January 5, 2008

Horns back in action against ranked foe

The No.14 Texas Longhorns have been slumping of late, with a home loss to Wisconsin and a sluggish performance in a win over TCU on Wednesday. The Longhorns should have their top six players available and together for the first time all season on Saturday when they play host to #24 St. Mary's (Ca). The Gaels, led by freshman point guard Patrick Mills, will be another tough test for a Texas team that has already played five or six future NCAA Tournament teams in the first 14 games of the season.

The Longhorns are looking to get back on track and playing with a full deck is a step in the right direction. On Wednesday, the Longhorns continued their recent struggles in a 67-59 win over TCU. The game, which was the first for forward Gary Johnson, was
another in a long line of games without the Longhorns having their full compliment of players available after A.J. Abrams injured his left foot Tuesday in practice.

When the Longhorns take the court Saturday evening it will be the first time all season that the top six players on the roster will be suited up the same night and a must as the Gaels will be a formidable foe.

The Gaels (12-1) last played on December 29 beating Cal-State Fullerton 69-59 in a game in which junior forward Diamon Simpson scored 16 points, snatched 15 rebounds and swatted four shots.

The combination of Simpson and 6-11 sophomore center Omar Samhan for a tough interior duo and will be yet another tough test for a Texas team that has struggled
to control the offensive glass against the more rugged teams on the schedule.

While the interior duo is vital to the success of the Gales, point guard Patrick Mills has been the difference for them in 2007-08. The 5-11 freshman from Australia leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game and assists at 4.1 per contest.

The Longhorns counter with one of the nations best point guards in D.J. Augustin and sophomore forward Damion James, who is coming off a career best performance of 29 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in the win over TCU.

Throw in the return of Abrams, the second game of Johnson's career and the steady Connor Atchley and the Longhorns should have more than enough fire power to score points against a St. Mary's (Ca) team that surrenders 39.6% from the field.

The game, which will be televised in the state of Texas only by Fox Sports Southwest, is the first ever meeting between the two programs. Tip-off is set for 5pm.

A look at the numbers

Texas shoots 49.0% from the field, 42.4% from the three-point line and 71.4% from the foul line. St. Mary's converts 47.5% overall, 34.0% from three and 69.0% from the free throw line.

The Longhorns own a +4.1 rebound differential to +1.7 for the Gaels. Texas turns the ball over just 10.2 times per game to 14.4 by St. Mary's.

The projected starters

G D.J. Augustin 5-11 sophomore (19.8 points, 6.4 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-11 junior (18.8 points, 2.8 rebounds)
F Damion James 6-7 sophomore (13.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks)
F Gary Johnson 6-7 freshman (5.0 points, 5.0 rebounds)
C Connor Atchley 6-11 junior (11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks)

Key reserves include 6-2 sophomore Justin Mason (7.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists), 6-10 sophomore Dexter Pittman (2.7 points), 6-8 freshman Alexis Wangmene (2.9 points) and 6-10 freshman Clint Chapman (2.3 rebounds).

G Patrick Mills 5-11 freshman (16.2 points, 4.1 assists)
G Todd Golden 6-3 senior (6.2 points, 2.5 assists)
F Ian O'Leary 6-7 junior (8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds)
F Diamon Simpson 6-7 junior (12.2 points, 9.6 rebounds)
C Omar Samhan 6-11 sophomore (12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds)

Key reserves include 6-3 senior Tron Smith (9.1 points, 2.2 rebounds), 6-2 junior Carlin Hughes (6.5 points, 2.5 rebounds) and 6-8 junior Yusef Smith (4.5 points, 3.3 rebounds).

Keys to the game for Texas

Force big men Simpson and Samhan to beat the Longhorns from the free throw line. Both shoot under 62%, so making the duo earn their points instead of giving up point blank baskets is going to be key.

Augustin has to stay out of first half foul trouble for the Longhorns. The sophomore has been saddled with two first half fouls in two of the last three games and it has been costly. Neither second foul was a foul that had to be taken, but a bad foul.

Texas has to force tempo. Get back to the up tempo game they were playing in the first 10 games of the season. With the added quality depth, the Longhorns now have the players to get up and down the floor.

The Longhorns have been slumping at the free throw line as of late and that must change today. Against a quality opponent as the Gaels are, converting free throws and getting a high number of trips t the foul line is key.

Make St. Mary's live and die on the perimeter. None of the Gaels starters shoot over 37% from the three and they shoot only 34% as a team. Keeping Patrick Mills on the perimeter and not allowing him to get to the free throw line will be a key factor.

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