Thursday, April 3, 2003

'Horns can play hoops, too

Texas in both Final Fours

By Jim Vertuno
The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas - So much for big, ol' Texas being Football U. The Longhorns just might turn this place into - gulp - a hoops hotbed.

The men's and women's basketball teams both are in the Final Four, only the fourth time a school has done that. And it's no small feat at a university where the running joke is that there are two sports on campus: football and spring football.

Indeed, this is the program that produced Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, and a state that's home to the Dallas Cowboys, long known as America's Team.

"Football has been here as long as the university has. Football will probably always be the sport, but this place is buzzing about basketball," said Texas senior Mike Bove, standing by the football stadium trophy case Wednesday.

"We do this every year, and we'll be a basketball school."

After all, these 'Horns can play hoops, too. Texas' men will play Syracuse on Saturday in New Orleans, while the women face defending champion Connecticut on Sunday in Atlanta.

Campus is buzzing, of course, and there's burnt orange everywhere, all thanks to a sport that once merely helped pass the time between arguments over who should start at quarterback.

"We're establishing this program at a whole new level. People I haven't heard from in eight years are asking for tickets," said junior center James Thomas, who averages 11.1 points and 11.1 rebounds. "We've made people in Austin turn their heads."

Hey, even UT football coach Mack Brown took notice.

He was one of 30,000 fans cheering for the men's basketball team in San Antonio last weekend as the Longhorns beat Michigan State to advance to the national semifinals.

And star wide receiver Roy Williams has been spotted wearing a replica of point guard T.J. Ford's No. 11 jersey to class.

"You hear about T.J. all the time," Bove said. "People are really pumped up."

Ford is a celebrity around Austin, an autograph machine who signs programs, hats and scraps of paper wherever he goes. His popularity only became greater when he was given the Naismith Award last month as the country's best player.

Rooster Andrews owns two sporting goods stores in town and keeps running out of Ford's $45 jerseys. Jamie Carey, the standout guard for the women's team, also wears No. 11 - and those replica uniforms keep selling, too.

"It's the first time we've ever been plumb sold out," Andrews said. "It's incredible."

Texas has a steep sports tradition. The baseball team won a national title last year, and the Longhorns have won 10 others for track and field, tennis, and swimming and diving since 1993. The football team has won 11 games each of the last two years and finished ranked in the top 10 both times.

Basketball is a different story.

Texas' only women's NCAA title came in 1986. The men haven't won a championship - and they haven't even been to the national semifinals since 1947.

Another school from the southwest that prides itself on football excellence, Oklahoma, sent teams to both college basketball national semifinals last season. Duke did it three years ago, and Georgia did in 1983. None came away with a title.

Texas expects to have plenty of support from orange-clad fans at the Superdome. Junior Audrey Kiefer hopes to be there, even though she missed out on the tickets made available to students.

"It's disappointing," she said, sitting under the campus clock tower. "I want to go, but I guess I'll be watching on TV."

At the Longhorns Ltd. souvenir shop at the football stadium, fans bought Final Four shirts, hats, golf balls and basketballs.

Edd Fish, who graduated in 1972, walked out of the store with a bag full of orange shirts and hats. "When I was here," he said, "nobody paid attention to basketball."

Still, any traditionalists worried that the Longhorns are boosting basketball at football's expense can take some solace from these attendance figures:

On the day that Brown was with those 30,000 fans watching basketball in San Antonio, 35,000 people turned up for the football team's intrasquad scrimmage.

Pirates 7, Reds 4
Photos of Wednesday's game
Lopez debuts at short today
Anderson has score to settle with Bucs
Reds Notebook: Bowden preaches patience
Pirates having a blast in Reds' park
Reds box, runs
Poll: Grade the stadium

Dodgers 5, Diamondbacks 0
Giants 5, Padres 3
Other NL Games
Athletics 8, Mariners 3
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MEN'S BASKETBALL (Final Four Schedule)
Williams, Boeheim missing title
It's kids play for Orangemen
Marquette's Jackson won't sneak up on Kansas
Final Four pays for Marquette
Thin bench concern for Kansas
'Horns can play hoops, too
More NCAA Tournament coverage
Howland goes home to coach UCLA
Greenberg heading to Va. Tech
Wilkins interviews for Georgia job
Big East rivals go for NIT title

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL (Final Four Schedule)
Star power, tradition in women's four
Lady Vols relive loss to Duke
More NCAA Tournament coverage

Hornets, Blazers make playoffs

Cyclones, Ducks lose
Sports on TV-Radio

LeBron celebrates national title
Wednesday's High School Results
Today's High School Schedule