Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: Approx. 8:30 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list) / ESPN Full Court / ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #183
Rivalry week continues for Texas this evening, as they follow up their quarterfinal win over Oklahoma with a semifinal battle against Texas A&M. The Longhorns are a perfect 5-0 against their two rivals this season, with their two victories over the Aggies coming by a combined 41 points.
As we discussed in yesterday’s game preview, there aren’t any “big picture” things on the line for Texas tonight. By beating Oklahoma, the Horns avoided a bad loss that might have dropped them to a 3-seed, while Ohio State, Kansas, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Duke have the inside track on the four 1-seeds even if Texas manages to win the conference tournament. For the Longhorns, this weekend is more about getting the team back on track, playing the kind of basketball they did while dominating the first few weeks of Big 12 play.
The Aggies, meanwhile, still have a lot to play for. Prior to last night’s win over Missouri, The Bracket Matrix reported that Texas A&M’s averaged a 6-seed in 83 different bracket projections. With the potential to log massive résumé-boosting wins over Texas and Kansas in the conference tournament, the Aggies could earn themselves a significant seed bump this weekend.
Meet the Aggies
For a detailed look at the Texas A&M roster, please read our preview of the first game between the two teams.
The first meeting
The Longhorns never trailed when they defeated A&M in Austin by an 81-60 count. Texas attacked the Aggie frontcourt early, feeding Tristan Thompson for eight of the team’s first 12 points. Texas’ commitment to feeding the post led to early foul trouble for A&M, with Kourtney Roberson picking up three fouls in a 26-second span.
Thompson finished the night with 18 points, while Gary Johnson scored 14 of his own. Jordan Hamilton was the Horn who most enjoyed the Lone Star Showdown, though, scorching the Ags for 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Defensively, Texas turned A&M into a one-man show. Khris Middleton dropped in 16 points, but no other Aggie scored more than eight. In terms of efficiency, the effort was actually one of Texas’ weaker outings. The Longhorns allowed 1.048 points per possession, a number buoyed by a flurry of late threes from A&M. Although that’s still a solid number against a good basketball team, it paled in comparison to the dominating sub-0.800 performances the Texas D was putting up early in conference play.
The second meeting
When the teams reconvened in College Station less than two weeks later, the Texas defense was much more oppressive. Once again, the Longhorns never trailed against their rivals, and dominated the first half so much that they took a 45-20 lead to the locker room. In the first twenty minutes, the Horns allowed just 0.559 points per Aggie possession. Texas was clicking so well, in fact, that their 17 first-half bench points nearly eclipsed those of the entire A&M offense.
Most impressive was the fact that the Longhorns completely shut out Middleton in the re-match. Texas played excellent team defense, sagging off the weak side and hedging to prevent Middleton jumpers off of curls. With their star player shut out, the Aggies were led by B.J. Holmes’ 19 points, many of which came at the expense of defender Jai Lucas.
Hamilton once again loved playing against the Aggies, scoring 20 points to go with eight rebounds. He constantly attacked off the dribble, going 6-of-10 from inside the arc, and he drew enough defensive attention on his baseline drives to add three assists.
The good passes and crisp ball movement was contagious, with the Longhorns dishing out 15 assists on 27 buckets. Cory Joseph and J’Covan Brown each matched Hamilton with three assists of their own, while big man Thompson even added a pair by making the extra pass inside.
The Aggies have taken care of business since their last loss to Texas. They won six of their final eight regular season games, with the losses coming in tough back-to-back road games against Baylor and Kansas. The offense was able to get back on track, posting efficiency numbers of greater than a point per possession in five of the games.
Last night, however, A&M broke the scale. Long known as a defensive team under both Billy Gillispie and Turgeon, the Aggies simply could not miss in their quarterfinal against Missouri. Texas A&M scored an impressive 1.201 points per possession, shooting 57.8% from the field and 50% from behind the arc.
The scariest thing is that the Aggies were able to do all this with Middleton essentially relegated to a supporting role. The star sophomore only had to play 23 minutes in the blowout, and chipped in a modest nine points in the winning effort. Holmes was once again the catalyst, drilling 4-of-6 from long range to fuel his 20-point outburst. Down low, David Loubeau abused the overmatched Tiger frontcourt, scoring 20 points of his own.
Keys to the game
For the Longhorns, once again it will be important to play suffocating defense early. Just like Oklahoma, the Aggies come into this one fresh off of their best offensive game of the year. And also just like the Sooners, the Aggies were dominated by the Longhorns in the first two match-ups this season. If Texas can once again send an early message that things will be no different this time around, the Horns could squash A&M’s hopes for an upset.
Texas must also avoid foul trouble in tonight’s game. The Aggies have the 15th-best free throw rate in Division I basketball, with Middleton and Loubeau combining to draw more than 11 fouls per game. Last night was no different, with Texas A&M frustrating the Tigers and their fans by drawing 25 fouls and 34 free throws. The Longhorns are not nearly as deep as the Tigers, and the drop-off in frontcourt talent is a steep one. Having Thompson, Gary Johnson, or Hamilton in early foul trouble could spell disaster for Texas.
Finally, the Longhorns must limit the perimeter scoring. The Aggies drilled eight threes against the Tigers last night, and made six against Texas when the teams played in Austin. If the Texas offense is struggling against a solid A&M defense, a sudden frenzy of three-pointers could change the complexion of the game in an instant.
The Longhorns must close out on Holmes and Middleton, and play another sound team game on the defensive end. Good communication should eliminate the breakdowns we saw when Levi Knuston and Rodney McGruder torched Texas from long range in losses to Colorado and Kansas State.