Bamba, Young battle in duel of nation's top freshmen

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

ESPN’s College GameDay paid a visit, the Frank Erwin Center was sold out and the energy from the fans skyrocketed to a season-high during the Texas-Oklahoma game on Saturday evening. Why?

The Longhorns’ Mo Bamba and the Sooners’ Trae Young were in the building.

One is seven feet tall, the other stands at just 6-foot-2-inches. One excels in rejecting opponents’ shots and grabbing rebounds, while the other has made a name for himself with his uncanny passing ability and the ability to drain shots consistently from Stephen Curry range. But they share one key commonality: The two freshmen rank among the top players in the nation, destined to be selected in the forefront of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Bamba’s team won Saturday’s showdown, defeating Oklahoma, 79-74. Here’s how the two future NBA lottery picks performed individually:

Trae Young, Oklahoma

Young contributed to a plethora of the game’s early points for the Sooners. The freshman point guard recorded an assist in transition as the Sooners etched their name into the scoreboard first. Then, Young stunned the crowd by hitting an off-balance three on Oklahoma’s ensuing basket.

Young wasn’t money from long range on the night, shooting just 2-of-14 from beyond the arc. He accumulated only five first-half points and struggled with his jumper. But what makes a player like Young special is his ability to attack in other ways. His passing was stunning, and he was able to throw darts behind defenders’ backs and attack Texas’ defense with no-look assists in transition. The nation’s leader in assists dropped nine dimes in the first half and finished the evening with 14.

"I just try to find different ways to affect the game,” Young said. “My shot wasn't falling early, so I was trying to get everyone involved.”

The point guard matched his first-half points total less than two minutes into the second half. Young penetrated the lane numerous times, but his tendency to shoot in these situations increased in the game’s final 20 minutes. Young’s floaters were the primary source of his 19 points, but Texas’ Kerwin Roach II and Matt Coleman managed to limit him well below his season average of 30.3.

“One thing that he’s really improved on is his passing ability,” Bamba said of Young. “We did our job making it as tough as possible on him, and we came out victorious.”

Mo Bamba, Texas

Bamba collected most of his baskets in the win from point-blank range. He used his 7-foot-9-inches wingspan and capitalized on being the tallest player on the floor. The center from New York hauled in 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds over a mismatched Sooners team.

Bamba is one game removed from setting the single-season record for blocks at Texas, but the freshman tallied zero in the first half. An astounding 34 of Oklahoma’s 40 first-half points were pitched in from the paint. The Sooners often relied on speed and quick ball movement to defeat Bamba’s length and shot-altering ability — and it worked.

But Bamba adjusted and was a force to be reckoned with during the latter sequences of the game.

“Mo didn’t have his best offensive night, but he didn’t cave,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “He was a presence on the defensive end, and he did a very nice job in all the blitzes on pick-and-roll.”

Bamba’s first block nearly blew the roof off of the Erwin Center. It occurred right after the Longhorns surged from a 10-point deficit to tie the game at 52 apiece early in the second half. He then hauled in a key offensive board to retain possession while Texas was up two with two minutes left. But with 33 seconds left and a six-point advantage, Bamba perfected the highlight of the night.

The big man sealed the envelope on the game by catching an alley-oop from junior guard Eric Davis Jr. and finishing with an emphatic reverse jam. It brought the crowd of 15,533 to its feet and injected an unheard-of amount of energy into the Texas faithful.

“It was surreal,” Bamba said. “Eric told me before the game he was going to throw a lob. I looked at him, I read him, he didn’t want to throw it but he was like, ‘dang, I promised him,’ so he threw it. It was a little short, so I improvised.”