KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Even when the shots aren’t falling, A.J. Abrams can make a difference with his defense and decision-making.
But Abrams’ best attribute is his shooting and when he’s on, boy, can he fill it up.
Abrams broke out of a shooting slump with seven 3-pointers and 24 points, helping No. 6 Texas reach its third consecutive Big 12 tournament final with a 77-49 win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
Abrams kept Texas (28-5) close in a tight first half, then hit two 3-pointers to start a 14-2 run early in the second to help the Longhorns pull away for their sixth straight win over the rival Sooners. The wispy guard finished 7-for-12 from long range, making one more 3-pointer than he had the three previous games combined.
“He was big today,” Texas guard Justin Mason said. “All of his shots look good all the time, but today he was just really feeling it. He’s a great shooter and it was just a matter of time before he came out of his shooting slump.”
Texas shot 50 percent, turned it over just seven times and got 17 points from D.J. Augustin to move on to Sunday’s championship game against fifth-ranked Kansas.
The Longhorns, who have lost the past two title games to the Jayhawks, have reached the Big 12 title four of the past five seasons and five times overall, but has yet to win. Texas figures to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament no matter what happens Sunday, but winning the conference tournament championship could mean a No. 1 seed.
“We have been working since the summer for this game,” Abrams said. “We took care of business the past two games and got to where we wanted to be. So now it is all about effort.”
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma’s all-Big 12 forward, tried to keep pace with Abrams, bouncing back from tough quarterfinal against Colorado by scoring 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting and grabbing 13 rebounds.
The rest of the Sooners, though, had another difficult game against Texas.
Oklahoma (22-11) had two of its worst-shooting games of the season against the Longhorns this year, hitting a combined 29 percent in a pair of double-digit losses. The Sooners were only slightly better this time, shooting 33 percent and making just 4-of-23 from 3-point range for their 11th loss in the past 14 games against Texas.
Oklahoma opened the second half with a 7-0 run to tie it at 36-all, then the game quickly spiraled out of control, with Texas outscoring the Sooners 43-13 over the final 17:05.
“The game got away from us very quickly,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “Texas is a terrific team. When they’re making shots and 3s like they were, it makes them an extremely tough team to guard.”
It was the second straight year Oklahoma was blown out after winning its first game of the Big 12 tournament. Unlike last year, when they lost 64-47 to Kansas, the Sooners’ season will likely continue at the NCAA tournament.
“We have a lot of good players on this team and we have a chance to do something big in the NCAA tournament if we play together,” Oklahoma’s Taylor Griffin said.
Texas had to play without freshman forward Gary Johnson, who sat on the bench in a walking boot after spraining his right ankle in the first half against Oklahoma State.
Abrams picked up the slack.
The 5-foot-11, 155-pound junior had been struggling, making just 14 of 51 shots over the previous four games. Abrams started slowly against the Sooners, missing his first four shots, then found his stroke.
He hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 7:41 left in the first half, then added two more to get 10 points by halftime—five fewer than the previous two games combined.
Abrams hit a 3-pointer from the corner to stop Oklahoma’s 7-0 run 3 minutes into the second half, then dropped another from the same spot the next time down to put the Longhorns up six. Mason followed with another 3-pointer, then Augustin scored on a drive that made it 47-36.
Abrams all but put it away with 10 1/2 minutes left, hitting a 3-pointer from that same corner to put Texas up 57-42.
“It feels real good right now, just finally knocking down some shots, helping my teammates on the offensive end as well as defense,” said Abrams, who has 96 3-pointers this season, fourth-most in Texas history.
Griffin wasn’t much of a factor against Colorado in the quarterfinals, scoring a season-low four points on 2-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes.
The freshman was much more aggressive this time, scoring Oklahoma’s first basket, surpassing his quarterfinal point total in the first 5 1/2 minutes. Griffin later scored on an alley-oop and showed no signs of the knee problems that had been plaguing him with a vicious one-handed dunk, getting 10 points and nine rebounds by halftime.
Griffin opened the second half with a power move inside, then bulled his way past Connor Atchley to put back his own miss a little over a minute later. He also scored on an athletic move on a hard drive late, but the game was well out of reach at that point.
“I got involved early and crashed the offensive boards,” Griffin said. “But at the same time, we didn’t win so I guess it didn’t do much good I guess.”