Saturday, March 29, 2003

Texas 82, Connecticut 78

Ford steps up late despite foul trouble

The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -T.J. Ford has said all along there's more to Texas than just him. Turns out he's right, even though second-half foul trouble proved just how valuable he is to the Longhorns' chances of making the Final Four.

Brandon Mouton scored 27 points, and Ford came up with the big plays at the end to help top-seeded Texas beat Connecticut 82-78 on Friday night in the South Regional semifinals.

The Longhorns (25-6) will play seventh-seed Michigan State (22-12) on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four.

Texas had to survive a furious UConn rally in the second half and got a lucky break on a bizarre play at the end that tipped the game the Longhorns' way.

Ford, who had 13 points and nine assists, sat for five minutes in the second half and watched for most of the Connecticut run that turned a 62-48 Texas lead into a 74-71 deficit.

He returned to make the key passes that set up the tying basket and go-ahead free throws in the final minute and capped it off with two free throws of his own.

"We didn't flinch," said center James Thomas, who had 15 rebounds and 13 points, including two free throws with 56 seconds left that gave Texas a 78-76 lead.

"T.J. is the floor general," guard Royal Ivey said. "We told ourselves we have to step up our game up or we're going to go home."

With its second-half rally, UConn (23-10) might have sent Texas back to Austin if not for what Huskies coach Jim Calhoun could only call a "weird" play.

Texas led 78-76 when the Huskies' Marcus White went up for the tying layup with 35 seconds left. Brian Boddicker stuck his hand up and the ball stopped cold, wedged between the backboard and the rim.

There it was. An entire season hanging in the balance, stuck 10 feet above the floor.

Whistles blew, the clock stopped with 35 seconds left and 33,009 people at the Alamodome didn't know whether to cheer or groan.

Calhoun could only smile. What else could he do?

The possession arrow pointed to the Longhorns. When a Texas player popped the ball out and it dropped through the basket, the Huskies' chances fell with it.

Given the chance to hold the lead, the Longhorns got four straight free throws from Ivey and Ford to seal it.

"I just wanted a piece of it," Boddicker said. "I look up and the ball's wedged and the possession arrow's in our favor. It was huge."

Calhoun thought his team was on the verging of winning.

"I thought we were a heartbeat away or something happening away from winning," Calhoun said. "It was a weird play."

After Ivey and Ford made their free throws, Ford sealed the win when he stripped the ball from UConn's Emeka Okafor near the basket and sprinted up court to the cheers from the decidedly pro-Texas crowd of 33,009 at the Alamodome.

Much had been made of Texas playing so close to home and Longhorns fans filled the arena with cheers of "Texas Fight!" more than an hour before tipoff.

"At the end of the game, me and Brandon looked up and saw how many fans we had the in the building," Ford said. "It was great."

Okafor led UConn with 21 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.

CONNECTICUT (23-10)-Gordon 6-15 2-4 16, Armstrong 0-0 0-0 0, T.Brown 4-10 1-3 9, D.Brown 4-6 0-2 8, Okafor 8-16 5-6 21, White 1-4 2-4 4, Hayes 3-6 2-3 8, Tooles 0-0 0-0 0, Anderson 3-10 0-1 8, Robertson 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 30-71 14-25 78.

TEXAS (25-6)-Thomas 2-9 9-13 13, Mouton 10-18 3-4 27, Ford 3-15 7-7 13, Buckman 1-3 0-0 2, Ivey 2-6 6-6 10, Harris 0-3 0-0 0, Erskin 1-4 3-4 5, Klotz 3-6 0-0 6, Boddicker 2-5 1-2 6. Totals 24-69 29-36 82.

Halftime-Texas 44-38. 3-Point Goals-Conn. 4-13 (Anderson 2-6, Gordon 2-6, Robertson 0-1), Texas 5-18 (Mouton 4-7, Boddicker 1-4, Harris 0-3, Ford 0-4). Rebounds-Conn. 41 (Okafor 17), Texas 52 (Thomas 15). Assists-Conn. 13 (T.Brown 7), Texas 13 (Ford 9). Total fouls-Conn. 21, Texas 21. Technicals-Conn. Bench. A-33,009

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