Hoops: Mouton's Shot Keeps Horns In Thick Of It

Senior <B>Brandon Mouton's </B>game-tying trey at the buzzer did more than force the 62-61 overtime win at No. 16 Texas Tech Monday; the clutch shot may also have been a mid-season shot in the arm for the injury-hampered shooting guard.

"Offensively, I haven't been in a really good rhythm," Mouton said Thursday, "but in a situation where I have the ball in my hands and the shot clock coming down, I've got to get a shot off."

Texas had several chances to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. Freshman F P.J. Tucker missed a lay-up while senior F Brian Boddicker bricked the second of two free throws. Forced to foul, Texas trailed 55-52, with 3.2 seconds remaining. Boddicker rifled the in-bounds pass beyond halfcourt to senior G Royal Ivey. Following a Texas timeout, Ivey tossed a crosscourt pass to Mouton who dribbled around Boddicker's screen to drain the three-pointer.

"Coach (Rick Barnes) drew it up where he had a bunch of options," Mouton said. "(Guard) Kenny (Taylor) was on the corner and Boddicker is a pretty good three-point shooter. We were all on the court at the same time. We ran a good play. Kenny was covered. I was able to get out where I had to make a play."

It would rank as the No. 16/18 Longhorns' biggest shot of the year if there weren't so many other clutch shots just like it. Texas has pulled out four nail-biting wins during its past seven games including three that required overtime after the Horns tied all three contests with a three-point shot in the final 15 seconds. It's just that none of those clutch shots have come from Mouton.

Arguably, basketball is played between the ears more than any other team sport. Confidence is, indeed, a fluid if not tenuous commodity. As such, a player who would never question his own ability may wonder when the next shot is ever going to fall. It is particularly the case when a hoopster is trying to regain his shooter's touch while battling injuries. Mouton turned an ankle just before the Dec. 20 loss to top-ranked Duke and has been battling back spasms all season.

"It's by far been my toughest year since I've been at Texas in fighting injuries and just getting back and being comfortable with myself out on the court and doing things that I'm capable of doing without thinking about it," Mouton said.

The senior was Texas' leading scorer as a sophomore, averaging 13.7 ppg, and finished just behind team-leading T.J. Ford as a junior in 2003, averaging 14.8 ppg. Currently, his 12.4 ppg is virtually tied with Tucker's 12.5 ppg for the team lead. But Mouton's numbers have dipped to nine ppg in league play.

"I don't think people realize how badly his body's been hurting him," junior C Jason Klotz said. "I think he might have lost a little confidence but after hitting that shot, I think he's ready to play. He's an important guy on our team. Last year in the Tournament he came up big. He was one of those guys that can put up 20 (points) a game. That's what we need from him."

If Mouton has lacked for confidence, it would be news to his head coach.

"I don't know that Brandon's ever not been confident," Barnes said. "He's had to fight through some things, in terms of injuries, that he probably wouldn't want to talk about. But I don't think with Brandon it's a matter of confidence. You're going to miss some shots. You just have to make sure that you're taking good shots."

Barnes admits that coaches are never satisfied, and what he wants from Mouton are more drives to the basket instead of settling for jump shots. He also wants Mouton at the free throw line more often. Mouton ranks sixth on his team in FT attempts (22-of-33). Meanwhile, the senior will continue to rehab as the Horns enter a critical month where they play nine games in 29 days (including a home-and-away against nationally ranked Oklahoma plus the Feb. 23 tilt against Kansas). Currently, the 13-3 Longhorns are in a three-way tie for second place (along with Texas Tech, Oklahoma State) at 4-1, a half-game behind the Jayhawks.

"I feel like I'm getting there," Mouton said. "At times, things really bother me. I try not to think about it when I'm out on the court. The only thing that's on my mind is playing basketball. Then, after the game, I can contend with whatever injuries that are bothering me. I'm feeling pretty good. I just want to go out and play and continue to do what I'm doing."

That would include, presumably, knocking down the kind of clutch shot that he did at Texas Tech.

"That shot was a big shot for us because it got us in a position to win the game," Mouton said. "But I've already forgotten about it. It's time to move on."

The Longhorns move on to College Station for a 12:30 p.m. game Saturday against the cellar-dwelling Aggies (7-9, 0-5 in Big 12).

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