A.J. Abrams would not let Texas lose that game.
The sweet shooting senior scored 31 points- including the final six in the game- to lead the Longhorns to a hard-nosed victory over an energized UCLA team not only looking to exact revenge following last year’s defeat at the hands of Texas in Pauley Pavilion last season, but a UCLA squad hoping to silence some doubters following a disappointing performance in the 2K Sports Classic, a game in which they looked completely lost on offense against the Beilein Zone. The Bruins fought back valianty after falling behind by nine at intermission, but ultimately A.J. Abrams would have none of that.
Matching his career high with 31 points, Abrams can certainly score points. We all knew that. But for the senior to take over the point guard duties and step into the esteemed shoes of D.J. Augustin is no easy task, especially a kid burdened with being the #1 scoring option at all times. Not many college players, even experienced seniors like Abrams, can take that much responsbility and experience success. The assist totals have been unimpressive, sure. The scoring, and the success of the Texas Longhorns, though, has not suffered.
Abrams was awesome Thursday night, sinking 9/18 from the floor, 5/9 from three and 8/9 from the free throw line, coupling another strong double-double from Damion James into a Texas win over a fellow Top 10 team (at least right now). Abrams is now averaging 18.0 PPG on the young season, an improvement from a year ago. This Texas team legitimately looks like an Elite Eight contender- Justin Mason is an underrated player, James is a beast on the boards and can score inside, Pittman and Johnson give them bulk. Rick Barnes is also a fine coach. After losing a heartbreaker to a good Notre Dame team in Maui, this was a much-needed boost for Texas. If Abrams can handle the point and maybe get some help from Balbay down the road, the Longhorns will, like always, be in the mix in March.
UCLA will also continue to improve as the season wears on. Going into Austin and leaving with a victory is no easy task. Darren Collison needs some help, though. He took 22 shots in the game and turned the ball over 6 times. It just doesn’t feel like UCLA is a true threat like they have been the last three years under Ben Howland. Aboya, Dragovic and Keefe are somewhat useful players, but there’s just so much pressure on Collison and the inconsistent Josh Shipp. Look for Jrue Holiday to improve more and more (he did not play well last night) and contribute in all areas. For now, UCLA seems like a contender to be upset early in the tournament and fight for the Pac-10 title with Arizona State.
You can’t make the Final Four every year, Ben.
Other Top 25 games played on Thursday night:
- #2 Connecticut (8-0) remained perfect, but it was not easy. Buffalo and their star Rodney Pierce (28 pts on 10/19) gave the Huskies all they could handle, notably guards A.J. Price (another so-so outing), Kemba Walker (did not put up a shot) and Jerome Dyson (major off night). Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien had to muscle the Huskies to the win, sinking 14/21 shots and combining for 39 points and 25 rebounds in a 68-64 bullet dodger.
- #6 Oklahoma (7-0) survived a Leonard Washington cheap shot on Blake Griffin for a 73-72 win at home to remain undefeated. DeMar DeRozan is still struggling (5/13 FG, 0/1 3pt) and Daniel Hackett still cannot get on track scoring-wise, meaning it was Dwight Lewis who had to handle the scoring for the Trojans (25 pts). Blake Griffin was excellent again (8/12, 25 pts, 6 reb) and the Sooners finally received a promising outing from point guard Austin Johnson- 7/12 FG, 17 pts, but only 1 assist.
- #16 Villanova (8-0) destroyed Houston Baptist 93-57 behind five double-digit scorers, notably Scottie Reynolds with 23/6 and Corey Stokes hitting six triples. Villanova hasn’t really played anyone of note (other than Rhode Island, which is a nice win) so we should be able to evaluate them more effectively after facing Texas this Tuesday in the Jimmy V.
- #19 Arizona State (6-1) took care of Jackson State 81-60. James Harden: 7-10 FG, 4-5 3pt, 22 pts, 8 reb. He’s good.
Other games of some interest:
- Could Charleston be the team to end Davidson’s Southern Conference streak? They improved to 6-1 (1-0) on the season Thursday and have a win over South Carolina this season.
- Saint Mary’s picked up a quality road win against a fellow mid major, toppling Kent State 75-69 in Ohio. Patty Mills is starting to get back on track- 8/17 FG, 4/7 3pt, 6/6 FT, 26 points, while Diamon Simpson (I love this guy) grabbed 15 rebounds in the winning effort. Kent State nearly came back in this one after the Gaels jumped out to a big early lead, but didn’t get enough out of their star Al Fisher: 5/14 FG, 14 points. Kent State is 3-4, but they’re stronger than their record indicates.
- The Horizon began their conference season last night (actually earlier in the week with one game) with Valparaiso winning on the road at Youngstown State, Butler getting a Zach Hahn three at the buzzer to stay unbeaten and win at preseason favorite Cleveland State, Milwaukee handled Detroit at home and Green Bay sent Wright State to 0-5 with a home victory.
- Isaiah Thomas is an impressive freshman for Washington. He and Abdul Gaddy should form a nice backcourt for Lorenzo Romar in the next couple seasons. Thomas finished with 18 points and Washington toppled Oklahoma State at home for a much-needed victory. They’re now 4-3 and the Cowboys (James Anderson 3/12 FG) fall to 5-3.
NW Wins Horse Trailer Player of the Day: A.J. Abrams, Texas
Arizona @ Texas A&M on the U tonight.