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December 1, 2007

Abrams helping to fill scoring void

When Texas guard A.J. Abrams shoots a jumper, teammate Justin Mason often finds himself watching the ball. Sometimes, Mason even will begin backpedaling toward the other end of the court before the ball reaches the basket.

"I get in trouble because I'm supposed to be going inside to try and get the offensive rebounds, but half the time I know it's going in," said Mason, a sophomore guard.

It's tough to blame Mason or any other Longhorn for getting a little lazy when one of Abrams' shots goes airborne these days. There may be nobody shooting the ball better.

Abrams is shooting 54.8 percent from the field (46-of-84) and a sizzling 49.1 percent from 3-point range (27-of-55) during the Longhorns' 6-0 start.

That kind of accuracy is turning Abrams into a prolific scorer, something the Longhorns desperately needed with the departure of 2006-07 national player of the year Kevin Durant.

Abrams was 8-for-12 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 30 points as Texas cruised past Arkansas-Monticello 100-52 last Sunday in one of the opening-round games in the Legends Classic.

Abrams, a 5-foot-10 junior, broke that mark with 31 points in his next game. He made a career-high nine 3-pointers (on 12 attempts) in the Longhorns' 102-87 victory over New Mexico State in the semifinals in Newark, N.J., on Friday. He scored 21 more points Saturday in the Longhorns' impressive 97-78 upset of No. 7 Tennessee in the championship game. He was 3-for-8 from beyond the arc against the Vols.

"If I was A.J., I would buy interest in 'The Rock' (the brand of basketball used in the Legends Classic)," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He's had a pretty good week with it."

The shooting display doesn't come as a surprise to star sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin. He watched Abrams set a Big 12-record with 120 3-pointers last season, a mark that was overshadowed by Durant's remarkable season.

"A.J. is one of the best shooters I have ever seen," Augustin said. "He's a great player. (Opponents) have to guard him, which opens up lanes for myself and others."

Stock In The Rock
Texas coach Rick Barnes joked that junior shooting guard A.J. Abrams should invest in "The Rock," the brand of basketball that was used in the Legends Classic. In four games in the tournament, Abrams shot 62.9 percent from the field (39 of 62) and averaged 25.8 points per game coincidentally the same scoring average that 2006-07 national player of the year Kevin Durant posted for the Longhorns last season. Here are Abrams' stats from each Legends game.
Date, foeFG-FGA3FG-3FGAPoints
Nov. 16, UC-Davis (W 73-42)9-153-721
Nov. 18, Ark.-Monticello (W 100-52)11-178-1230
Nov. 23, New Mexico State (W 102-87)10-159-1231
Nov. 24, Tennessee (W 87-78)9-153-821
Totals39-6223-2925.8 ppg
That's certainly been the case for Augustin, who was named MVP of the tournament (Abrams and Texas center Connor Atchley also were on the all-tournament team). Augustin drove to the basket throughout the final two games and posted some gaudy numbers of his own, averaging 24 points and nine assists against the Aggies and Vols. Many of Augustin's assists came from kicking the ball out to a wide-open Abrams behind the arc.

Others also have benefited. Atchley is averaging 11.8 points, more than three times his average last season (3.9). Mason has gone from 7.6 points per game to 12.0.

"A.J. has really opened up our offense with how well he is shooting," Mason said.

Abrams also deserves credit for superb defensive play. Abrams played a major role in slowing Tennessee guard Chris Lofton, the reigning player of the year in the SEC. Lofton struggled to get open and never got into a shooting rhythm, scoring six points in the first half. He finished with a team-high 18 points, but most of his baskets came in the latter stages of the second half - after the outcome had been decided.

"Coach (Barnes) said to try and take (Chris) out of the game," Abrams said. "I had it in the back of my mind that he was an All-American.

"I just didn't want to give up any easy shots. I pride myself on my defense."

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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