Gary Johnson has become one of the team's most consistent scorers.

Sophomore forward Gary Johnson has become one of the team's most consistent scorers.

The Texas Longhorns scraped by a game [tag]Iowa State[/tag] ball club to win their conference opener 75-67. The game came sandwiched between a loss to Arkansas and a looming Big Monday showdown in Norman against the top-ten ranked Oklahoma Sooners. All of Texas’ losses have come away from the Erwin Center.

The Longhorns continue to struggle from the perimeter. Teams are proving that [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] can be taken out of Texas’ half court offense and the guys around him do not have the skill set to consistently knock down three-pointers. Texas ranks last in the Big 12 in three-point shots made.

It is likely that Abrams and the other Horns will regain confidence in their outside shot. As conference play begins guys like [tag]Damion James[/tag], [tag]Conner Atchley[/tag], and [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] will get better as they play familiar foes. The problem that appears to not have an answer on the roster is at point guard. Abrams doesn’t have the ability to play there against high level opponents and Mason for all his strengths is not getting it done. Bench players like [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] and [tag]Varez Ward[/tag] are not consistent enough yet to be counted on. Balbay has an even worse jump shot than Mason and Ward doesn’t play the defense Barnes expects for an on ball defender.

The disadvantage of not having an explosive point guard has been evident in the late part of Texas’ losses. All three losses were determined in the last minute of the game, and all but maybe [tag]Notre Dame[/tag] could have been won with better offensive execution. The Longhorns can’t get easy shots. They can’t get them for themselves and they can’t get them for their teammates. With all the good things this team does it won’t mean much come March if the point guard doesn’t become a factor for this team.

The saving grace for this team and the one thing that makes them dangerous come tournament time is their ability to match up and play on ball defense like no other team in the country. Damion James playing at the three has not paid off completely on the offensive end, but it has vastly improved the total team defense for this team. Last year Mason was guarding small forwards, he now guards the point guard. The length James adds to the lineup at the three position helps with tip balls, help defense, and rebounding on both ends. Texas does a great job with help defense for the most part. The negative that comes out of that is they occasionally find themselves out of rebounding position. Texas allows too many put backs.

Over the last few games [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] has emerged as a weapon. The sophomore is sliding into the role James abandoned when he moved to the wing and he is quickly becoming a major factor on offense. Lately, Johnson has been the go to guy and the most consistent player on the offensive side. He rebounds with ferocity and hustles at all times. Barnes will rely on him more and more because of the emergence of his mid-range jump shot. Johnson has a high release which allows him to get it off every time without the threat of a rejection. He will have to be huge on offense and defense against Blake Griffen for Texas to have any chance against Oklahoma.

Another player that needs to step up in the middle is [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag]. The big man is a mismatch for everybody on the court. The work he has done in the weight room cannot be understated, but he has to avoid the cheap fouls that prevent him from finding out how many minutes he can play. When he is on the court he opens up the outside, shots that will eventually begin to fall. The Longhorn outside shots are not going to come from drive and kicks, they will come from the post. The more attention that has to be paid to Pittman, Johnson, and James the more space Abrams will have.

No doubt this is a down year for Texas. And by that I mean their ceiling isn’t as high as teams of the past. But it says a ton about the program, coaches, and players that a down year fields a conference championship contender, a top-ten ranking, and a good shot at going to another Sweet 16. We just watched a football team overachieve for a full year, maybe the basketball team will do the same.

Justin Mason and Varez Ward helped swarm the Wisconsin offense

Justin Mason, Gary Johnson, and Varez Ward helped swarm the Wisconsin offense

After losing to [tag]Michigan State[/tag] this weekend the Longhorns bounced back with a tough win over the Wisconsin Badgers. The team went into Madison and game away with a close 74-69 win, only the eighth time in seven seasons a road team has won at the Kohl Center. #8 Texas is now 10-2 on the season.

The game again came down to the final moments when forwards [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] and [tag]Damion James[/tag] made huge plays for the Horns. Johnson, who had another excellent performance with 16 points and 8 rebounds, banked in a long, ugly clutch 2-pointer with less than 30 seconds left to go in the game. On Wisconsin’s next possession James blocked a layup attempt and then pulled in the rebound to put an end to their hopes of victory. James finished the game with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

After struggling in his last game, Texas’ leading scorer [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] scored 21 points but needed 21 shots to do it. He shot okay from beyond the arc but was only 5 for 14 from 2-point range. Abrams must improve his efficiency if the Horns’ offense is going to find any consistency this season. Backup point guard [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] had his best game at Texas by providing a spark off the bench with 5 rebounds and 4 assists in only 17 minutes of playing time.

The Longhorns are now off for the rest of 2008 until they host Appalachian State on January 2nd at the Erwin Center. Big 12 conference play will start against [tag]Iowa State[/tag] on January 10th.

