Kevin Durant's 37 points and 15 rebounds in Lubbock (January 31) resulted in the most combined points and rebounds in Big 12 Conference history. Now, you can see Durant's teammates growing up around him these past two weeks. Sure, the one-point squeaker at Baylor was ugly, but it gave further evidence that there is a little more to these Longhorns than the current Sports Illustrated cover boy. Durant finished with 17 points (6-of-16 FG), eight boards, four steals and one blocked shot Tuesday -- a relatively pedestrian night by his stratospheric standards. But his teammates continue to step-up as some of Durant's numbers have leveled off.
"We never started out the season saying Kevin had to score 25 points a game," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He got on a role where he did that, but he passes the ball. He looks for his teammates. I don't think you can look at us as a young team now. These guys have seen a lot of different things and they've adjusted."
Freshman D.J. Augustin is Texas' best-ever point guard not named T. J. Ford. (Some of Ford's assists defied physics, but Augustin's got a sweet jumper that often eluded the 2003 NCAA Player of the Year). Freshman Justin Mason hit his first five shots (finishing with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting) and can be a real X Factor in the NCAAs. Arguably, the most improved Longhorn is freshman F Damion James. One play in particular epitomes James' emergence into the power forward that Horns fans expected when Barnes' inked the Lone Star state's 2006 prep star of the year. The game had long been decided and Texas was coasting with a 75-45 lead with 7:07 remaining. But, following a steal and dish from Durant, James goes strong to the hole, bodies-up off the glass and collects his fifth FG in eight attempts. In fact, James' was singled-out by the legendary Knight (whose staunch emphases on team-play results in a relatively few bouquets tossed at individuals).
"The guy that really plays, and is a pace-setter, is James," Knight said. "I am really impressed at how hard he plays."
James finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in 29 minutes.
"When Damion is aggressive and active," Barnes said, "that's when we play our best basketball."
All five Texas starters scored in double figures with sophomore A.J. Abrams leading the way with 18 (6-of-11 FG, including 4-of-9 treys), but the biggest factor in the team's four-game winning streak has been its tenacious D. The Horns have held opponents to less than 40 percent shooting and 63.0 ppg during each of the past four outings. Texas held Tech to a season-low 51 points and just 28.8 percent (15-of-52) from the field.
"I think big part of that is not giving guys second-chance points," Mason said.
And a big part of that was Abrams' recent heroics on the defensive end. Last week, Abrams put the clamps on Oklahoma State's leading scorer JamesOn Curry; on Tuesday, in front of 16,214 at the Erwin Center, Abrams did the same to senior G Jarrius Jackson. Tech's leading scorer entered the game averaging 20.7 ppg and finished with just seven points (2-of-10 FG, including 0-of-5 from three-point range).
With the victory, Texas extends its school-record streak of 20-win seasons to eight. The Horns are now 18-2 against the Red Raiders during the Rick Barnes' era.
"On occasion, we've been non-existent (against Texas)," Knight said, "and, obviously, tonight was one of those nights."
Texas shot 49.1 percent (28-of-57) from the floor, including 12-of-25 (48 percent) from outside the arc. The Horns went to the charity stripe just 14 times, hitting 12 freebies (85.7 percent) while the Red Raiders hit 18-of-22 foul shots (81.8 percent). Both schools collected 33 rebounds, but 26 of those were defensive boards for Texas.
Durant was the last Texas starter to score, but he got untracked in style. The fab freshman converted a mid-court steal into an uncontested slam and an early 13-7 Longhorn lead. Durant's trey capped a 16-2 Texas run, staking a 25-9 fast start for the home team, in which 10 of the first 22 Longhorn points were scored in the paint.
The Horns, clicking on all cylinders, switched to a 2-3 zone after building a 32-13 lead. Durant's second trey made it 37-15 as Tech went 6:17 without a FG. Mason's trey was Texas' sixth in its first nine attempts from outside the arc, giving the Horns their largest lead of the first period at 46-24.
"Right from beginning we're a team that wasn't going to be able to play at the same pace as the other team," Knight said. "It continued on the rest of the game."
The Horns picked up right where they left off in the final frame. Durant's baseline jumper made it look easy while James' slam on the feed from Mason made it a 55-28 runaway. Augustin's old-fashioned three-point play kept Texas comfortably in front, 59-33, with 13:57 remaining. Abrams' followed his trey with a pair of FTs -- the sophomore has connected on all 34 FT attempts in conference play -- to extend the Longhorn lead, 64-35. Abrams' wide-open, nothing-but-net three-bomb made it a 70-40 laugher. Durant followed with another trey and, at 73-40, the Longhorn student section began chanting for walk-on Ian Mooney with more than 8:30 remaining. (He checked-in with 2:22 remaining and Texas boasting a 80-47 lead).
The blowout may have burst whatever NCAA bubble Tech might have been on, even though the Red Raiders knocked-off Kansas and is the only Big 12 team to sweep Texas A&M. The Red Raiders fall to 17-11, 6-7 in league play.
Upping their mark to 10-3 in league play, Texas can claim no worse than a share of the Big 12 Conference title if it runs the table during its final three contests. But it's a big 'if'. The Horns travel to Oklahoma Saturday (3 p.m. CST) before closing out its home slate against No. 8/9 Texas A&M (Monday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m. CST, ESPN2 telecast). Texas concludes the regular season at No. 6 Kansas on Senior Day (11 a.m. CST, CBS-Sports).