The game of basketball is specifically designed for the tall guy to succeed. Most of its participants are tall, the goal (or hoop) is set very high. If you are of above average height, most people will wonder (or annoyingly ask you, over and over) whether or not you play basketball.
While resisting the urge to retort with some crude, short-guy, jockey “do you ride horse” question, us tall guys stay quiet and remain the backbone of the game. Short guys distribute the ball. They are the leaders on the court. They are those pests that steal rebounds from you when you bring the ball down below your chin.
Two veteran guys sick and tired of these stereotypes went to great lengths to prove these adages incorrect, as the UCLA Bruins (led by their senior shorty, Darren Collison) traveled to the Texan capital to face a fellow top-ranked team in the Texas Longhorns (paced by their height-challenged hucker, A.J. Abrams). Neither guy can claim to reside in the over-6-foot category, a knock that has largely led to both still patrolling their respective college campus as apposed to the NBA arenas that dot our national landscape.
Last night, however, D.C. and A.J. (as they will be referred to for simplicity sakes) put the league’s scouts and a large national audience on alert. This game ain’t just for us tall guys.
— My first view of the game is my boy Damion James knocking down a three-pointer to make it a 5-3 UCLA lead. I missed the early minutes of action while setting up my family’s first Christmas tree. (Side note: We went artificial, as the abundance of blue spruce, douglas-fir, and ponderosa pines on my two acres of land can more than make up for the lack of indoor, authentic pine smell.)
— At the under 16 timeout, the game has been played inside the arc by the Bruins and outside it by the Longhorns. UCLA holds the early 7-6 advantage.
— The Longhorns are a bit lacking in the on-the-court leadership department with the departure of D.J. Augustin to the Charlotte Bobcats. Justin Mason took over the reigns after an early-season experiment with the gunner, A.J. running things. Like the senior, Mason is not a natural point, but his athleticism and strength on the ball make him a more ideal candidate to run this team. (That, and if A.J. runs the point, the ‘Horns struggle to find a consistent scoring threat.)
— A.J. ties the score at 10 with 13:40 left after a quick pop and shoot. I am totally torn on this guy as an NBA prospect. His size is bad, and he is even small for a point, which he most definitely is not. He can, however, flat-out play the game. And shoot the lights out. As I type that statement, A.J. nails a tough three and then out-hustles the UCLA backcourt for a loose ball and an easy lay-up. Seven straight points by A.J. and the ‘Horns are up by three, 15-12.
— Under 11: Jrue Holiday starts to assert himself and after Dave O’Brien mentions the possibility of him being a one-and-doner, Jay Bilas immediately “questions” the person who might be giving the freshman that advice. Agreed. I need to see more. He is currently in the midst of a bad semi-ball hogging moment and looks to be trying to do too much.
— Under 10: Texas starting to play really enjoyable basketball and are beginning to get a lot of easy baskets.
— Someone tell me you wouldn’t want D.C. as your point guard at the next level! I start typing the word ‘efficiency,’ and Bilas starts analyzing a chart on his ‘efficiency.’ Biting my rhymes.
— Under 8: I wish Josh Shipp didn’t have glass hips. He had such a fun game to watch inside the paint, but now he just isn’t as explosive in the open court and/or off the dribble.
— Under 5: A.J. bangs home a deep three and hasn’t missed a shot so far.
— Mason beats D.C. off the dribble for a rare defensive mishap.
— In multiple possessions, UCLA is playing too much individual basketball, while Texas is passing, cutting, and getting easy shots. Playing team basketball; the ‘Horns, not surprisingly go on a run and get to a 32-24 lead at the under four timeout.
— Nikola Dragivic is shooting free-throws and my HD highlights the pelt protruding from the Serbian’s jersey.
— Surprise, Abrams bangs in another; still no misses. Bilas mentioned earlier that he would make a great second-round pick; Horns up eight.
— Under 2: AJ misses his first of the night.
