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March 23, 2008
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. ? Texas junior guard A.J. Abrams, all 5 feet 11 and 155 pounds of him, didn't even flinch Sunday as he lifted teammate Dexter Pittman to his feet after the 299-pound center took a spill midway through the second half.
Abrams already had proved all afternoon that he's comfortable carrying his teammates.
Abrams went 6-for-10 from 3-point range and scored 26 points to continue his torrid shooting as the second-seeded Longhorns held off No. 7 seed Miami 75-72 in South Regional second-round action at Alltel Arena. Abrams, the Longhorns' leading career 3-point shooter, is 22 of 43 from beyond the arc in his past four games.
"I went through a stretch where I was struggling, but I've relaxed and found my stroke again," Abrams said. "I have to give the credit to my coaches and my teammates for always being confident in me and just doing a great job of giving me the ball."
Texas' victory didn't come without some anxious moments. Trailing by 17 points with 10:53 left, Miami cut the lead to a single basket in the final minute. The Hurricanes had one last chance to force overtime after D.J. Augustin's free throw gave Texas a 75-72 lead with 1.8 seconds remaining, but Damion James intercepted Raymond Hicks' desperation length-of-the-court inbounds pass just before the final horn.
"We just ran out of time," Miami coach Frank Haith said.
Texas (30-6) allowed Miami (23-11) to get back into the game by giving up four 3-pointers in the final 3:19 and going 7-for-12 from the free throw line in the last 74 seconds. While Abrams was 4-for-4 from the line during that stretch, his teammates were 3-for-8.
"I promise you we'll learn from this game some of the things we didn't do well," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
Until the last four minutes, Texas had plenty of reasons to feel good. Two days after Miami guard Jack McClinton scored 38 points in a first-round victory over Saint Mary's, the Longhorns limited him to 18, with 12 coming in the final 5? minutes. Augustin and Justin Mason took turns guarding McClinton.
And even though Augustin and Abrams are the best-known players on the Texas roster, the Longhorns proved this week they also have a legitimate inside presence that should come in handy Friday in Houston against Stanford and its 7-foot twins, Brook and Robin Lopez.
James recorded his second consecutive double-double Sunday by recording 16 points and 16 rebounds. Connor Atchley scored 15 points ? 12 in the first half ? and went 2-for-5 from 3-point range.
James, Atchley and Pittman also helped Texas outrebound Miami 41-30. The Longhorns had 16 offensive boards, to Miami's eight.
"We felt the most important thing was offensive rebounding and keeping them off (the glass)," Barnes said. "They average about 13 or 14 a game (actually 12.9) and do a lot with it, and we felt like we had to do that. The most impressive thing for us standing there is they had eight offensive rebounds, and three of those came within the first two minutes of the game. That was huge for us."
Texas' frontcourt will have a much tougher time in its next game. The Longhorns' big men feasted Friday on an Austin Peay lineup that didn't feature a single player taller than 6-5 and had its way Sunday against a Miami team that has been outrebounded in eight of its past 11 games. Stanford, meanwhile, entered the NCAA Tournament ranked fifth in the nation in rebound margin and boasts one of the nation's top big men in Brook Lopez.
Then again, if any of the Longhorns' big men struggle Friday, Abrams already has shown he can lift them up.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.