Gophers lit up by Abrams, lose first-round game to Texas, 76-62

Daily File Photo

Jules Ameel

Daily File Photo

A.J. Abrams is a player that scouts and analysts label a âÄúgame changer,âÄù and the Gophers found out exactly why Thursday, when the Texas senior also became a âÄúseason ender.âÄù Abrams scored 26 points, including three-straight three-pointers in a little over a minute, to lead No. 7 Texas over the 10th-seeded Gophers, 76-62, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. âÄúIâÄôm not sure weâÄôve ever had a guy whoâÄôs been defended the way heâÄôs had this year,âÄù Texas head coach Rick Barnes said. âÄúWhen he starts getting separation and getting his feet set, heâÄôs one of those guys where youâÄôre surprised when he misses.âÄù Indeed, no matter how tight the Gophers guarded him on the perimeter, Abrams was able to find a shot, finishing 8-for-15 from three-point range. The Gophers, five-point underdogs, started uncharacteristically hot, leading by 10 in the first few minutes. They appeared to have the momentum going into halftime, but Abrams hit a three-pointer to put Texas ahead by four. It was his first of six-straight. The game remained close for much of the second half, and with 14:06 left, Devron BostickâÄôs missed three-point attempt couldâÄôve tied the game. But Abrams took over from there, scoring nine points in one minute, 12 seconds, and a minute later hitting another three-pointer. The Gophers, meanwhile, missed six shots during that stretch, as part of a 12-0 Texas run. After that they never got the score back to single digits. âÄú[Our inexperience] really affected the game,âÄù junior forward Damian Johnson said. âÄúOnce they got the big lead I think some guys lost composure a little bit. When a guy like Abrams catches fire it could be trouble for anyone.âÄù Texas center Dexter Pittman, at 6-foot-10 and 298 pounds, had 17 points going against MinnesotaâÄôs freshmen centers Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Sampson took an inadvertent shot to the face from Pittman in the second half, and neither center could do much offensively against him. âÄúI donâÄôt think anyoneâÄôs as strong or aggressive as him,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúHeâÄôs a monster in the paint.âÄù Junior Lawrence Westbrook had 19 points to lead the Gophers, who made their first tournament appearance since 2005, when they also lost in the first round. Johnson added 13 points and sophomore Paul Carter had seven rebounds. The Gophers started off the season an impressive 16-1 and rose as high as No. 18, but struggled to win games on the road and nearly missed the tournament altogether, with their lone Big Ten tournament win probably securing their at-large bid. But with just two seniors, neither of whom played a substantial role this season, Minnesota will likely start next season as one of the top teams in the Big Ten. âÄúWe can build on this,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúIt gave us confidence that weâÄôre good enough to make it here, and losing in the first round gives us motivation to get back here and past the first round. Now we start individual workouts, thinking about what happened here.âÄù