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Abrams, Texas shoot down Villanova

Dec 10, 2008 - 6:59 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- A.J. Abrams showed Villanova just how superficial its unbeaten start was.

Abrams scored 26 points as sixth-ranked Texas handed No. 12 Villanova its first loss of the season, 67-58, in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

Damion James had 16 points and six rebounds for the Longhorns (7-1), who posted their second straight win over a ranked opponent, beating then-No. 9 UCLA in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series last Thursday.

On the other hand, the Wildcats (8-1) were facing their first team inside the Top-25 after an early season schedule that had been loaded with lesser competition while playing entirely in the Philadelphia area.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We need to play in these games and we will now. We need to play against this type of physical defense and be able to take care of the basketball and still make plays. I think that's what we learned. I also think we have to rebound better as a team. But we can be a good team."

Abrams tied a career-high with 31 points in the win over the Bruins, and was on his game again against the Wildcats, shooting 8-of-17 from the field with four 3-pointers.

"I do think we play a tough schedule and it prepares us for our conference," Abrams said. "When you play college basketball you want to play the best in the country. I think that is what our coaches did, they set up a schedule for us so we can find out where we are at as a team and we are responding real well to it right now."

The senior guard had two 3-pointers and a three-point play in a 4 1/2-minute span in the second half, helping Texas turn a three-point lead into a 57-47 advantage with 5:30 remaining.

The Longhorns led easily the rest of the way, with the only hiccup being Abrams' surprising struggles at the line. An 89-percent free throw shooter coming in, he missed three of his eight attempts over the final 2:35.

Despite the free-throw issues, Abrams had 18 points in the second half en route to surpassing 20 points for the fourth time.

"A.J. has quietly gone about his business," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I have said before many times, he is the smartest basketball player we have ever coached. He really knows how to play. He has great feel. He understands the game."

Early on, Villanova set the tone, going on a 12-1 run after Texas opened the game with consecutive baskets. Dante Cunningham had six points on the burst on the way to finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

"Dante has really developed into a confident scorer," Wright said. "We need to find more ways of getting him the ball."

Yet, Texas was able to come back with a run of its own, as Abrams hit a pair of shots from the arc in a 10-0 spurt that put the Longhorns ahead, 15-12, with 10:21 left.

The contest remained tight until Texas went into the half with a strong stretch, scoring eight of the final 11 points to grab a 32-26 advantage.

The Longhorns extended the cushion to nine points in the early minutes after the intermission, as the Wildcats hit a rough patch, missing six of their first seven shots.

Villanova continued to battle, though, cutting its deficit down to 41-38 on a layup by Cunningham with 10:57 left before Abrams stepped up.

Dexter Pittman chipped in eight points and freshman Varez Ward had a season-high eight rebounds and five points for Texas, which overcame 42 percent (25-of-60) shooting by finishing with an 18-9 advantage on points off turnovers.

"We are just getting started," Barnes said. "We had a grind against Notre Dame, a grind against UCLA and tonight was a grind. Our defense has been really good. People have a hard time scoring when we lock in and get our defense set."

One of the top contributors to struggles offensively for the Longhorns was junior guard Justin Mason, who had three points.

Mason, however, did pester the Wildcats' Scottie Reynolds on the defensive end. On the top scoring guards in the Big East, Reynolds was held to 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting before fouling out in the final minute of the contest.

"We knew coming into the game that he was a big part of their team," Abrams said of Reynolds. "Justin is our defensive stopper. We put him on the other team's best player. It was a tremendous effort by our whole team, but he set the tone for us tonight."

Corey Stokes had 11 points for Villanova, which shot 38 percent (19-of-50), including 4-of-18 on 3-pointers.