Between Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin, Texas knew it had a pair of outstanding freshmen last season. Over the last month, it’s found out that it has a third star from that class.
Damion James and the 14th-ranked Longhorns look to win their second game of the new year on Saturday when they host Saint Mary’s.
Texas (12-2) closed out 2007 by losing its first two games of the season to a pair of Big Ten teams - then-No. 9 Michigan State and Wisconsin, which is currently ranked 25th. Despite the losses, the Longhorns got a pair of breakout performances from James, who averaged 18.0 points and 15.5 rebounds.
The sophomore forward then delivered the best game of his career to start 2008, scoring a career-best 29 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in Texas’ 67-59 victory over TCU on Wednesday. He also had five blocks and made a key defensive play late in the game.
“I never look to score. I love to rebound,” James said. “I just want to rebound; it’s not about me, it’s about the team.”
James has seven double-doubles in his last nine games, but had some poor shooting performances following his 18-point, 17-rebound effort at Rice on Dec. 8. Over the last three games, however, he’s gotten consistently better each time out.
James is averaging 11.0 rebounds per game, tied for sixth in the nation.
“He’s confident right now. He’s playing great,” Augustin said. “He’s really feeling it.”
Durant left for the NBA after one season, but Augustin opted to return and was selected as the Big 12 preseason player of the year. The decision has paid off - his 19.8 points per game are second in the conference and he leads the league with 6.3 assists per game.
The Big 12’s third leading scorer is also a Longhorn. A.J. Abrams averages 18.8 points, but he missed the TCU game with an injured left ankle and is listed as day-to-day. The junior guard had played in 85 straight games to start his career.
Though they missed Abrams against the Horned Frogs, Texas got a boost from the first career appearance of top recruit Gary Johnson. The 6-foot-7 freshman missed the team’s first 13 games while doctors monitored a heart condition. He started and had five points and five rebounds in 21 minutes.
Led by Abrams, who has made the fourth-most 3-pointers in school history, the Longhorns are the nation’s eighth-best team from beyond the arc, connecting on 42.4 percent of their attempts.
The Gaels (12-1) began the season 7-0 and were No. 24 in the poll on Dec. 10, their first national ranking since the 1988-89 season when they started 16-1. But they lost their first game the very next day, falling 71-56 at Southern Illinois.
Saint Mary’s has won five straight since that defeat.
Freshman Patrick Mills is the Gaels’ leading scorer, averaging 16.2 points. He had 37 on Nov. 20 when Saint Mary’s notched its signature win of the season, beating then-No. 12 Oregon 99-87.
Mills struggled in the team’s most recent win, 69-59 over Cal State Fullerton last Saturday, but the Gaels got 16 points and 15 rebounds from forward Diamon Simpson - his fifth double-double. He leads the West Coast Conference with 9.6 rebounds per game.
Texas and Saint Mary’s have never met. The Longhorns are 4-5 all time against teams from the WCC, including an 87-77 loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 2, 2006.