Texas faces Big Monday challenge at OU

The #9 Texas Longhorns will face their first road test in Big 12 play Monday night at 8pm on ESPN in Norman, OK against the #6 Oklahoma Sooners. The battled tested Longhorns recently played in a fired up Bud Walton Arena against Arkansas, but this time the game will take on a much more important meaning in the Big 12 race.

The #9 Texas Longhorns are looking to get a leg up early in the race for the Big 12 title Monday night at Lloyd Noble Center against the preseason favorite and #6 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. The task will not be an easy one as the Sooners feature the nation's top player, sophomore forward Blake Griffin.

The Sooners, coached by Jeff Capel, won their Big 12 opener Saturday afternoon at Kansas State 61-53 behind a dominant 29 points, 15 rebound performance by Griffin.

Griffin is one of two early front-runners for national player of the year along with Davidson guard Stephon Curry. The 6-9, 255-pound forward enters Big Monday averaging 22.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocked shots.

Griffin receives help from a trio of guards in Willie Warren, Tony Crocker and senior leader Austin Johnson, who was a high school teammate of Texas guard Justin Mason at Amarillo Palo Duro.

Warren, a freshman from North Crowley, is the team's second leading scorer at 15.8 points and put together back-to-back games of 30 or more points in December. A streak shooter, Warren can carry a team on a hot night. Crocker joins Griffin and Warren as double figure scorers for the Sooners (15-1, 1-0) averaging 10.4 points.

The Longhorns (12-3, 1-0) enter Monday night coming off of a 75-67 win over Iowa State in Austin Saturday in a game closer than expected.

For Texas, the play of Gary Johnson has been the difference in recent games. The sophomore forward is averaging 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game in the last five contests.

The top 10 matchup will be a game that includes two of the top defensive teams in the country. Oklahoma holds its opponents to 37.7% from the field and has recorded 142 steals on the season, while Texas is right behind their rival holding their opponents to 38.7%.

The Longhorns enter the game winners of six straight against the Sooners (all by double digits) and 11 of 14 dating back to the Final Four season of 2002-03.

The Longhorns won the last meeting in blowout fashion 77-49 on March 15, 2008 in Kansas City in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament.

The Longhorns and Sooners have met 72 times all-time with the Sooners holding a 45-27 advantage.

The game is set to tip-off at 8pm central and will be televised on ESPN as part of "Big Monday".

A Look at the Coaches

Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 461-230, including 259-96 at Texas. Barnes is 121-40 in Big 12 games at Texas.

Jeff Capel is in his third season as the Sooners head coach. He has a record of 54-28 at Oklahoma and 133-69 overall. Capel is 1-2 in NCAA Tournament games.

A Look at the Numbers

Texas shoots 44.3% from the field, 33.2% from three and 63.8% from the free throw line.

The Sooners convert 47.4% overall, 34.0% from the three-point line and 66.5% from the foul line.

The Longhorns surrender just 38.7% shooting and own a +4.8 rebound advantage.

Oklahoma surrenders just 37.7% defensively and checks in with a +4.9 rebounding margin.

The Longhorns are committing 12.4 turnovers per game, while Oklahoma is turning the ball over 12.8 times per contest.

The Longhorn Starters

G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists)

G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (17.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists)

F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (14.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals)

F Connor Atchley 6-11 Sr. (6.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks)

C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds)

Key reserves include 6-6 sophomore Gary Johnson (11.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks), 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (3.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists), 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (1.6 points and 1.9 rebounds) and 6-0 sophomore Dogus Balbay (1.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists)

The Sooner Starters

G Austin Johnson 6-2 Sr. (6.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists)

G Willie Warren 6-3 Fr. (15.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists)

G Tony Crocker 6-5 Jr. (10.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals)

F Taylor Griffin 6-7 Sr. (9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals)

F Blake Griffin 6-9 So. (22.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks)

Key reserves are 6-5 sophomore Cade Davis (5.9 points and 2.3 rebounds), 6-9 junior Ryan Wright (2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds) and 5-10 senior Omar Leary (1.8 points and 1.0 assists)

Keys to the Game

The Longhorns, simply put, have to play one of their best games if not their best game of the season Monday night in front of 12,000 fired up fans in Norman.

While Texas won their game on Saturday over a lesser opponent, they gave up 13 offensive rebounds. On Monday, the Sooners will score at a higher rate on second chance opportunities and force Texas into fouling situations.

Boxing out Blake Griffin will be key. Because Griffin is both strong and has quickness and explosive ability laterally, the Longhorns must not only block out initially, but also keep Griffin on their back. The key is sitting and creating a powerful stance and then keeping Griffin on their back by staying connected to him and being ready to have to react with lateral movement. Not an easy chore for Texas, but one that has to be made with effort every time a shot goes up.

Last season, Dexter Pittman gave Griffin problems with his size on the low blocks. This year Griffin is more comfortable facing up and putting the ball on the floor from the mid-range area. There is little doubt the Sooners will make Blake Griffin tougher to guard for Pittman this year and try to attack Pittman's weakness, which is defending laterally against a quicker player away from the basket.

Texas must understand that Willie Warren is a streak shooter and can carry a team on a hot night. He has one of the lowest releases one will ever see. Instead of getting a hand in the face at all times, an active hand around his low release point could lead to a release point change and greatly lessen his chances of knocking down jumpers. Warren is blessed with a quick release, so having the time to react and adjust his release isn't an easy task.

Both Arkansas and Iowa State have had success against Texas showing ball screen and then sprinting to the box to post up or take the pass on the move on a quick ball reversal. If Blake or Taylor Griffin steps up to set a screen, the Longhorns have to be aware of a slip or sprint to the low box. Because Texas guards fight over the ball screen and hedge aggressively, the slip and sprint to the box is a concern.

The Sooners attempt over 20 three-pointers per game and force a number of scrambling defensive rotations each game due to Blake Griffin receiving the ball in the post or in the 8-10 foot area. Warren can't be left alone, as one doesn't want him and Griffin going off on the same night. It is a much better decision to take your chances leaving Austin Johnson free (28% from three) and Tony Crocker (33.7% from three), but Crocker has the ability to string two or three makes together. Off the bench, Cade Davis also has the ability to catch and shoot.

Texas must handle the ball pressure and trapping by the Sooners. On Saturday, the Longhorns had just five turnovers. That was against a team that didn't have the personnel to pressure the ball as well as a game plan designed to sag off of the Texas guards other than Abrams and make the Longhorns convert mid-range jumpers.

Oklahoma could take the same approach as Arkansas and Iowa State chose to do, but their style is more of ball pressure as they have recorded 142 steals in 16 games. They use the pressure to get transition opportunities and keep teams from easily getting into their sets.

Blake Griffin doesn't want to have to defend for the most part, so Texas has to attack him. When Gary Johnson is in the game and has Blake Griffin on him, Texas has to get him the ball and Johnson has to attack. Oklahoma doesn't have depth on the interior, so getting a front line player in foul trouble creates a big drop-off.

If the game is close late, the Griffin brothers are the two sub-70% free throw shooters for the Sooners. It's not likely they will have the ball with a lead late. Blake Griffin shoots just 60.9% on the season and that means Texas has to foul hard and not give the sophomore three-point opportunities and easy layups inside of five feet.


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