The Texas Longhorns are Big 12 Champions.
Thanks to the 62-57 win over Oklahoma State in Texas' final regular season game, the Longhorns claim a share of the Big 12 regular season title.
"That was a goal we set for ourselves and we accomplished it," said junior guard A.J. Abrams. "But this is just one step for us. We just have to keep playing and keep getting better."
Texas will keep playing starting on Friday in the second round of the conference tournament after receiving a first round bye. Officially, the Horns' Big 12 crown is a co-championship on account of Texas having the same conference record as Kansas (13-3), but the Longhorns will be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament because of a head-to-head victory over the Jayhawks back on February 11th.
Texas finishes the regular season 26-5, breaking the school-record of 25 wins (2005-06). Oklahoma State ends its regular season at 16-14 and 7-9 in conference.
D.J. Augustin led the way for Texas in the win over OSU with 20 points on 6-of-14 shooting. The sophomore point guard also hit six of seven free throws. The Longhorns had struggled with consistency at the line this season, but against Oklahoma State the Horns hit 22-of-27 shots (75.9 percent) from the charity stripe. After the game, Augustin deferred credit to the players around him.
"We've been getting better and better as a team," said Augustin. "My teammates did a good job of stepping up and playing big."
Augustin is a Big 12 and National Player of the Year candidate, just one season after Texas lost the consensus National Player of the Year, Kevin Durant, to the NBA.
"A lot of people doubted us because we lost the best player in the country," said sophomore forward Damion James. "We worked hard during the summer and throughout the season and you can tell because big-time players stepped up."
James was one of those players. The Texas forward pulled down a career high 18 rebounds to go with 13 points and three blocks in the win. Eleven of James' rebounds came in the first half, which is one shy of the conference record for rebounds in a half.
Justin Mason also enjoyed one of his strongest outings, grabbing seven rebounds and a pair of steals while scoring 10 points.
As much success as several Texas players had on the offensive end, defense was once again what won the game for the Longhorns, holding OSU to just 27 points in the opening half and blocking seven shots in the game. Texas has blocked 44 shots over the last six games (7.3 bpg). Texas head coach Rick Barnes was pleased his team was able to make up for struggles on the offensive end with solid defense.
"We missed some shots tonight. We were jumpy," said Barnes. "It would be a whole lot easier if we could make some shots, believe me."
One of the players who was missing some shots, for most of the game anyway, was Abrams. The junior guard was just 3-of-15 from the field, scoring nine points, but seven of those nine came in the second half as Abrams stepped up late to hit key shots down the stretch. Barnes jokingly explained that it was simply because Abrams likes to keep the fans on edge.
"Drama. He likes drama," said Barnes. "He was jumpy, but for the most part he hasn't allowed it to affect his defense or the way he carries himself.
The Big 12 Conference Tournament starts on Thursday, but Texas will play its first game in the tourney on Friday because of a first round bye. Mason said that the team is prepared for both the conference and NCAA tournaments because of the difficulty of playing in the Big 12.
"I think it will be just like the regular season," said Mason. "There aren't going to be any easy games."
The Horns play at 11:30 a.m. on Friday against the winner of 8th seed Texas Tech and 9th seed Oklahoma State.