March 21, 2009

The BIG Review: Duke steals one from UT

You figured the home cooking would go Duke's way - you just didn't think it would help determine the outcome of a phenomenal battle of wills in the final minute.

Damion James was called for a loose-ball foul on Elliot Williams with 47 seconds left in the game and the score tied at 69-69. I hate talking about officiating, but I rewatched it 11 times on my DVR and couldn't find the foul.

Williams made both free throws to give Duke a 71-69 lead. It would be the call that turned the game. After Damion James missed a 3 with 40 seconds on the clock that literally circled the entire cylinder before rimming out, Varez Ward, who played heroically for Texas, fouled Gerald Henderson with 30.8 seconds left.

Henderson made the first of two free throws for a 72-69 lead, and Gary Johnson rebounded the second foul shot. A.J. Abrams, who was blanketed all game by Jon Scheyer, missed a shot with 27 seconds left. Damion James grabbed the rebound and missed a follow with 22 seconds left. James rebounded his own miss, but then lost the ball, only to have Scheyer throw a behind the back pass as he was going out of bounds.

Another questionable call occurred with 11 seconds on the clock when Gary Johnson was whistled for arm barring Elliot Williams as they both tried to track down Scheyer's heave. Really? With the game on the line, we're calling loose ball fouls in the final minute?

Williams missed both free throws, but the game was sealed for Duke when Henderson rebounded Williams' miss, and Dogus Balbay was forced to foul Henderson, who hit both free throws with 7.2 seconds to play.

Connor Atchley (God bless him after having one of the worst senior seasons on record after one of the best juinor seasons in which NBA scouts were salivating over him) missed a 3 with six ticks on the clock. Game over.

"I told the team after the game, we went through a lot of growing pains, and we had to adjust it seemed like all year long looking for consistency," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "Every player on our team helped us. But that said, the one thing that was really impressive about this group was our chemistry from the beginning."


INSIDE THE NUMBERS

Texas had 15 turnovers - nine in the first half (Duke had nine turnovers - total). Next season, Texas will hopefully have point guard play (are you listening Avery Bradley and Jai Lucas?) that will prevent this from happening again.

Texas was also 16-of-25 (64 percent) from the foul line (Duke was 21-of-27, 77.8 percent). Hopefully UT will have some new blood next season (are you listening Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and Shawn Williams?) that will improve on the team's 66.8 percent free-throw shooting.

STAR OF THE GAME

If you're Duke, the star of the game was the officiating crew. If you're Texas, it was Varez Ward. All the freshman did was come off the bench to finish 7-of-8 from the field, 2-of-3 from the foul line for 16 points. with one rebound, one assist, one steal and one turnover.

Ward also played solid defense on Henderson in the second half, holding Henderson to 3-of-9 shooting.

"My goal was to come in and slow down Henderson a little bit," Ward said. "He got off to a really good start. So I just wanted to slow him down a little. Offensively, my goal was to take care of the ball. I had a turnover early in the game, and I didn't want to turn it over again. I was just trying to make smart plays."

With Balbay struggling mightily, Ward came in and guided this team at the most crucial point of the game - the final minutes. Ward was attacking the rim and doing the things you would expect from your point guard.

UNSUNG HERO

Abrams ignited Texas when it appeared down and out. Trailing 64-54, Abrams sold a foul on a 3-point shot whistled on Duke's Kyle Singler (his fourth) with 6:53. He made all three foul shots, then stole the ball and scored on a layup with 6:10 left to ignite a 9-2 run that got Texas back into the game.

Abrams, finally got away from Jon Scheyer's lockdown defense, to finish with 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

"I thought we dug ourselves a hole," Abrams said. "But I thought we showed a lot of character - not just tonight, but throughout the season."

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE

Dogus Balbay. Four turnovers. Zero assists.

THE BENCH

Varez Ward is the only bench player worth noting. Gary Johnson was 1-of-5 from the floor in 21 minutes. Connor Atchley was 0-of-2 from 3-point range with one block, one rebound and one turnover with zero points in six minutes. Clint Chapman played just two minutes and finished with a better line than Atchley - 2 points, 2 rebounds and one steal.

TOP THREE PLAYS OF THE GAME

Bronze -
With UT trailing 64-54, Abrams selling the foul by Singler on a 3-pointer with 6:53 left, then hitting all three free throws.

Silver - Abrams' steal and coast-to-coast layup with 6:10 left, cutting Duke's lead to 66-59.

Gold - Ward scoring eight straight points to tie the game 67-67 with 1:50 left.

LONGHORN DUNK-O-METER

Dunks vs. Duke:

Dexter Pittman - 1

Texas' final dunk count for the season:

Dexter Pittman - 44
Damion James - 42
Connor Atchley - 8
Gary Johnson - 8
Justin Mason - 7
Clint Chapman - 6
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1

THE BIG NUMBER

66.8


Texas' free-throw shooting percentage for the season.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

The Longhorns were five incomplete parts all season that tried to become one complete part. They nearly pulled it off against Duke Saturday night. And if the officiating would have let the teams play down the stretch, UT might still be playing.



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