Tennessee and Texas have met on each other’s home floors and in Maui in recent years. The setting for the latest chapter of their rivalry will be the brand-new Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The seventh-ranked Volunteers and No. 15 Longhorns meet for the fourth straight season Saturday night when they play for the championship of the StubHub! Legends Classic.
Texas had a veteran team when it beat Tennessee 95-70 in the 2004 Maui Invitational, the season before Bruce Pearl took over the Volunteers. With Pearl in charge, Tennessee owns a pair of big victories over Texas.
Pearl’s first game against a ranked opponent with Tennessee was his sixth game in charge and his club stunned then-No. 6 Texas 95-78 in Austin on Dec. 17, 2005. Chris Lofton scored 21 points and made five 3-pointers for the Vols.
That set the stage for a bigger performance from Lofton and the Vols in last season’s rematch in Knoxville. Lofton scored 35 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Tennessee rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half for a 111-105 overtime win on Dec. 23.
The game also featured 26 points from Texas forward Kevin Durant, but this season’s matchup will clearly focus on the matchup of Lofton and Texas guard A.J. Abrams—two of the top shooters in the country.
Abrams showcased his skills on Friday as he had career highs of nine 3-pointers and 31 points in a 102-87 win over New Mexico State. D.J. Augustin added 25 points and 10 assists, many of which came on passes to Abrams.
“I just give credit to my teammates,” Abrams said. “D.J. draws a lot of attention and the type of point guard he is, he is always going to find the open man. I’m doing a good job of reading the screens, coming off them and knocking them down.”
The Longhorns have won every game by double digits this season as Abrams continued his hot shooting. He made eight 3-pointers and scored 30 points in their previous game, a 100-52 win over Arkansas-Monticello on Nov. 18.
“You know you are a great shooter when people are surprised when you miss,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said of Abrams. “We are with him. We think every time he shoots it, it can go in.”
Lofton didn’t shoot as well, making 5 of 15 attempts for a team-high 19 points in a 74-72 semifinal win over West Virginia on Friday. The Vols never trailed after the first few minutes of the second half, but never shook the Mountaineers for good until West Virginia’s Alex Ruoff missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with about 10 seconds left.
“This showed that we are a different team from last year,” Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith said. “It showed that we can close out close games and that we are growing up and we aren’t a young team no more.”
Wayne Chism scored 17 points and Smith added 15 for the Vols, who were held under 80 points for the first time this season.