Game Statistics

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Posted December 24th, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball

Last night the Texas Longhorns went to Madison and took down a [tag]Wisconsin[/tag] team that had only lost eight home games in the last seven years. [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] and [tag]Damion James[/tag] led the team to a 74-69 win with 21 points and 15 rebounds respectively. Watch video highlights below:

A great Texas defensive effort wasn't enough

A great Texas defensive effort wasn't enough

The Texas Longhorns lost their second game of the year Saturday afternoon 63 – 67 to [tag]Michigan State[/tag] in Houston. The Horns led most of the game, but without a point guard capable of creating for himself and his teammates the team struggled to score down the final stretch. Once leading 60 – 58, the team scored only three points over the last five and a half minutes. [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] had a couple of chances to win or tie the game in the final minute of the game but missed two three-point attempts.

Starting guards [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] and Mason combined to score only 12 points in the loss, and backups [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] and [tag]Varez Ward[/tag] went scoreless despite getting more minutes than normal when Mason went down for an extended period with an injury in the first half. Abrams in particular struggled to find his shot throughout the game, held to a season low eight points and without a three-point field goal for the first time this year.

One bright spot in the loss was the play of [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] in a return to his hometown of Houston. Johnson had a game-high 20 points on 8-12 shooting from the floor and 4-4 from the free throw line.

The last game for Texas of 2008 will be this Tuesday night on ESPN2 versus [tag]Wisconsin[/tag].

Game Statistics

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Posted November 19th, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

Dogus Balbay could soon be the team's starting PG

Dogus Balbay could soon be the team's starting PG

One of the major strengths for Texas this year will be their bench. The amount of depth the Longhorns possess, especially in the front court, allows Rick Barnes’ team to play the up tempo, physical style that he feels they need to play with in order to be successful. Here is a look at the main bench contributors headed into the season.


Texas will rely heavily on the trio of [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag], [tag]Justin Mason[/tag], and even [tag]Damion James[/tag] in the back court. The main contributor off the bench will be Turkey product Dogus Balbay. The other guys will have to show some major qualities to earn playing time later in the season.

[tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] – The speedy Turk missed all of last season with an injury before getting to play this summer for his home country’s under 20 squad. Balbay likes to penetrate from the point. His jump shot is not where it needs to be yet. Teams will look to play underneath Balbay until he proves he can knock down the mid range jumper. Balbay plays with intensity and isn’t afraid to mix it up on the defensive end. With Texas lacking a true point in A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason don’t be surprised for Balbay to start receiving more and more minutes.

[tag]Varez Ward[/tag] – Not much was expected of Ward coming into the fall as the freshman came in under the national radar. Since practice has begun however Barnes has grown to love Ward’s ferociousness on the defensive end. Barnes likens him to a young Justin Mason, and in Barnes’ book that is a major compliment. Ward is not polished on the offensive end, but he can come in and help on the boards and in defense. He has a decent jumper and an above average first step. Ward could be the surprise player of the year.

[tag]Harrison Smith[/tag] – Smith is now a junior and it’d be hard to think he is going to receive any more than clean up duty. Smith has shown some ability, but has not been consistent enough on defense for Barnes to rely on him. Maybe early in the season Smith can make an impact and force Barnes to play him. Without that or an injury Smith’s chances will likely be limited.


This is where Texas’ depth will be an advantage. While the back court will remain the same for much of the game, Barnes will look to wear out opposing big men by sending waves of player’s their way. [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] will get the majority of minutes at center, so look for most substitutions to come at the four position.

[tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] – Johnson will be the team’s six man, and will most likely earn the most minutes at the position even if he isn’t technically the starter. He gives Texas toughness on the inside. The Longhorn staff is hoping for a come out year from Johnson in the likeness of Damion James’ sophomore season. There is no doubt Johnson can play defense and rebound, but his ability to score is what could make him key for this team. Texas is going to need to get points from Johnson off the bench, and his ability to consistently produce will be a major factor this season.

[tag]Alexis Wangmene[/tag] – The sophomore from Cameroon had a tough off season. He suffered a major family tragedy and has had a hard time, understandably, refocusing completely on basketball. Having Matt Hill back will help UT as Wangmene gets back on track. He has unbelievable upside, and hopefully will get his mental state back in order to show it off.

[tag]Matt Hill[/tag] – Everybody’s favorite afro is back after missing last year’s season with an injury. The hair might not be the same, but his play should be. Hill did very well when he was healthy enough to play. He possesses some good low post moves, and his length makes him a playmaker on the defense side of the board. He hustles very hard, but needs to improve his rebounding skills. A lot of times a year off’s exactly what a player needs, and it is certain that Hill is eager to get back out there and play basketball.

[tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] – I’m going to admit off the bat that I’m a huge fan of Pittman’s. He has come into the program and busted his tail to get his weight under control enough to get on the floor. Pittman is never going to be thin, but he has gotten in better shape each year and is posed to be the number one guy at center off the bench. Pittman’s goal is to be able to play over 20 minutes a game. His ability to do that without getting into foul trouble would allow Texas to play Mason at point, Abrams at two, James at three, slide Atchley to four, and play Pittman in the middle. Texas has been killed late in tournament by not being able to match up with the length of teams like Syracuse in the Final Four, and Memphis last year. Pittman gives them a chance to do that as long as he plays smart and stays in shape.

AJ Abrams will need to more than score this year.

AJ Abrams will need to more than score this year.

Texas enters the upcoming basketball season ranked in the top ten and poised to make another successful tournament run. Rick Barnes wants his team to be tough and physical, winning games on the defensive end. This team may represent that more than any team he has had in Austin. The Longhorns come into the season with nine out of their ten man rotation from last year. The team only lost one player, but it might have been the worst possible one to lose. Point guard [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag] now plays in the NBA and Texas will spend the early part of the year figuring out who will control the ball. [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] wants to play more point, but the team plays better when he plays off the ball and [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] runs the point. The addition of Turkish slasher [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] may provide the answer when it is all said and done.

Here is a breakdown of what to expect from the starters. We’ll look at the bench players in an upcoming feature.

Point Guard

[tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] – Abrams has already become the most prolific three point shooter in school history. In the off season the former McNeil star tested the NBA waters and what he found was that his only chance to make a living in the league is to become a point guard. Abrams is too small to play the two in the NBA, but he fits perfectly into the role at the college level. After thinking about making the jump, Abrams decided to return for his senior year. [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] has allowed AJ to play more point in the off season, but it is a position that AJ failed to play well at even in high school. It is likely that Texas will rely on a point guard by committee until someone steps up in the role. Expect Abrams to play the point more early in the season than he will as it gets into February and March because Texas will need him to do what is best for this team and not what will give him the best chance to get drafted.

Shooting Guard

[tag]Justin Mason[/tag] – Mason is the classic Rick Barnes guy. He is more junk yard dog than basketball player. Mason is by far Texas’ best perimeter and may end up being the guy that handles the majority of the point guard duty. He isn’t going to “wow” anybody with his ball skills, but he is a solid player that plays his hardest on every possession he is on the court. Mason fits perfectly into the style of play this team is going to have to adopt to be successful. Texas is going to have to dominate on the defensive end, rebound, and fight for points on offense. There is no doubt that the talent level at the lead guard position will take a hit with the loss of Augustin, but the steady play of Mason should provide the Longhorns enough ability to make a serious run at the Big 12 championship. Mason’s stat line isn’t going to blow anybody away, but he does so many things well he is going to be invaluable for this year’s team.

Small Forward

[tag]Damion James[/tag] – James made the transition from inside player to wing player last year and it could end up being the best thing that has happened to this team heading into this season. His freshman year was spent collecting rebounds and scoring put backs as [tag]Kevin Durant[/tag] dominated the ball. When Durant left, UT needed a big player on the wing. James made the transition with ease. He ended up being one of the only players in the country to average a double-double and enters the season on most people’s All-American watch list. James could up being the most important player on the roster. His play will be a huge determinate of where this team ends up. If he can continue to be a force on defense and the boards while keeping his three point percentage up Texas will be a nightmare match up for most teams. James has struggled creating offense off the dribble, but summer reports had him working tirelessly with Kevin Durant on just that, and if he puts it all together he will likely be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.

Power Forward

[tag]Clint Chapman[/tag] – Heading into the season most thought [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] would start at the four. Against Stetson Chapman got the start. Chapman isn’t a better player than Johnson so the thought must be that Chapman compliments the starters better and Barnes wants Johnson to be his sixth man off the bench. Chapman is going to give you hustle, rebounding, and the occasional bucket around the basket. Barnes is not going to draw up many plays for the sophomore from Oregon, but he does have the skills to score if given an opportunity. The Longhorns need length in the front court and Chapman may give them more of that than Johnson. I wouldn’t think he’d stay in the starting lineup for the whole season as Barnes may look to change who starts at the four depending on practice and game performance on a week by week basis. Texas has a lot of options at the position with Chapman, Johnson, and [tag]Alexis Wangmene[/tag].


[tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] – Atchley was the biggest surprise on last year’s team. He provides match up nightmares because of his ability to step out and nail the outside jumper. Atchley also proved he could provide defensive help by leading the team in block shots. He isn’t the most physical player, but the roster has plenty of those. Atchley just needs to continue to do what he does best. He stretches the defense and has even worked on a sky hook. Barnes may trust Atchley more than any other player on the roster and with the loss of Augustin will look to the senior for on court leadership. Especially in the front court where there are talented, but young and inexperienced players behind him. Atchley is best suited to play at the four, and we may see a little of that if he is paired with [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] in the front court. Texas’ most dangerous lineup would be Abrams and Mason in the back court with James, Atchley, and Pittman playing in the middle.


