Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Long Off-Season Causes Horns to Forget What Basket Looks Like

The Longhorns opened up their 2007 season against the UTSA-Roadrunners searching for an identity. Returning from last year's young team are four starters. The one starter missing, is now enjoying an 0-7 start and winters in Seattle.

However, the Longhorns come into the season with many questions on what type of team this was going to be. Was DJ Augustin ready to step up and carry this team? Would Justin Mason be the player from last year's non-conference slate, or the player that struggled to find himself in conference play? Is this the year where Damion James realizes his potential? Will Texas be able to find effective interior play between Connor Atchley, Dexter Pittman, Matt Hill, and incoming freshman, Gary Johnson, Clint Chapman, and Alexis Wangmene? It will take much of the non-conference season and some of the conference slate to find out the answers, but last night was a glimpse.

The Longhorns struggled coming out of the gate, shooting a dismal 35% from the field in the first half, taking a 22-19 lead into the half. However, the Horns started heating up, and behind solid defense were able to shoot 55% in the second half to pull away for a 58-37 victory. The Longhorns were led by 19 points from DJ Augustin, as Justin Mason and AJ Abrams chipped in with 12 and 11 respectfully.

Several things were made clear about the Longhorns this season. First off, this is a much improved team defensively. They play hard on both ends and have the ability to pressure the ball and stop opposing offenses. However, with Matt Hill possibly out for the season, Gary Johnson still lacking medical clearance to play, and Dexter Pittman nursing a foot injury, it is still much too early to tell if Texas will have any kind of inside presence. Last night, the Longhorns didn't, and it showed in the first half when the shots weren't falling. Justin Mason and AJ Abrams combined to shoot 1-12 in the first half, and the Longhorns resembled a team that is going to have to live and die by the outside shot.

Justin Mason appeared to be the aggressive offensive and defensive player that he was early last year, while Damion James will once again need to try and become the player that we saw in the Exhibition game and not the opener. Those hoping for a breakout season from Connor Atchley might need to keep waiting as Connor once again resembled a role player.

It is still early, and if Texas can get Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman healthy and playing this will be a completely different team. One that might be able to make a run in the Big XII.

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