A.J. Abrams’ shooting touch and some rock-solid team defense keep getting it done for Texas.
Abrams matched his career high with 31 points, including the last six of the game for the Longhorns, sending No. 8 Texas to a rugged 68-64 victory over No. 12 UCLA on Thursday night.
Abrams broke a 62-62 tie with a 3-pointer with 2:53 to play, then made two free throws a minute later to push Texas’ lead back to three. After the Bruins’ Josh Shipp missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 15 seconds left, Shipp fouled Abrams who made one of his two free throws for the final point.
“Our guys made plays at the end,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “When we get settled into our defense, we’re a pretty hard team to score against. … We talked about going out there to scrap.”
The Longhorns (6-1) held UCLA (4-2) scoreless after Alfred Aboya’s basket with 2:28 left pulled the Bruins within 65-64.
Damion James added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Longhorns, including a big grab after Shipp missed his free throw. James’ basket with 3:46 to play tied it at 62.
Darren Collison scored 22 points and Shipp added 15 to lead the Bruins.
The Longhorns have won nine straight at home against ranked opponents. The Bruins and Longhorns have met only four times and this one proved every bit as exciting as Texas’ 63-61 road win last season.
The matchup produced a rare early season sellout at Texas and the game got testy at times as both teams played physical defense and challenged each other around the basket on nearly every shot.
James took a hard elbow to the face from Shipp under the basket with seven minutes left in the first half and fell to the court. The game officials reviewed video of the play while the home crowd lustily booed Shipp, but did not assess a foul.
“He took a tough shot to the face. I think it kind of rattled him. I don’t think he could see for a while,” Abrams said.
“I wasn’t trying to elbow him in the face. It was unintentional,” Shipp said. “I was just trying to clear space. We’re both competitors, trying to help our teams win.”
James went to the bench for the next four minutes, but even with him out, Texas used a 9-2 run to open a 32-24 lead. Abrams made his third 3-pointer of the half, then made three free throws when he was fouled behind the arc to send Texas into halftime leading 38-29.
Texas led 46-36 before the Bruins rallied and grabbed the lead with a 13-2 run behind a 3-pointer from Nikola Dragovic and consecutive dunks by Shipp. Shipp got the crowd riled up again when he turned and stared at Texas’ Justin Mason after the first dunk.
The game stayed tight from there as the Longhorns and Bruins traded one-point leads or were tied 10 times the rest of the way.
“We made a lot of mistakes tonight,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “It was good that we were able to fight back from a 10-point deficit in the second half to take the lead. Their two best players stepped up for them tonight.”
James tied it first, then Abrams hit the big 3-pointer for the lead.
“It was a big shot,” Abrams said of his 3. “At that point we were struggling at offense and we hadn’t hit a bucket in a while.”
The Bruins had several chances after Abrams’ two free throws made it 67-64 with 1:49 to play. UCLA struggled to get an open look until Aboya missed with 35 seconds left. James snagged the rebound, but Shipp tied up the ball allowing the Bruins to keep possession.
On the inbounds, UCLA got the ball to Collison, who missed a 3-pointer before Abrams fouled Shipp to send him to the line. Shipp misfired on the first attempt and the ball bounced high off the rim for James to grab.
When Abrams finally got to the free throw line, the Longhorns’ best shooter nearly fell to the floor in surprise when he missed the first, but calmly swished the second for the final margin. It was Abrams’ only miss in nine attempts from the line.
“That was a huge win for us,” Mason said.