Credit this win to the Texas trainers.
Barely able to walk up stairs Thursday night, Longhorns star Chris Mihm powered his way on the court in No. 20 Texas' 68-64 victory over No. 18 DePaul on Friday.
"They just were working on me all night, getting me ready to play," said Mihm, who scored 23 points and had 13 rebounds as Texas (3-0) advanced to the Puerto Rico Shootout final against No. 3 Michigan State.
Between ice treatments and electric stimulation to "fire up the muscles," Mihm said, the 7-foot center was his active, dominating self come game time.
Mihm, the Longhorns' Naismith Award candidate, hobbled on every step Thursday after he tumbled hard in the opener here against Arizona State. But he showed his speed and power to outshine DePaul star Quentin Richardson and set Texas up in Saturday's final against the Spartans.
Richardson struggled to keep the Blue Demons (2-1) in it. He scored 27 points and his two straight 3-pointers cut a 17-point lead to 57-49 with 12:14 to go.
Paul McPherson's 3-pointer at 2:13 brought DePaul as close as it would come, 66-64.
"The question we have to ask ourselves is why couldn't we play in the first half like we did in the second half," said Richardson, who added 10 rebounds.
Texas' Ivan Wagner made two free throws and the Longhorns ran out the clock.
The only sign that Mihm, who still had 19 points against Arizona State on Thursday, was hurt was a beige bandage wrapped around most of his right leg. He sprinted from his seat to the scorer's table, planteit aggressively underneath on offense and powered off it to float in jumpers.
"When you see him walking around hurt, you worry some," said Texas guard Darren Kelly, who was 7-of-7 from the field for 18 points. "He's a big part of our game. But when we saw him running around today, it made us feel better."
This game was supposed to be a showcase for Richardson, who passed up the NBA this year, and Mihm, a junior who could be a top draft pick. But with Mihm's teammates turning up the pressure and Richardson's crew lagging behind, the individual battle was put aside.
"We know he's one of the best there is, that's why he gets all the headlines and he deserves them all," Mihm said of Richardson. "It makes us know that we have to try and work harder to stop him."
Barnes told his guys that even glue-like defenders wouldn't keep Richardson from his points. But Richardson couldn't do this alone.
"I feel like we've got enough scorers that I don't have to be a focal point," Richardson said. "We've got to play the way we did in the second half the whole game. Then we probably win."
DePaul will face South Carolina, a 59-56 loser to Michigan State, for third place.
It looked like Mihm could rest some as Texas led 44-28 at halftime and by 17 points after Mihm's three-point play early in the half.
But DePaul, which had not been tested in blowout victories over Howard and American University at Puerto Rico this season, started chipping away at the lead. Bobby Simmons hit a 3-pointer. Richardson scored eight in a row. Simmons finished a three-point play.
After Mihm scored two foul shots, Simmons hit a bucket and McPherson, the big-talking, high-flyer, nailed a long, long 3-pointer.
McPherson, who had missed only three of 23 shots in his first two college games, was 2-of-7 for 6 points against Texas.
The Blue Demons couldn't get closer because Texas coach Rick Barnes chose to keep inbounding the ball instead of fouling in the final minutes, as new rules allow. No matter how many times DePaul fouled, Texas threw it in until time slipped away.
"I don't like the rule, but I told my guys that I'm going to use it if it helps us win," Barnes said.
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