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Longhorns Square Off With Oakland In Friday Opener

Having earned their highest seed ever in the NCAA Tournament, checking in at No. 13 in the West Regional, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies are in Tulsa this afternoon to square off against the Texas Longhorns in the second round of the annual event.

After working through a couple of mishaps during their travels to Oklahoma, the Golden Grizzlies are set to represent the Summit League once again in this tournament, having produced a record of 1-2 previously in the event over the last seven seasons. Oakland put up a record of just 8-8 against non-conference opponents in 2010-11, but that’s only because the team refused to take the easy way out and in fact squared off against five teams ranked in the top-20, beating seven-ranked Tennessee (89-82) back in the middle of December. When the conference schedule rolled around there was practically no stopping the Grizzlies who lost only once to IUPUI in early February. Other than that, Oakland ran through the league tournament with a 90-76 victory over Oral Roberts in the title game which means the squad is currently enjoying an eight-game win streak.

As for the fourth-seeded Longhorns, they are in the NCAA Tournament for the 13th straight year, and are one of only six teams that can claim such a run. Head coach Rick Barnes, who has a record of 321-122 since taking over the Texas program, got the Longhorns off to their best start in conference play, with an 11-0 mark in the Big 12, since the team went 13-0 to kick off Southwest Conference action back in 1962-63. Texas won all but two of its 13 league victories this season by double digits, but there was a span of three losses in four games where some confidence in the team might have waned. Nevertheless, Texas did take down Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the conference tournament before bowing to Kansas (85-73) in the title game last weekend.

Texas, which is facing the Golden Grizzlies for the first time ever, has a mark of 33-31 in 28 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns are one of only four teams in the country to have appeared in 21 of the last 23 tournaments.

The winner of today’s game heads to Sunday’s third round to challenge the survivor of the Memphis/Arizona battle.

As one of only two players to have started all 34 games for the Golden Grizzlies this season, it only makes sense that Keith Benson is the top overall scorer for the group with his 18.0 ppg. Not only was he a scoring machine for Oakland, Benson was a beast in the paint in many other ways with his 10.1 rpg and massive 124 blocked shots which placed him among the best in the nation. A 55.3 percent shooter from the floor, Benson surely changed many more shots in addition to the ones he rejected at the defensive end of the floor. Reggie Hamilton checked in with 17.4 ppg and was also first on the unit with 182 assists and 45 steals, showing his quick hands at both ends of the court for the Grizzlies. Will Hudson (12.5 ppg) helped out in the paint with 7.1 rpg and Travis Bader (10.5 ppg) drew defenses out to the perimeter with his remarkable 45.8 percent accuracy beyond the arc.

All but one of the five starters for the Longhorns is double figures in scoring this season, the lone man out being Dogus Balbay (4.1 ppg) who instead focused so much of his energies at the other end of the floor as he ended up being named the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. Heading the list of scorers for Texas is Jordan Hamilton who was one of the top point producers in the conference with his 18.6 ppg, as he connected on 38.8 percent of his three-point tries. Throw in 7.6 rpg and 72 assists and it is easy to see how Hamilton made the cut as one of the finalists for the Oscar Robertson Trophy. Also providing size on the front line for the Longhorns is Tristan Thompson who also supplemented his 13.3 ppg with a team-best 7.8 rpg, all while rejecting 75 shots over the course of 34 games. An All-Big 12 Second Team selection, Thompson was also chosen as the league’s Freshman of the Year so perhaps being on this big stage will be a new step in his development. Gary Johnson (11.5 ppg) and Cory Joseph (10.5 ppg, 102 assists) complete the list of double-digit scorers for the high-powered Longhorns.

While it would be a great story to see Oakland upend a Texas team which always seems to be hanging around, the simple fact is that the Longhorns have a defense which is far too strong for the Golden Grizzlies, and the front line for the ’Horns will make rebounding difficult for the underdogs.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas 73, Oakland 61

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