Texas gets tough
High-scoring 'Horns turn to defense to beat Jayhawks
Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 2:06AM; Updated: Tuesday February 12, 2008 10:25AM
AUSTIN, Texas -- Miss after miss mounted for D.J. Augustin. He clanged threes, rimmed out runners in the lane, failed to finish after hesitation moves to the hole. None of his first nine field-goal attempts found the mark. He made just 1-of-13 tries against third-ranked Kansas, a layup with 5:36 left in the second half.
For Texas' star point guard, Big Monday was a showcase of atrocious shooting; the worst of his sophomore season; the worst big-game showing his career -- by far. It was the kind of woeful offensive performance the Texas team we were becoming accustomed to during the first half of Big 12 play -- a group of prolific scorers who didn't put the same effort into their D -- would not have been able to overcome.
Given those circumstances, what the Erwin Center scoreboard showed at evening's end was truly eye-opening: A 72-69 upset that the Longhorns authored with their defense, tenacity on the glass and willingness to grind the Jayhawks into submission. KU boasted the nation's most efficient offense entering this game, and Texas had the 68th most-efficient defense. Yet the Jayhawks were held to just 35.7 percent shooting in the second half and 40.7 percent overall -- nearly 11 percent under their average. The 23-13 rebounding margin KU carried into halftime was 36-35, in Texas' favor, by the buzzer.
Strangest of all for the Longhorns was that their shining moment was neither a spectacular Augustin layup nor a fast-break three, but a block: With 58 seconds left and UT up 67-64, shooting guard A.J. Abrams needed every last one of his 71 inches to get what he said were "three good fingers" on a Brandon Rush three-point attempt from the left corner. It was a re-creation of the Hakim Warrick-stuffing-Michael Lee play in the 2003 Final Four, minus Warrick's prodigious wingspan. "[Rush] was wide open," said his backcourt mate, Mario Chalmers. "I don't know how A.J. got to him."
Forty-five seconds later, Damion James got something -- no more than one good fingertip, by my estimation -- on KU's penultimate three-point try by Chalmers. And just before the gun, the 'Horns' pressure D threw the Jayhawks' final play into chaos, and Chalmers' last-ditch heave was off the mark. This was how Texas, a team once seemed seemingly written off as a Final Four pretender, was revitalized -- by finding its way on D, holding on while Augustin got his points at the free-throw line (where he was 8-of-10) and getting big efforts from unsung role players such as James (14 points, 13 boards) and Connor Atchley (16 points, four blocks).
There had been concern -- at least by me -- that Texas was a team that had peaked too soon in this post-Durantian season, destroying Tennessee and UCLA in November and December, then losing to Michigan State, Wisconsin, Missouri and Texas A&M by the end of January. Yet over their past four games the 'Horns have discovered a defensive identity. They held Baylor to 41.7 percent shooting, Oklahoma to 33.3, Iowa State to 36.5, and, for their biggest coup, limited Kansas to 40.0. Texas coach Rick Barnes said defense, during this four-game winning streak, has been the biggest improvement; this was echoed by Augustin, who said, "Our guards are just pressuring the ball now, knowing we have help-side defense, and communicating better. That's what we've been doing."