— One left: After a Bruin bucket, AJ draws a foul from long range and promptly sinks all three, UT up nine.
— The half ends with the same difference as the little guys dominate (D.C.-13, A.J. with 16) but the home team up by an impressive nine-point margin.
— Texas starts out in a half-court trap. Love that about college ball: You just don’t see that in the NBA. The Longhorns then promptly show why when they give up a wide-open three ball to Adam Keefe.
— Josh Shipp just did a completely illegal and bad “double-spin” move that hindered his place on the floor but was somehow not called for travelling.
— You know you got it going when A.J. banks in a pull-up three for a 10-point lead, just three minutes into the second half.
— Shipp contradicts my earlier statement when he crams home a nice bang from the wing on a delayed break. Then on the next possession, he sprints out after a steal and gets a freebie dunk to bring his team to within three.
**Remember, Josh Shipp has lost a step with his two bum hips, but he is somehow instantly faster and quicker to the hoop than anyone on UT’s roster**
— Under 15: You can tell Coach Howland was yelling a blue streak during the halftime break as the Bruins defensive intensity has picked up considerably and they start to show off their trademark stinginess. A.J. is even struggling to get back into rhythm, but he scraps to the 20-point plateau with some from the charity stripe.
— Under 13: D.C. gets a runner to go to give the Bruins a one-point lead at 47-46.
— A couple free throws later for D.C. (which gives him 20 for the night) and UCLA grabs the lead back.
— Under 10: All knotted at 52, this game has been, “as advertised.”
(I should have probably mentioned this earlier, but the first game of the ESPN2 double-header was won in a nail-biter by Blake Griffin and Oklahoma over USC.)
— The next five minutes of action consists largely of “basket trading,” but really good end-to-end action and both teams enjoying small and brief leads. Through out all of this, A.J. and D.C. are still scoring and dictating play.
— Under 5: Texas’ James starts falling in love with the perimeter shot a bit much. “Damion, I know you trained with Kevin Durant this summer, but that is just not your game!” The junior from Nacogdoches then promptly hits a smooth 13-foot pull-up to tie it at 62. (Not many players of James’ size and physique have that mid-range game as part of their repertoire.)
— Under 3: A.J., another three!
— Holiday commits a foul on A.J., which made me think to myself, “I didn’t know even know Jrue was even in the game! Despite playing 35 minutes, the freshman all but disappeared from the game.
— UT leads by two. (UCLA’s hugely hyped freshmen class has been largely disappointing to this point in the season. Coach Howland, however, will need those guys—Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Drew Gordon, etc.—come tournament time. Tonight the quintet, which also includes J’Mison Morgan and Jerime Anderson, combine for just three points in 51 minutes on 1-12 shooting, ouch!)
— Under 2: UT clings to a 67-64 advantage.
The score is the same just a minute later and the Bruins have the ball down three. DC sets up Alfred Aboya with a nice look along the baseline, but the miss is grabbed by James who is somehow tied up by Shipp.
**Dickie V is not present, but somewhere (probably back in Tampa after the two-day Midwest swing he just called) he is yelling, “Oh, no! Throw it up!” He hates the alternative possession rule maybe more than anyone.**
— D.C. misses an open three from the top of the key. Somehow they keep the ball following a scrum for the loose ball.
— 20 seconds left: Shipp is fouled on the perimeter by A.J. One, plus the bonus.
I wish the NBA would add that to their game. I love the missed one-and-one and how it can affect a close, late game.
— On cue, Shipp misses the front end and James jumps through the rafters to procure the carom. AJ gets the outlet and is fouled. Game.
— Abrams makes the second after missing the first and the Longhorns duplicate their win at Pauley last December with a 68-64 win.
In the end, A.J. ousted his fellow guard by outscoring D.C. 31 to 22. Both played beautifully, but A.J. hit more shots and in the end, his tall guys did more.
I guess we are still needed in this game…
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