Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Barnes has Longhorns talking title

Team not content with Final Four trip

The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas - At a school with little basketball tradition, the Texas Longhorns should be content just to reach the Final Four. Right?

Don't try telling that to T.J. Ford, coach Rick Barnes and the rest of the crew in burnt orange. They have far loftier goals.

When Ford hugged Barnes after the Longhorns' victory over Michigan State in the South Regional final, the coach quickly reminded his star point guard that the team's goal is a national title.

"We've got more work to do," Barnes told him.

Texas is the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four, and the Longhorns like their chances in New Orleans. The other No. 1s, Oklahoma, which reached the Final Four last season, and traditional powers Kentucky and Arizona, are gone.

Texas (26-6) plays Syracuse (28-5) in the national semifinals Saturday. Kansas faces Marquette in the other semifinal.

Making their first Final Four appearance in 56 years, the Longhorns are generating a buzz in a city where football is king.

"This is a great feeling, but I'd rather cut down a net in New Orleans and put it on a national championship trophy," Ford said.

Barnes has wanted to take a team to the Final Four ever since 1981, when he was an assistant at George Mason and watched the games in Philadelphia. Until this season, he never had been past the round of 16 as a head coach.

"I told myself then that when I became a head coach, the one thing I wanted to do for my team was to get them to a Final Four so they could experience and feel it," Barnes said. "Once you get there and experience that feeling, they will never question anything you tell them or get them to do in terms of getting there."

Texas previously was in the Final Four in 1946, when the NCAA Tournament field had just eight teams. The Longhorns reached the regional final in 1990.

Texas won the Big 12 Conference in Barnes' first season with the Longhorns and made the NCAA Tournament in each of his first five seasons as Texas coach.

The Longhorns have been focused on getting to the Final Four since losing to Oregon in the regional semifinals last season

Victories over North Carolina-Asheville and Purdue in the first two rounds allowed Texas to advance to play in San Antonio, fueling criticism that the NCAA set up the Longhorns to succeed by putting them so close to home.

The crowds in the Alamodome were a definite advantage - more than 60,000, most of them wearing orange, came to watch and fill the arena with chants of "Texas Fight!"

The Longhorns didn't sell out any of their home games during the regular season.

"It was a great feeling to look up and see so much orange," Barnes said. "These guys earned this. They deserved it."

The prospect of a basketball title has Texas fans scrambling for tickets to New Orleans.

"I expect a lot of people to jump on the bandwagon," guard Royal Ivey said. "But that's OK. I'm not going to eject anybody."

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