Texas, Abrams Boom The Sooners

Welcome back, A.J. Abrams. The junior broke out of a month-long shooting slump with a career-best seven treys to help Texas thump Oklahoma, 77-49, Saturday in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament in Kansas City. The Horns will face No. 2 seed Kansas Sunday for the Big 12 Tournament Championship.

It will be UT's third-straight trip to conference finals, and it will be the Horns' fifth time overall in the Big 12 tourney finals, but Texas is still looking for its first championship. The Horns will face a Jayhawks team that they beat in Austin, 72-69, back on February 11. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Boasting a No. 5 RPI, Texas still has a shot at a No. 1 seed when brackets are announced Sunday evening. Perhaps more important, a win Sunday could seal a No. 2 seed in what would be a Horn-friendly South Regional in Houston.

Abrams is Texas' all-time three-point shooter but he had suffered through a miserable March. The junior was 5-of-23 from three-point range the past two ballgames and shooting just 27 percent (14-of-51) from the field the past two weeks. It led to a heart-to-heart talk with Texas coach Rick Barnes Friday night following the quarterfinal win against Oklahoma State.

"He boosted my confidence a lot by the things he said to me and the things he said I do for the team," Abrams said. "I could contribute by playing defense and helping my teammates out on that end."

Abrams actually missed his first three attempts from outside the arc Saturday until, at last, he got his groove back with 7:50 remaining in the first period. That's when he began his three-point barrage to rally his team from an early deficit. Abrams led all scorers with 24 points (8-of-18 FG, including 7-of-12 three-pointers).

"It feels real good right now," Abrams continued. "I'm finally knocking down some shots, helping my teammates on the offensive end as well as defense. My teammates did a good job of setting screens for me and D.J. (Augustin) did a good job of penetrating and kicking the ball out."

Augustin added 17 points (6-of- 10 FG) to become one of Texas' Top 10 all-time scoring leaders in his second season. Damion James was one rebound shy of a double-double but totaled 13 points (4-of-8 FG).

Texas knocked down half of its shots from the floor, going 27-of-54 on the day while holding OU to 32.8 percent (20-of-61) from the floor. The Horns were 13-of-20 (65 percent) at the charity stripe while the Sooners went to the free throw line just six times, hitting five.

Texas was without the services of freshman F Gary Johnson, who had given his team nearly 20 minutes per contest during Texas' undefeated February stretch but who suffered a right ankle injury versus Oklahoma State in the tourney opener. But the Horns got solid efforts from sophomore C Dexter Pittman -- the big guy grabbed seven rebounds -- while freshman Alexis Wangmene contributed seven points, the most he's ever tallied against a Big 12 foe.

Texas upped its mark to 28-5, it's best overall pre-NCAA Tournament record. The Sooners are now 22-11 and are expected to garner a mid seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Oklahoma opened with an 11-3 run before a Damion James jumper narrowed the Sooner lead, 13-8. It sparked a 9-1 Texas burst as the Horns' 2-3 zone defense pushed the ball to the corner, forcing mid-range jumpers. Back-to-back Abrams' treys spotted Texas a 23-22 lead as Oklahoma hung around by controlling the boards.

But Sooner coach Jeff Capel was whistled for a technical with his team leading 24-23 with 5:30 remaining until the break. (He insisted he was talking to one of his players.) Abrams' third trey broke a 29-all tie before Wangmene followed with a turn-around jumper. Texas held its rival without a FG during the final 3:24 of the opening frame and took a 36-29 advantage into the locker room.

Oklahoma opened the second period with a 7-0 run to knot the affair butTexas would then outscore the Sooners 26-6 during the next 10 minutes. Abrams' got things started with consecutive three-balls to make it 42-36. Augustin's acrobatic runner in the lane followed a Justin Mason trey as part of a 14-2 run. During that stretch, Pittman contributed some of stoutest low-post defense of his career. James' slam dunk pushed the lead to 54-40 as the Sooners called for time with 11:47 remaining.

Connor Atchley's tip-in followed yet another Abrams' trey to extend the lead, 59-42. Augustin sank three foul shots to give Texas a 20-point lead. Abrams' drained his seventh trey and this one was a 72-47 runaway.

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