A year ago, the Longhorns took on UCLA as an underdog. The Longhorns traveled to Los Angeles a hot team coming off of a 97-78 thrashing of top ten-ranked Tennessee the prior week, but the Bruins were ranked #1 and the heavy favorite.
Behind the steady play of D.J. Augustin and the high flying, powerful play of Damion James, the Longhorns knocked off a team ranked #1 for the first time in the history of the program. James, who scored 19 points and snatched 10 rebounds in the game, scored the winning basket dunking an Augustin miss from the weak side.
This year, the roles are somewhat reversed. The Longhorns are long on experience, while the Bruins are trying to work a very talented freshman class in with returning key players Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboye.
Leading the way for the talented freshman class is guard Jrue Holiday, who is averaging 11.6 points. Holiday, a 6-3 long armed guard, instantly became one of the top on the ball defenders in college basketball with his arrival at UCLA and he teams with Collison to form a dynamic on the ball defender duo. The Bruins have nine players logging more than ten minutes per game and will likely use an 11-man rotation Thursday night.
The Bruins have struggled in the early going despite their 4-1 record. The team lost at Madison Square Garden to Michigan 55-52 in the closing minute and squeaked by Miami (OH) in Polly Pavilion 64-59. Even with the early struggles working in many new faces, the Bruins will play very sound defense as fans have grown accustomed to seeing from Ben Howland coached teams.
For Texas, the game will be a second measuring stick. Last week, the Longhorns dropped a heartbreaker to Notre Dame 81-80 in the Maui Invitational. If the Longhorns are to win in front of a sell out crowd on Thursday night, rebounding and finding ways to score in the half court will be the key.
The Longhorns have been turnover prone early in the season and simply cannot commit unforced turnovers against a UCLA team that will score the ball off of turnovers at a very high rate.
The Bruins hold a 2-1 lead in the all-time series.
Thursday's tip is set for 8pm central time and will be televised on ESPN2.
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 454-228, including 252-94 at Texas. Barnes is 16-10 in NCAA Tournament games at Texas.
UCLA is coached by Ben Howland, who is in his sixth season as the top program in the Pac-10. Howland owns a career record of 298-145, including 17-7 in the NCAA Tournament. Howland has a record of 130-46 at UCLA.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 46.6% from the field, 36.0% from three and 61.0% from the free-throw line.
The Bruins convert 50.7% overall, 37.1% from the three-point line and 64.1% from the foul line.
The Longhorns surrender just 34.0% shooting and own a +8.2 rebound advantage.
The Bruins give up 43.2% defensively, but check in with a +9.4 rebounding margin.
The Longhorns are committing 14 turnovers per game, while UCLA is turning the ball over 15 times per contest.
The Longhorn Starters
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (9.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.1 steals)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (15.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals)
F Connor Atchley 6-11 Sr. (8.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks)
C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (6.3 points, 3.7 rebounds)
Key reserves include 6-7 sophomore Gary Johnson (10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds), 6-1 sophomore Dogus Balbay (1.8 points, 1.0 steals), 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds), 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (1.5 points, 1.8 rebounds) and 6-10 sophomore Matt Hill.
The Bruin Starters
G Darren Collison 6-0 Sr. (15.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.2 steals)
G Jrue Holiday 6-3 Fr. (11.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals)
F Josh Shipp 6-5 Sr. (9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals)
F James Keefe 6-8 Jr. (3.8 points and 4.4 rebounds)
F Alfred Aboye 6-9 Sr. (8.6 points, 5.2 rebounds)
Key reserves are 6-5 freshman Malcolm Lee (4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds), 6-5 junior Michael Roll (6.0 points, 2.2 rebounds), 6-9 junior Nikola Dragovic (6.3 points, 2.3 rebounds), 6-8 freshman Drew Gordon (2.0 points, 3.2 rebounds), 6-1 freshman Jerime Anderson (2.2 points, 1.6 assists) and 6-10 freshman JMison Morgan (4.3 points).
Keys to the Game
The Longhorns will face their toughest task offensively to date on Thursday. The Bruins do as good of a job as any program in the country in keeping their opponent from getting into and effectively running half court sets.
The Longhorns can expect tough man-to-man for 40 minutes. UCLA has consistently shown that they will trap the post on the catch and flood the ball screens and trap them at times. Don't be surprised to see the Bruins pressure the Longhorn ball handlers for 94 feet either as Texas hasn't been tested by a quality defensive backcourt yet.
The top three-point shooter for the Bruins by percentage is Collison, who has hit seven of ten on the season. He has a slow release, so Texas just has to do a good job of closing out under control and not running at the quick guard. Shipp and Dragovic attempt the most long-range jumpers on the team, but neither has knocked them down this year. With that being said, the Longhorns must keep them located in rotating situations and allow either one to catch, take their time and shoot in rhythm.
Aboye is a very capable offensive rebounder and must be accounted for when a shot goes up.
The Bruins have one of the top rebounding backcourts in college basketball with a number of players that can snatch the loose ball rebounds. It's imperative that the Texas guards put a body on the UCLA guards and help the big men out in this game. UCLA will play physical and the Longhorns backcourt must answer the bell.
The Longhorns will have a decided advantage on the offensive end when Atchley is in the game. They must get him involved early and often both in the post and in float situations against a team that will look to aggressively hedge and trap ball screens.
Last year, Abrams allowed himself to be taken out by UCLA and that opened up opportunities for others. Abrams has to play a similar offensive game this year and not get into forcing long-range jumpers that will result in long rebounds and run out opportunities for UCLA.
Last year Justin Mason had the mismatch going up against Shipp. This year it will be Damion James. James should be able to score the ball and rebound the ball against the smaller forward that is not laterally quick. For James to have the type of success he is capable of having, he must play on the weak side and attack the offensive glass. He also has to let the game come to him and attack off the dribble when the opportunities arise. Forcing, as he has done way too much this year, will result in turnovers and run outs for UCLA.
If the game is close late, Collison can't be fouled as he is shooting 94% from the line this year. That means ball denial on Collison and allow any other freshman guard to make the catch and then immediately foul.
When freshman center JMison Morgan is in the game, make him earn every point from the free throw line. Do not allow him to score the ball close, but foul him hard as he is a strong freshman.