Wednesday will be the second meeting of the season for the Longhorns and Buffaloes (9-21, 1-15) with Texas taking the first game 85-76 in overtime in Boulder despite 34 points and nine rebounds by Colorado sophomore guard Cory Higgins.
Abrams led the Longhorns with 29 points in the first meeting, while Damion James scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. James missed two free throws to win the game in regulation before putting together a terrific overtime performance.
Colorado shot 48.9% in the first meeting in Boulder.
Colorado enters the Big 12 Tournament with an 11-game losing streak, with their most recent loss coming at Kansas State on Saturday 76-64.
For Texas (20-10, 9-7), the play of sophomore point guard Dogus Balbay in eight starts has saved the Longhorn's season as well as Damion James moving back to a four/PF position to dominate the glass and drive the ball on post defenders.
Balbay is averaging 6.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals in eight starts. The Longhorns offensive production is up by more than five points per game and six percent from three-point range since Balbay was inserted into the starting line-up.
Texas owns a 12-8 series advantage, including four straight.
The game is set to tip-off at 2pm central and will be televised by the Big 12 Sports Network.
A win for Texas would ensure an NCAA Tournament bid even though the Longhorns are likely to be selected win or lose. A loss though, could give the selection committee a reason to question whether Texas should be in the Big Dance or not.
The Longhorns enter the Big 12 Tournament with an RPI of 35 and strength of schedule of 28. The Longhorns are currently sitting on the 8/9 seeding line. A win over Colorado and Kansas State would likely push Texas to an important seven seed.
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 469-237, including 267-103 at Texas. Barnes is 13-10 in the Big 12 Tournament.
Jeff Bzdelik is in his second season in Boulder. Bzdelik has a career record at the D-I level of 96-87, including 21-41 at Colorado.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 43.9% from the field, 31.8% from three and 67.2% from the free throw line.
The Buffaloes convert 45.8% overall, 35.0% from the three-point line and 72.4% from the foul line.
The Longhorns surrender 41.0% shooting and own a +5.1 rebound advantage.
Colorado surrenders 46.2% defensively and checks in with a -5.9 rebounding margin.
The Longhorns are committing 12.4 turnovers per game, while the Buffaloes are turning the ball over 14.1 times per contest.
The Longhorn Starters
G Dogus Balbay 6-0 So. (3.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (16.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists)
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (6.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (15.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists)
C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks)
Key reserves include 6-11 senior Connor Atchley (5.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks), 6-6 sophomore Gary Johnson (11.0 points and 5.7 rebounds), 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists), 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds), 6-2 junior Harrison Smith and 6-10 sophomore Matt Hill.
The Buffalo Starters
G Nate Tomlinson 6-1 Fr. (7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists)
G Dwight Thorne II 6-2 Jr. (11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists)
G Cory Higgins 6-5 So. (17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals)
F Jermyl Jackson-Wilson 6-6 Sr. (5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds)
F Austin Dufault 6-8 Fr. (8.4 points and 3.8 rebounds)
What to Watch For
Texas will be taking on a team with an 11-game losing streak that likes to slow the game down, make the opponent work on defense deep into the shot clock and then stop transition defensively at all costs.
Cory Higgins is one of the top all-around players in the Big 12. Texas has to make him defend and see if they can get him in some early foul trouble to take away his aggressiveness on the offensive end. Higgins defends with quick and active hands and will take the occasional risk, so Texas has to play to his chest and make him defend and challenge the sophomore to move his feet and cut off drives without fouling.
Colorado will likely look to post Higgins, run some clear out late in the shot clock and give the sophomore every chance to score the ball one on one against the smaller Longhorn perimeter defenders. Higgins is looking to create enough space off the bounce to get a clean jumper look anywhere from 15 to 22 feet.
In the first meeting, the Longhorns pressured the Colorado big men out to 22 feet and the Buffaloes had some success with back cuts and dives to the basket. Dufault and Levi Knutson shoot less than 25% from three and there is no reason to defend those guys out to 22 feet. Knutson, while technically a wing, will play some undersized four when Colorado plays small.
Like the first meeting, the Longhorns must work to get as many shots to the rim inside of 12 feet as possible. Texas has a huge advantage on the boards, thus passing on long range jumpers is going to be key in forcing Colorado to defend in the post as well as getting weak side rebounding position and providing the best chance to clear up on the offensive glass.
Tomlinson and Thorne II are 40% + three-point shooters and have to be closed out on under control, but more importantly Texas has to choose which players to rotate off of and either Tomlinson or Thorne II can make the opponent pay on catch and shoots.