It's Home Sweet Dome For Top-Seeded Texas

SAN ANTONIO -- When Texas tips-off against Connecticut Friday in the NCAA South Regional in San Antonio, the top-seeded Horns will be looking to extend their home winning streak to 16 games. In essence.

The Alamodome is a scant 78 miles from the UT campus and will have a decided Burnt Orange tint at game time (6:27 p.m. CST). But how much of an advantage does its proximity to Austin give Rick Barnes' bunch?

"After the game tomorrow, ask me, and I'll tell you," Barnes said. "Right now, I don't think you can let it be a part of it. Maybe if we win this whole thing, I might come back and change my mind. Right now, it's not what you dwell on anyway. Our players will have the same mindset as if we were playing in Hartford, Connecticut."

It's not necessarily the mindset of some of the sports writers, particularly those from north of the Mason-Dixon line, who continue to question the fairness of Texas' bracket and seeding. Bear in mind, these are the basketball snobs that continue to look upon Texas hoops as the great unwashed and as greatly over-ranked. These are the pundits who predicted Texas would fall in the Second Round to LSU.

Maybe it's simply a case of road rage. Or, maybe their hearts are three sizes too small and just don't like being exiled in a place where you can sip top-shelf margaritas, outdoors along the RiverWalk, on an 85-degree afternoon. Maybe it's not unfair at all. Last time I checked, the top seed generally gets placed in a geographically advantageous Regional. After all, this time last year, Texas was playing in Wisconsin.

"I don't think it's any different than coming out of the First Round in Birmingham," Barnes said. "We knew we were going into SEC country, and we knew that we were possibly going to have to play an SEC team. That's how we look at it."

The proverbial home court advantage doesn't matter as much this time of year, especially not with the likes of UConn, Maryland and Michigan State in San Antonio. Every school in the South Regional has notched hard-fought road wins during the regular season, Barnes noted.

"Every one of us, if you look at our schedule, has gone into a tough environment and won basketball games," Barnes said. "This time of year, players can handle that."

Junior G Brandon Mouton echoed the sentiment.

"It really doesn't matter where we play," Mouton said. "Every team that's left in the Tournament is a great team. The teams understand, no matter where you play, you have to give great effort and stay focused. It's good for our fans and it's good for the state of Texas. We need to take advantage of the fact that we are in Texas, but this game is really for our fans and they should enjoy it."

Texas needs its fans to "come early, wear, orange and be loud" but, more importantly, Texas needs to get the early jump on the Dogs. UConn's record is 4-6 when trailing by double-digits in the first half. But the Huskies are 17-1 when they grab leads of 10 or more points before intermission.

Why? Despite its eye-opening talent, this is a very young Connecticut team that starts two freshman and two sophomores. Sometimes, overcoming adversity has more to do with calling upon battle-tested experience than intestinal fortitude (as evidenced by the kind of composure Texas showed in overcoming that 15-point deficit at Oklahoma earlier this month). If Texas can kennel the young pups early with a substantial early lead, statistically its chances of advancing to the Elite Eight improve significantly.

The one thing that distinguishes the South Regional is that it boasts three teams that have recently won national championships, including Connecticut in 1999. A Texas win would match it against the winner between Maryland (last year's national champ) and Michigan State (2000 national champ).

"That's (national champ) is where you want to be," Barnes said. "You've got to want to be in that neighborhood, you've got to want to get there enough, and sooner or later it will be your time."

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