Longhorns to Host #2 Oklahoma

The Texas Longhorns have their back firmly placed against the wall and on Saturday night at 8pm in Austin, they have a great shot at a statement win against #2 Oklahoma. If the Longhorns are to get the much needed win, they will have to play at a much higher level than January 12 in Norman when the Sooners beat up on the Longhorns from the start and cruised to a 78-63 victory.

It's been a while since the Texas Longhorn basketball program has had their backs against the wall, but that is certainly the case after Monday night's 81-66 blowout loss at Texas A&M. Now sitting at 6-5 in Big 12 play, the Longhorns must win three of the last five games to end the regular season and could use a marquee win to build their NCAA Tournament resume.

For Texas, the atmosphere will be ripe for the upset with a sold out jacked-up crowd and ESPN's College Gameday in town. In fact, the Longhorns have been on a recent roll against top five and ranked teams in the Frank Erwin Center.

Texas has won the last five meetings against top five teams in Austin and nine in a row against ranked opponents on their home court.

In Oklahoma, the Longhorns (17-8, 6-5) will face a well-rested team after having the week off. The last time the Sooners took the court, Blake Griffin destroyed the Texas Tech Red Raiders to the tune of 95-74.

While Blake Griffin receives and deserves most of the national attention for the Sooners (25-1, 10-0), the play of experienced guards Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker has been the key in the run all the way up the polls in 2008-09.

Johnson has hit numerous big shots late in games and possessions when winning or losing was still in doubt. Crocker has been the best catch and shoot perimeter player for the Sooners playing the role of Griffin and Willie Warren's beneficiary to the tune of 38.7% from long range. Crocker often finds himself left all alone in the corner with the time to catch and shoot at his own leisure.

The meeting will be the 74th in the series with the Sooners holding a 46-27 lead, including 16-14 in Austin. The Longhorns have dominated as of late, winning six of the last seven.

A Look at the Coaches

Rick Barnes has a career record of 466-235, including 264-101 at Texas. Barnes is 126-45 in Big 12 play at Texas. Barnes is 18-16 in NCAA Tournament play. Jeff Capel is in his third season in Norman. He has a career-record of 143-69, including 64-28 at Oklahoma. Capel is 1-2 in NCAA Tournament play.

A Look at the Numbers

Texas shoots 44.3% overall, 32.0% from the three-point line and 66.1% from the foul line. Oklahoma converts 49.0% from the floor, 36.2% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. Texas holds a +5.0 rebound margin and turns the ball over 12.5 times per game, while the Sooners check in at +4.7 on the boards and 13.0 turnovers per game.

The Longhorn Starters

G Dogus Balbay 6-0 So. (2.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (16.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (15.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists)
F Gary Johnson 6-6 So. (11.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.8 blocks)
C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (8.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks)

Key reserves include 6-2 freshman Varez Ward (3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists), 6-2 junior Justin Mason (6.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists), 6-11 senior Connor Atchley (5.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks), 6-10 sophomore Matt Hill and 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman.

The Sooner Starters

G Austin Johnson 6-3 Sr. (8.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists)
G Willie Warren 6-3 Fr. (14.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists)
G Tony Crocker 6-5 Jr. (10.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists)
F Taylor Griffin 6-7 Sr. (8.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists)
F Blake Griffin 6-9 So. (22.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists)

Key reserves include 6-6 junior Juan Patillo (7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds), 6-5 sophomore Cade Davis (4.9 points and 2.0 rebounds), 6-8 junior Ryan Wright (2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds) and 5-10 senior Omar Leary (1.4 points and 1.1 assists)

What to Watch for

The Longhorns fill face a "pick your poison" situation on Saturday. It's likely Texas will play a lot of 2-3 zone early in the game, if not starting in zone. Texas will very likely have to start a big lineup as a front line of Gary Johnson and Damion James is a recipe for success against the Sooners. That mean Dexter Pittman or Connor Atchley will likely draw the start and will have to be protected in zone.

Playing zone against the Sooners means that Tony Crocker, Austin Johnson and Cade Davis will get plenty of catch and shoot clean looks off of kick outs from Blake Griffin or off of a one or two hard dribble and skip pass from Willie Warren. It becomes a "pick your poison" strategy and the Longhorns likely have to hope the three-pointers aren't falling.

For Crocker and Warren, the road games have been kind as both are shooting the ball well in the opponent's gymnasium.

In the first meeting, Texas closed out poorly - late and out of control - against the Sooners. The Longhorns must do a much better job whether in man or zone. Limiting the Sooners to one shot and being in position to snag long rebounds is going to be a key.

When Texas is in man, they must make Willie Warren go left. Different than most right handed players, Warren forces right off the dribble and is much more comfortable leading with his left shoulder and creating space to get up a short off the bounce inside of twelve feet. He looks to plant his left shoulder in the chest of his defender, create contact and get a shot to the rim or get to the foul line off the bounce.

Texas isn't going to stop Blake Griffin, but they must make him defend which he has no desire to do. This is a game in which running Connor Atchley off of screens, if guarded by Blake Griffin, would be wise. Texas must make Griffin defend on ball screens, staggered screens and even on walk away or fade screens. Texas has to throw everything at Griffin to make him defend and wear him down. He relishes the opportunity to rest on defense and stay away from fouling situations.

When Griffin gets the ball inside eight feet, the Longhorns must foul him every time and put him on the line. Texas can use the fouls of Atchley, Pittman, Hill and even Chapman to put the 58.4% foul shooter on the line instead of giving up easy scores. The flip side is Griffin doesn't back defenders down, but many times works to take shots from ten to twelve feet. As always, keeping him on one's back is the key rebounding the ball. If Texas will do that, at home, they may get a cheap foul call.

Offensively, Texas needs a total team effort. Simple to say, but it's been hard to come by this season. Abrams has to have quality shot selection. James can't release three-pointers off of one or two passes in the half court. The Texas guards must get Atchley some looks in screen and float. Gary Johnson can't just settle for 15-footers but has to get to the free throw line. Dexter Pittman has to finish around the rim and not commit dumb over the back foul on offensive rebounds, and Dogus Balbay has to make Austin Johnson defend laterally and then finish and draw a rotating defense.

Sounds pretty simple from the couch, but much tougher against a 25-1 team live. Many, if not all, of those things have to happen for the Longhorns on Saturday night.

Horns Digest Top Stories