James let out a roar to the heavens as the Texas fans that filled Reliant stadium erupted in cheers. Texas was up 68-53 with five minutes to go in the Horns' Sweet 16 match-up with Stanford and had all the momentum. As James stared at the ceiling, he knew what his teammates, and everyone watching the game, had begun to realize.
The Texas Longhorns are headed to the Elite 8.
"It was great. D.J. made a great play and I really did it to pump up the crowd," James told Inside Texas.
And the very Burnt Orange crowd of over 32,000 at Reliant obliged. The physical limitations of the space made it difficult for the crowd to build momentum -- that's what happens when a basketball court is placed in the middle of a football stadium; the fans can be a ways away -- but when the assembled Texas faithful were at their loudest, the Horns' home-court advantage in the Houston Regional began to show itself.
It was an energy that grew with each shot as the Longhorns (31-6) pulled further and further away from the Cardinal (28-8) in the waning minutes of Texas and Stanford's Sweet 16 match-up. But that run was only sparked after Stanford drew dangerously close.
The Horns kept the Cardinal at arm's length for most of the contest, but midway through the second half a three-pointer from Stanford's Landry Fields took the Texas lead down to one, 52-51. Stanford threatened to regain the lead for the first time since center Robin Lopez had dropped in the Cardinal's first points of the night.
But then Texas head coach Rick Barnes called timeout and took the opportunity to tell his team to let loose.
"Sometimes coaches get in the players' way and with that last timeout we said 'Hey, we'll do what got us here,'" said Barnes. "A big part of what we tried to do offensively was run, push tempo...Some good things happened when we got back to being aggressive."
With that, Texas proceeded to run the Cardinal ragged. Stanford didn't hit another field goal for the next nine minutes of the game. The final minutes were all Texas, as the Horns pulled further and further away, ending in a blowout Sweet 16 win for UT.
Speed was that name of the game for Texas. Stanford brought the size, but in the end couldn't keep up with the Runnin' Horns.
Not that Stanford's marquee big man didn't get his. Sophomore forward Brook Lopez scored 26 points and pulled down 10 boards. After the game, Barnes noted that he knew his team didn't have to completely shut down Lopez to get the win. After all, Lopez is going to get his.
"It's almost like what I remember as a kid growing up with the Green Bay Packers and that power sweep they ran," said Barnes. "You knew it was coming, but there is just not a whole lot you can do about it."
But Texas was able to do plenty about Lopez' teammates. The offensive juggernaut of Stanford's Twin Towers, a duo he forms with his brother Robin, faired much better than his compatriots. Stanford's starting guards were 2-for-14 and the entire team shot only 33.8 percent (22-of-65), compared to Texas' 49.2 percent (32-of-65).
"I think (Texas) just wanted it more," said Brook. "They came out and hit us hard and got out really early and made a couple that we didn't respond to."
Setting the tempo for the Texas attack was Augustin. The sophomore point guard scored 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting and handed out seven assists. Augustin said it was very easy to keep the pace up with his teammates knocking down shots.
"I just tried to be aggressive and keep driving them and keep my teammates involved and my teammates did a great job of moving out the ball and knocking down shots," said Augustin.
James was just behind Augustin in scoring, dropping in 18 of his own, but what was unusual was that James did not lead the Horns in rebounds, only grabbing four. That honor went to guard Justin Mason, who put in a very Justin Mason-like line of seven points, eight rebounds and six assists.
"It amazes me sometimes that people don't ever want to talk about Justin Mason," said Barnes. "Look at his line tonight."
A.J. Abrams chipped in 12 points, but the sophomore guard left the game with an ankle tweak. However, Abrams assured that his minor injury will not prevent him from playing in the Elite 8.
"I'm good," said Abrams. "I'll get our trainer to look at it and ice it up. I'll be ready."
Texas' guards played well, but perhaps the biggest story is the consistent defensive performance the Longhorns received from their post players. The day before the game, Barnes told Inside Texas that he planned on going very deep into his bench and it proved true on Friday. Connor Atchley, Gary Johnson, Alexis Wangmene, Clint Chapman and Dexter Pittman each faced off with the Lopez twins. Texas wore the Stanford posts down with a nearly constant rotation of forwards and centers.
One of the strongest defensive performances came from Pittman. The 300-pound Pittman, who once was the 370-pound Pittman, is famous for the weight he lost working with Texas strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, but on Friday he used the considerable bulk he still has to maintain position in the post.
"I thought (Pittman) was great in terms of making his weight a factor," said Barnes. "I told him, 'I don't know if I would ever say that to you up to this point, but tonight your weight was a factor'...I thought he was huge. Clint Chapman was really good tonight. Alexis was really good. Gary Johnson, too. All those guys, those minutes that those guys gave us is a big part of the reason why we were able to win tonight."
Texas has now advanced to the round of eight three out of the last six seasons and two out of the last three. The Longhorns will face Memphis on Sunday at Reliant Stadium in the Elite 8 Round of the NCAA Tournament for the South Regional title and the right to go to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The Texas bench celebrates the win (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)