Texas Preview

The #8-ranked Texas Longhorns come to Pauley Pavilion on Sunday, and they look to be the most talented team UCLA has faced this season. Can the Bruins get it done with Darren Collison probably still a bit rusty, facing one of the best backcourts in the country?

UCLA faces off against Texas Sunday afternoon and the Longhorns figure to be the most talented team the Bruins have faced to date. Whether Texas is a better "team" than Michigan State remains to be seen, but there's not much question that Texas has more talented players. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams form a very good backcourt, while Justin Mason, Connor Atchley and Damion James are all averaging double figures. The Bruins will have to play well to beat the Longhorns, even with the advantage of playing at Pauley.

Texas is ranked #8 in the latest AP poll and the Longhorns are off to a 6-0 start. They've won by average of 15 points a game. They've only played one notable team so far, but they won in about as impressive a fashion as possible as they blew out a good Tennessee team 98-61. While it's sometimes a mistake to draw too many conclusions from just one game – for example, USC-Mercer – Tennessee was the only quality opponent Texas has played and that 37-point win was impressive.

Texas has done a good job defensively so far this season, holding opponents to 35.5% from the field. That's very good, no matter whom you're playing. They've also been something of a second-half team, out-scoring the opposition by an average of 46-30 after halftime.

The Texas offense starts with outstanding point guard D.J. Augustin (6-0, 180). He led the Big 12 in assists last season and he's off to a good start this year. Augustin is averaging 17 points a game, to go with seven assists, and he's shooting the ball extremely well. So far, Augustin is shooting 56% from the field and 52% on three-pointers. His backcourt partner, A.J.Abrams (5-11, 155), is also off to a great start. Through six games, Abrams is averaging 20 points a game. He's also shooting a great percentage – 55% from the field and 49% on three-pointers. And if the game is tight late, you don't want to foul Abrams, as he's averaging 91% at the line in his three years at Texas.

With those kinds of numbers, it's probably not a stretch to say that the defense of Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison could be huge in this game. Westbrook has been playing great defense all year and Collison is, of course, known as one of the best defenders at his position in the country. From a Bruin standpoint, you'd feel a little more comfortable if Collison was 100% and not just returning from a fairly long layoff. His ability to play big minutes in this game might be a significant factor in the outcome.

While the strength of the Longhorns team is definitely in the backcourt, they're by no means a two-man team. As I mentioned, the three others starters are all averaging over ten points a game. Connor Atchley (6-10, 226), with his height, could pose some problems for the Bruins with his ability to step away from the basket. He's made 8 of 13 threes so far this year. Sophomore Damion James (6-7, 230), at 6-7, is by far the best rebounder for Texas. He's averaging a little over eight rebounds a game. The next closest guy is Atchley, with a little under five boards a game. Mason (6-2, 198), a combo guard, is described as the "glue guy" for Texas. He's third on the team in scoring, rebounding and minutes played.

Once you get past the starting five, the Longhorns production falls off a bit. Alex Wangmene (6-7, 241), a freshman, comes off the bench for about fifteen minutes a game. And former Bruin recruit Clint Chapman (6-10, 245), a freshman, plays about ten minutes a game. Neither player appears to be a big offensive threat at this time. The Longhorns are missing some potential depth with the absence of freshman forward Gary Johnson and sophomore big man Matt Hill. Johnson is out with an unspecified heart condition and Hill is out with an injured left heel.

With the return of Darren Collison, the Bruins looked noticeably better against George Washington. He obviously helps a great deal with the offense, but it's his defense that really makes a difference. And pairing with him Russell Westbrook in the backcourt gives the Bruins a potentially devastating defensive attack. Those two guys should cause a lot of team problems in just getting into their offense. Mike Roll has returned to practice and he's hoping that he'll be able to play some minutes on Sunday. However, as of this writing, I haven't heard anything about the progress he's making in practice and whether or not he'll be able to go.

While Texas is a talented team, and one that could potentially give UCLA problems, I think the outcome is still pretty much up to the Bruins. When UCLA comes to play with intensity and focus, there aren't many teams in the country that can beat the Bruins. In the Michigan State game, a number of people talked about the Bruins' poor offensive execution in the first half. And they certainly had troubles in that area. But I thought the effort and intensity was noticeably better in the second half of the game. The Spartans, in my opinion, outworked and just wanted it more than UCLA in the first half of that game. That's unusual for a Ben Howland-coached team. For the most part, UCLA always comes to play with consistent focus and energy. If they do so on Sunday, I expect the Bruins to come away with the win.

Texas 73

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