Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Underdogs are Back

Last night was a great game between two outstanding teams playing basketball at a high level. It was an exciting back and forth game to watch, and after watching the Longhorns in their previous five games, it was like seeing a different team out on the floor.

Lost in all of the post game write ups from the different outlets, is that the Longhorns got back to one thing that they thrived on early in the season; being the underdog. In their wins against Tennessee and #1 UCLA early in the season, Texas was the underdog. They thrived in that role, outhustling their opponents, playing intense defense, and attacking on offense.

After a 13-0 start, the nation started to take notice and all of a sudden, Texas became the favorite. They got outworked against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Missouri, A&M, several conference games they should not have won. But coming off several lackluster performances, DJ Augustin's game on a temporary leave of absence, and the Texas front line continuing to make opposing big men look like NBA first rounders, Texas was expected to get run out of the gym by a deep and talented Kansas team. And apparently that was what the Longhorns needed.

Texas executed an excellent game plan, played suffocating defense, and outhustled the Jayhawks in the second half to earn the victory. Connor Atchley's four blocks and post defense was by far his best performance of the season. AJ Abrams hounded Brandon Rush all night long holding him to 10 points and just three shot attempts in the second half. DJ Augustin, despite another horrendous shooting night, managed to hold Russell Robinson and Sharron Collins to a 2 of 12 shooting night and 4 points, making the point guard battle a draw. Gary Johnson, Justin Mason, and Damion James were everywhere the entire second half, hustling to every rebound, every lose ball, and playing outstanding defense and dominating the paint on offense. It was the second good performance for Johnson who looks like he is starting to get it. Mason continues to thrive as the utility man and has found his niche on offense and defense. And Damion James was the X-factor in the second half, creating all kinds of problems and out working every player on the floor.

Of all the things Texas did right last night, the biggest difference between this game and previous poor performances was Texas' attitude. They played this ball game like they were not the better team. They played like they needed to earn a victory and out play their opponents. They came in with a sense of urgency that allowed them to overcome the slow start that had plagued them the last few games, and they turned it up even more in the second half. Kansas is a phenominal team, that is deep and talented around the rim, but Texas wanted it more, and Texas went out there and outplayed them for it.

This is the Texas team that we saw go 13-0, and it was the whispers of Final Four that derailed that hunger. It was the realization of how could they could be that caused Texas to go out and play with an attitude that they were better than their opponents and could win by just going out and playing. But for one night, Texas got back to being the underdog, and the results were just the same as the 19 point rout of Tennessee and the road upset #1 UCLA. But it remains to be seen if they can carry that underdog attitude with them, when they are clearly not the underdog.

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