Abrams carries Texas past UCLA 68-64

The #8 Texas Longhorns faced a must win game on Thursday night playing host to UCLA with many tough non-conference games remaining. Senior guard A.J. Abrams carried the Longhorns stagnant offense scoring a season high 31 points, while Justin Mason turned in another terrific all-around performance.

Thursday was a must win game for Texas. After losing to Notre Dame, the Longhorns were badly in need of a signature non-conference win against a respectable opponent. For the second year in a row, the #8 Longhorns took down the UCLA Bruins in front of a sellout crowd, this year in Austin 68-64 behind the scoring of A.J. Abrams.

Abrams scored 16 first half points and 15 in the second for a season high of 31. Abrams' last point, a free throw with 10 seconds to play, sealed the game for the Longhorns after the Bruins misfired for nearly a minute on three prior possession in which the Longhorns could never secure the rebound or possession.

The Bruins never went away behind the scoring of senior point guard Darren Collison. Collison scored 22 points to lead the Bruins to go with five assists, but did commit six turnovers. Four of the Collison turnovers were in the opening half and contributed directly to the Longhorns (6-1) lead.

Collison received help in the second half from senior forward Alfred Aboye, who snatched 11 rebounds, mostly in the final 20 minutes and senior wing Josh Shipp. Shipp scored on tough shots, transition dunks and a catch and shoot three.

The Bruins attacked the offensive glass relentlessly in the second half and finished the game with 20 offensive caroms. UCLA outrebounded Texas 39-38.

Abrams led the Longhorns with 31 points. James joined Abrams in double figures with 13 points and recorded his second double double of the year with 13 rebounds.

Collison led UCLA with 22 points and was joined in double figures by Shipp with 15.

A Look at the Numbers

Texas connected on 43.6% (24-55) from the field, 45% (9-20) from the three-point line and 57.9% (11-19) from the foul line.

The Bruins knocked down 39.4% (26-66) overall, 36.8% (7-19) from three and 50.0% (5-10) from the free throw line.

UCLA won the battle of the boards 39-38, including 20 offensive rebounds. Both teams committed 13 turnovers.

The Good

Justin Mason continues his stellar all-around play. While he only scored five points, the junior was just awesome on defense with three steals and several deflections while facing a very tough opponent part time in Collison.

Mason dished out six assists and pulled down six rebounds in numbers that have become the norm in the last four games.

A.J. Abrams came out on fire from three. He scored 16 key first half points. In the second half, more shots were forced, but he did get to the free throw line to help offset the half court misfires. Abrams' negative plays were off the bounce in the half court when several shots were tossed up as prayers hoping to be answered, but his offense in catch and shoot and Mason's all-around play were about all Texas had to call upon.

Gary Johnson was big again off the bench. He didn't receive enough touches on the offensive end, but made the most of his opportunities. Johnson's work to get terrific post up position is the one thing Texas fans can expect game to game at this point on the offensive end.

Damion James grabbed several huge second half rebounds. As has been the case all season, he is at his best when rebounding the ball first and playing off of that strength on both ends of the floor.

After not switching many ball screens in the first 37 minutes, the Longhorns switched late in the game and took away the Bruins ability to pick and float for clean three-point looks. The late switch in playing the ball screen also created some hesitation by Collison.

Varez Ward showed some nice ability off the bounce. He made two terrific passes in his limited time. Ward is comfortable with the ball in traffic and features a couple of hesitation moves that will be lethal as he continues to get his feet wet.

The Bad

The Longhorns again let a team without much on the interior defensively off the hook. Working the two man game inside/out was there all game if the floor was spread, but Texas chose to not attempt to pound the ball inside. While UCLA is going to trap on most entry passes, their youth is leading to slow defensive rotation and pressing the issue would have put the Bruins in a tougher position than defending a perimeter offense without much pop.

Dexter Pittman simply can not play man-to-man on this level against a quality opponent. UCLA attacked him from the first possession-looking screen and float at every opportunity. In the second half, Pittman switched on a couple of occasions, forced switches basically, but the result was the same. Pittman showed some punch on the offensive end, but just gives up too much in return to have him out there if Texas is going to play man.

Texas showed their first 2-3 zone of the season with 14:20 to play in the second half during an 11-0 run by the Bruins. It was quickly scrapped after UCLA grabbed offensive rebound after offensive rebound.

Offensively, Damion James continues to be careless with the ball and as a decision maker on the perimeter. In what can be penciled in pregame through seven games, James committed three unforced turnovers with another play in transition that is just a killer. James simply has to give up the ball and get it back and finish instead of trying to be the playmaker and fumbling the ball or making a very bad feel play pass that has consistently been stolen this year.

Texas isn't working to get Connor Atchley any post up chances. While his play helping spread the floor is key, he has constantly had matchups this year in which he can make positive things happen with chances in the post. Texas has way too many empty possessions at this point in the half court to not give him chances.

The Longhorns didn't look to slip screen enough in the second half. While UCLA wasn't blitzing the ball screen as aggressively as they normally do, showing the slip is always key in slowing down the early hedge and thoughts of the trap,

Overall

A win is a win, but Texas has a lot of work to do and it may require some role changes to have a shot at maximizing the ability of this team. Don't allow the name on the uniform to fool you, as UCLA is not a real good basketball team at this point in the season. The Bruins half court offense is bad right now and their freshman are taking baby steps. It's a team that will be better in a couple of months, but the same team that lost on a neutral court to Michigan scoring just 52 points.

Texas is winning and Thursday's win was very key on the NCAA Tournament resume, but there is a lot of work to be done. With Villanova on the horizon, Texas is going to have to play their best offensive game of the season to leave the Big Apple with a win.


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