Longhorns lean more on Dexter Pittman for defense. Facing a much more athletic lineup than Stanford, might be a game where we need Gary Johnson to shine.


After playing well in hostile territory in the first two rounds, the Longhorns come home to Texas for the Sweet 16. On Friday the Horns will take on [tag]Stanford[/tag] in a 2 vs. 3 match-up in Houston. The Cardinal pose the biggest challenge in the tourney yet for Texas, particularly the giant Lopez twins down inside.

The 14 feet of Lopezes in the paint means the Longhorns need a big game defensively from the likes of [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag], [tag]Damion James[/tag], [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag], [tag]Alexis Wangmene[/tag], and big [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag]. On the offensive end Texas needs another hot shooting night out of junior guard [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag], but open looks won’t come as easily as they did in the previous two games.

Watch the video preview of Stanford below:


Availability of Gary Johnson still a game-time decision against Miami. I’ll be surprised if he plays, hopefully ready for Sweet 16 if the Horns make it.


Posted February 11th, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball

We’ll be posting live thoughts on tonight’s Big Monday game versus [tag]Kansas[/tag] on ESPN. The Villanova-Georgetown game is running long. No idea if the Texas game’s start will be delayed or if we’ll just miss some of the game, maybe both.

  • Vince Young at the game. Hopefully he was around this weekend to say hello to a few recruits. Should be perfectly legal since he’s in classes this semester.
  • They’ve delayed the start of the game. As long as Nova-Georgetown doesn’t go to overtime it looks like we’ll see our game in it’s entirety.
  • I like that they showed us Rutgers versus Tennessee women’s highlights as if anyone watching either of these two games cared.
  • Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds is a former Sooner commit. They’d be pretty tough with him [tag]Damion James[/tag]. Kelvin Sampson really screwed OU over, but I guess they deserved it.
  • That’s a BS call with less than a second on the clock. Awful. I don’t think any of the players or refs knew how much time was left. I like it though because it means Texas-Kansas can get started.
First Half
  • Well they obviously didn’t delay the start of the game too much. ESPN just switched over and we missed three and a half minutes of the game. First three shots they show are two made threes by the Horns and one by Kansas. Based on the score there wasn’t much defense before we were watching either.
Kansas 12, Texas 15
  • Erwin Center sounds nice and loud. Some of my best sports-related college experiences were Monday nights at the Drum.
  • If [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag]’s offensive game can keep developing he’ll be huge for us down the stretch and in March.
  • After a play that looked like offensive goaltending by KU on the other end, rough call against Johnson for the offensive foul.
  • If [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] can continue to play great defense and now handle the ball handing on offense he’s suddenly a big asset for the Horns.
  • Ugh. How do you call that foul on Mason? If anything the Kansas guard initiated the contact and Mason kept his hands to himself.
  • Better ball movement on offense for the Horns. With [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag] playing off the ball, he and [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] are all over the place trying to create offensive chances. Everybody looks more active.
Kansas 18, Texas 20
  • Mason out, let’s see how much standing around there is on offense. No reason we can’t keep up the good off the ball movement.
  • That’s the second time tonight Abrams has had a great steal. Kid has quick hands to go with his quick shot.
  • Looks like the refs are allowing tons of contact against Augustin when he initiates it. Now that he’s back at the point he seems to be more out of control than earlier.
Kansas 28, Texas 29
  • Kansas scores but ESPN still hasn’t given them the points. Or maybe they had 26 and not 28, I’m old and blind.
  • Aaron Ross at the game as well sitting with Mack Brown. I think Ross is in school this semester as well.
Kansas 35, Texas 33
  • [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] is nails from three again. He’s four of four on the night. After he and Abrams were nailing everything we suddenly went away from both of them in our offense.
  • Damion James picked up two quick fouls. I was wondering why he hadn’t played at all since we picked up the game.
  • Kansas seems to have five guys on the court at all times that can score and create for themselves.
  • Ouch. Johnson looks like he’s in serious pain. Is he bleeding? I don’t care how uncomfortable those masks are the kid needs to wear one to protect the nose.
Kansas 41, Texas 38
  • I don’t know how [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] doesn’t give himself a heart attack and a hernia every nigh yelling at the officials. I know it’s a tough job but hell it’s one of the most frustrating things to watch when refs are seemingly making things up as they go along.
  • Sigh. [tag]Clint Chapman[/tag] looks like he has my hands. Kid doesn’t look like he could catch a cold sometimes. He has to expect the ball at anytime.
Halftime: Kansas 42, Texas 38

(more …)

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