Sunday, March 04, 2007

With the Clock Winding Down ...

Your college basketball team is down by two with 16 seconds left. You have the ball with a chance to tie or win. Which player would you most want to have taking that shot?

If you've been watching a lot of college hoops this year (hopefully you have, because the game is as good as it has been in years), then your answer is probably either Kevin Durant or Acie Law. These two Lonestar State studs seem to be at the head of the class when it comes to making big baskets (with apologies to Alando Tucker of Wisconsin, Drew Neitzel of Michigan State, and Aaron Brooks of Oregon). Law is one of those guys that just wills in the ball in the basket and plays with ice water in his veins, while Durant is a once-in-a-generation talent that can get any shot at any time. They are 1A and 1B on any list I would make regarding last second shots.

That's why the difference between Texas A&M and Texas is so striking. The former goes to Law every single time they need a big play, without fail. The latter seems to be selecting that day's go-to guy by drawing names out of a hat.

Watching Texas play wild, thrilling games against A&M and Kansas last week, I was struck by several things: the brilliance of D.J. Augustine, the quiet emergence of Damion James, the inept coaching of Rick Barnes, and, of course, the freak of nature that is Kevin Durant. However, the thing that stood out the most is the way the Longhornes handle late-game situations, which is to say, not very well.

Texas has absolutely no plan of attack for getting points in the late moments of games. I counted six shots that would have either tied the game or given the Longhorns the lead in those two games and Durant didn't take a single one of them. Not only that, he never even touched the ball. D.J. Augustine jacked up a few (including the one that made it about 18 inches before Julian Wright nearly ate it), but the main culprit is A.J. Abrams. The sophomore Mos Def lookalike has deep range and can make shots, but every time he fires one up, it is a lost opportunity for a superior talent. I don't know how Texas has come to believe that Abrams is the go-to guy late in the game (or, more importantly, how he came to believe that), but they need to reverse their thinking. Because unlike Michigan State and Oregon and (obviously) Texas A&M, the Longhorns aren't letting their best player take the biggest shots.

Texas is 6-3 in games decided by four points or less, but unless they start going through Durant at the end of games, they won't be replicating that success in the Big Dance.

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