Too big, too strong, too fast.
Basketball can be a precise game, but sometimes your opponent is just bigger, stronger and faster than you are. The Longhorns were overwhelmed by the Memphis on Sunday, losing 85-67 to the Tigers in the Elite 8 round for the NCAA Tournament and ending Texas' 2007-08 season.
"Their defense was impressive," said Texas junior guard A.J. Abrams. "They're real athletic and their length was probably the most that we've seen this year. It was difficult getting shots off over them."
On the game, Texas shot 36.2 percent from the field, well below the Horns' season-average of 45.4 percent. From the get-go it was apparent that the Longhorns were constantly being forced to alter shots as the athletic Tigers swarmed over the Horns, defensively.
"I know for a fact we haven't seen as good of a defense all year as we saw today and without a doubt Memphis deserves all the credit," said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. "The only thing we will probably look back and been real disappointed about is early we got out of character on turnovers and shot selection."
Despite Texas' shooting troubles, which was part of the reason Memphis jumped out to an early 18-8 lead, Barnes said when he called timeout to try and stymie the run, he wasn't talking with his team about shooting.
"What we talked about was not feeding them by turning the ball over," said Barnes. "We gave them nine points off turnovers early. They don't need any help and we helped them."
The Horns turned the ball over six times in the first 10 minutes and eight times in the first half. By comparison, Texas had only six turnovers the entire game in the Sweet 16 win over Stanford. The Longhorns have given up the fewest number of turnovers out of every Division I team in the nation (9.6 per game), but on Sunday the early mistakes put them in a big hole.
Perhaps most surprising is where half of those turnovers came from. In seven post-season games, D.J. Augustin has posted 42 assists to 15 turnovers (a 2.8-to-1 ratio). Against Memphis, the sophomore point guard gave up four turnovers and had only three assists. Augustin said he was impressed with the Tigers speed and that speed disrupted the Horns' offense.
"(Memphis) did a great job on defense, period," said Augustin. "We did our best on offense trying to get open but, like I said, give them credit for great defense."
Texas managed to not surrender a single turnover in the second half, but by then it was too late.
The Longhorns struggled to knock down shots, but Memphis didn't have any shooting troubles. The Tigers sank a full 50 percent of their shots and muscled Texas in the lane, topping the Horns 38-22 in points in the paint.
A.J. Abrams led all Texas scorers with 17 points. The junior guard had only two points at half time, but he went on a tear late, hitting four three-pointers over the final three minutes of the game to try and keep Texas alive.
Texas had already begun to employ the foul-and-shoot tactic at that point, trailing 73-53 with three minutes left in the ball game. It was a sound strategy, given that the Tigers shot a paltry 59.2 percent from the free throw line during the season.
But the death nail for Texas came in an unexpected fashion.
Memphis, the team that isn't supposed to be able to hit free throws, the team that is ranked 326th out of 328 Division I teams (seriously) in free throw shooting, sank 30-of-36 from the charity stripe. The Tigers kept hitting their free throws and Texas couldn't catch up.
"Every time we huddle up at the (free throw) line, we say, 'They don't think we can make them.' But we're making them. We're making them now," said Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Barnes was impressed with the Tigers' ability to hit free throw after free throw and even joked with his old friend, Memphis head coach John Calipari, about how many times Texas fouled Memphis to close out the game.
"I told John at the end of the game, I said, 'You know, we just wanted to give you guys a chance to work on your free throws, since everybody seems to talk about it,'" said Barnes. "And they made them today. You look at it and everything and it was their day and you just have to congratulate them."
Douglas-Roberts sank almost half of those free throws (14) and was the game's leading scorer with 25 points. Memphis also got 21 points from freshman point guard Derek Rose, who gave out nine assists and only two turnovers. Rose hit 7-of-10 shots in the game and was solid from outside, but the paint was controlled by the Tigers 6-foot-9, 265-pound forward, Joey Dorsey, who was the game's leading rebounder with 12 and contributed 11 points of his own.
Texas season ends its 2007-2008 season in the Elite 8 with a record of 31-7. The Horns 31 wins are the most ever in school history, surpassing the mark of 30 wins set by the 2005-06 team.
The Horns certainly did not want its run to end at Reliant Stadium in Houston, but it did. Sophomore forward Damion James said what he was most disappointed about was the season ending for the Texas seniors.
"I'm so sorry for the seniors, (Ian) Mooney and J.D. Lewis, because we love them like brothers and we wanted to get them a chance to see the Final Four," said James.
James, like most of his teammates, struggled to hit his shots. The 6-foot-7 forward has the best three-point percentage on the team this season (43.7 percent), but he was 0-for-5 from beyond the arc in the Elite 8. Center Connor Atchley, who is second on the team in three-point percentage (42.4 percent), also struggled from outside, hitting only one of his five shots from three-point range.
"Connor and Damion, they were 1-of-10 from three and we wanted to step those guys away from the basket and open up some driving lanes. They had some looks and (the shots) didn't go down," said Barnes. "We needed some scoring from our post guys away from the basket so maybe (Memphis) would have to extend and open up the driving lanes."
James did, however, break the UT single-season record for rebounds with 393, passing Kevin Durant (390, 2006-07) for the No. 1 spot, after grabbing five on Sunday. James was not overjoyed in the locker room at the accomplishment, given his team's NCAA Tournament loss, but the sophomore forward told Inside Texas he's proud of what Texas was able to do this season.
"It was a great season. A lot of people doubted us, saying we weren't going to be nothing without Kevin (Durant)," said James. "We made it to the Elite 8, had a chance to go to the Final Four, we fell short, so we've just got to get back and get ready to go again."
Memphis advances to the Final Four and will take on UCLA at 5:07 p.m. CST in San Antonio on Saturday for the right to play in the National Championship Game on Monday, April 7th.