Damion James Makes an Early Case for POY. #2 Texas 79, #9 Michigan State 68. Four days and two games against top ten opponents for Rick Barnes. No sweat, right? Texas passed yet another difficult test prior to the winter break by imposing their hellacious perimeter defense into 22 Michigan State turnovers and allowing the future Big 12 all-time rebounder Damion James to put up 23/13 on 10-18 FG in a statement victory at home. The dynamic defensive duo of Dogus Balbay and lengthy freshman Avery Bradley confused star point guard Kalin Lucas (3-11 FG and 2:6 A:TO ratio) all night while also forcing guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious into a combined nine turnovers of their own. In a key stretch late in the second half, reserve forward Gary Johnson drained a difficult shot and forced two consecutive Michigan State miscues around the halfcourt line that were converted into easy buckets. But the real story is the utter dominance of Damion James. He’s now been clearly the best player on the floor against two national title participants in a matter of four days, making a case ahead of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins for the favorite to win Big 12 POY (and perhaps more). Texas also received four treys from freshman Jordan Hamilton and did most of their damage with center Dexter Pittman on the bench with foul trouble. One could certainly make a case for the Longhorns as the #1 team in the land. They play Kansas, right?
Down to Seven Unbeatens. Arkansas 66, Missouri State 62 (OT). The undefeated run came to a bitter end in Fayetteville for Missouri State as the enigma that is the Arkansas basketball team edged the Bears in overtime. Regulation ended in crazy fashion with a wide-open Caleb Patterson layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. With 18 seconds left in the extra frame, three-point mastermind Rotnei Clarke nailed a clutch trey and then sealed the game with two free throws afterwards. Missouri State struggled from the field all night, shooting just 32% from three and 31% overall in a rare positive showing for the Razorback defense. Kyle Weems led the way for the Bears with 24 points.
Cal Challenges Kansas for a Half. #1 Kansas 84, California 69. Maybe the Pac-10 is improving? The much-maligned league got three wins over BCS conference teams in the same evening; and considering that coming into tonight’s games, the league was a combined 6-20 against the other five power conferences this season, three more wins in a single night is something to be excited about. This was not one of those three wins. For about twenty-five minutes tonight, though, Cal hung right there with the nation’s #1 team on its home court, but eventually the superior talent of KU won out, as the Jayhawks hit a scorching 73% for the second half and used a 15-3 run to open some distance and ultimately put the game away. All five Kansas starters scored in double figures, led by Sherron Collins’ 17/5 and Cole Aldrich’s 10/10/5 blks. Patrick Christopher had 21 for the Bears, picking up for the struggling star Jerome Randle (3-15 FG), who had trouble finding open looks against the Jayhawk defense (including seven turnovers).
Texas Tech Loses More Than a Game. #19 Washington 73, Texas A&M 64. UW got 25/13/3 blks from Quincy Pondexter, who is putting up all-america numbers this year, but more importantly the Huskies’ defense was superb, holding A&M to 30% shooting and handling the Aggies on the boards (+10). The overarching story of this game, though, was the terrible injury that TAMU guard Derrick Roland suffered when he came down awkwardly and broke his leg after jumping under the basket in the second half. Those who saw it live compared it to the gruesome broken leg that Joe Theismann once endured on national television a generation ago. If you’re the type of person who does not handle seeing injuries well, you probably shouldn’t make the jump today (we put the video up, but you don’t have to watch it; seriously, it’s bad).