The Longhorns set the tone from the first possession playing suffocating defense on Villanova (8-1) guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, who normally have their way off the bounce against most opponents. Justin Mason dominated Reynolds physically the entire night and received help from Dogus Balbay off the bench as Reynolds couldn't catch his breath and find any rhythm.
The Wildcats overcame a slow start on the perimeter early on putting a mini-run on Texas (7-1) jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind the sweet shooting touch from the elbow extended by senior forward Dante Cunningham, who is one of the most improved players in college basketball.
The Longhorns responded with much improved bench play from Clint Chapman, Varez Ward as well as the energy that has become game in and game out by Gary Johnson on the offensive end and Dogus Balbay on the defensive end.
The Wildcats began switching defenses extending out to a ¾ court trap as well as some zone looks in the 2-3 when Abrams took a breather.
Texas attacked off the dribble at times with success with Mason and Ward creating good looks on the offensive end.
Texas appeared to have some trouble with three minutes remaining in the first half after Abrams' second foul. Up 28-23 with Abrams on the bench, the Longhorns didn't crater, but instead continued to swarm Villanova, outscoring the Wildcats 4-3 to end the half behind three points by Johnson.
Texas led 32-26 at the half.
Villanova would never get closer than three points in the second half. Leading 44-40 with 8:41 to play, James knocked down a 15-footer off of two bounces giving the Longhorns a six-point lead.
After a Villanova tip-in by Dwayne Anderson, Abrams answered with a jumper to keep the lead at six, 48-42.
Abrams then made one of two from the line, a theme at the free throw line for Texas, putting the Longhorns up 49-42. James followed with a dunk for a 51-42 lead with seven minutes to play.
After a three-point play by Wildcats guard Scottie Reynolds, the Longhorns executed after a terrific offensive possession in which the ball continuously moved. James knocked down the three-pointer to match Reynolds three-point play. After Cunningham knocked down two free throws to cut the lead to 54-47, Texas responded with an Abrams long range three and the game's largest lead at 57-47.
Texas then finished off the Wildcats in the closing three minutes despite clanking several free throws. Abrams converted his last three free throws finishing with 26 points and the Longhorns earned a hard fought victory 67-58.
Abrams led Texas with 26 points and four assists. James joined him in double figures with 16 points and six rebounds.
Cunningham led Villanova with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Corey Stokes and Reynolds joined Cunningham in double figures with 11 and 10 points each.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas connected on 42.4% (25-59) from the field, 40.0% (6-15) from the three-point line and 45.8% (11-24) from the foul line.
The Wildcats knocked down 38.8% (19-49) overall, 23.5% (4-17) from three and 64.0% (16-25) from the free throw line.
Villanova won the battle of the boards 34-29.
Justin Mason continues to play tremendous basketball. The junior lead guard dished out six assists again and played his best defensive game of the season. While he scored just three points, his play was the key in the Texas victory as he dominated on defense and made plays for teammates on offense.
A.J. Abrams was very good on both ends of the floor tonight. He didn't force bad shots. Villanova forced him to put the ball on the floor running at him on the perimeter catch as well as following closely behind on screens forcing Abrams to curl and catch in the lane. Abrams didn't force, but instead made the extra pass on several occasions and knocked down shots in transition and against rotating defense.
Damion James played to his strengths very well. James posted up for the first two times this season, scoring once. That is welcomed and will be key as the season goes along. James played to his strength on the perimeter as a catch and shoot wing. He only attacked off the dribble going left, which is by far his best path off the dribble to get into a mid-range jumper.
Varez Ward flashed tonight why he will be a very good four-year player at Texas in a similar way to Justin Mason. Ward attacks off the dribble to score more than Mason, but is a very good undersized rebounding guard when he has the freedom to crash the offensive glass. Ward pulled down three offensive rebounds and eight total rebounds to lead the team. He added five points and an assist as well.
Clint Chapman posted his most productive minutes of the year against a quality opponent. He grabbed five rebounds, blocked one shot, changed two more, made a great pass to Abrams for a three against the trapping Wildcat defense and ran the floor hard.
Gary Johnson brought the normal energy and snagged seven rebounds.
Dexter Pittman played his best minutes of the season. He scored eight points and gave his best defensive effort of the season.
The Longhorns handled the ¾ court trap very well for the most part. When the opportunities were there, Mason did a good job of hitting the gap and pushing though the defense putting Villanova in a recovery and rotation position. Texas was moving the ball side to side and down the court. They did a very good job against a physical, trapping team.
The Longhorns were atrocious from the foul line, but get used to it. This was the Achilles heel for Texas headed into the season and will be all season. Texas is just not a good foul shooting team. Seeing Abrams knock down just 6-9 is a concern, as he has to hit 80+ percent game in game out to help the Longhorns, as they will struggle.
Texas rotated off of Stokes for two early three-pointers, but shored up that area the rest of the game.
James didn't block out much tonight and that aided in the Villanova rebound advantage. He gave up two or three offensive rebounds when there just wasn't a block out attempt.
Texas went to a 2-3 zone for one possession and gave up a quick three.
The Longhorns played their best game of the season to date. The ball moved with precision in the closing minutes and Texas defended on the perimeter as well as they possibly could for 40 minutes against a quality team. Texas is at their best on offense when Abrams makes the extra pass and he did as well as possible tonight. He becomes very tough to defend when he keeps the ball moving. It was just a very good game overall with rebounding being the lone issue that can be improved upon.