. The teams traded threes, as Abrams hit on an Augustin assist, then LSU's Tasmin Mitchell drained a deep shot, before Abrams fired a ball from beyond NBA range and hit final bucket of the night.
"He was closer to the out of bounds line than he was the three point line," mused Brady after the game.
Garrett Temple's three pointer fell short and James tipped the rebound to Abrams, who covered the ball and sealed the win.
"Not any one guy did it tonight. They really came together," said Barnes.
The Longhorns return home to the Erwin Center to face Texas State on Saturday, Dec. 16th.