Biggest Monday: UT Faces OSU With Title At Stake

Texas' celebrated senior class has brought the program its first Final Four appearance since 1947 but still lacks one notable achievement in its otherwise dazzling resume: a Big 12 Conference championship. The No. 10 Longhorns (21-4, 12-2 in Big 12) can take a giant step in that direction with a win at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m. (CST) in an ESPN 'Big Monday' telecast pitting the teams tied atop the league standings.

This past weekend, head coach Rick Barnes told his squad: "You guys have done a lot of things. Whether winning a conference championship is important to you is up to you. My goal is to get it done in the post-season, but if you guys want the regular season title, then go get it."

The Horns put themselves in a position to win their first league title since Barnes first year on the job at the Forty Acres (1998-99) by rebounding from a disappointing 78-77 Valentines Day loss at Iowa State with wins at Oklahoma and against nationally-ranked Kansas and Texas Tech.

"After Iowa State, I told the guys that our destiny was still in our own hands," Barnes said. "I told them we're not going to look for outside help. We're not going to go begging for it. These guys have put themselves in this position. That's all you can ask with two games to go."

Oklahoma State, of course, handed Texas its only home loss in the past 31 games. Since then, senior G Brandon Mouton has been able to shake off a nagging ankle injury that hobbled him for much of the season.

"Brandon, being healthy, is a huge part of what's happened here the past four or five days," Brown said.

Prior to his team-best 17 points in the 74-71 win over Texas Tech Saturday (including a pair of game-clinching free throws in the final 14 seconds), Mouton had posted a personal best four consecutive 20-plus point performances.

"It's going to be a great game," Mouton said, anticipating Monday's showdown. "It's going to be a tough atmosphere but that's what we love. We love going into hostile environments and trying to pull out a win. They have great chemistry and they play hard. They compete in every game so it's no surprise they're playing for the championship."

The only surprise for either squad has been the emergence of C Jason Klotz in the frontcourt during the past 12 games. So impressive has been Klotz that Texas Tech Bobby Knight remarked Saturday that he would take the tough and fiery junior over any other conference player. Barnes is also sold on the 6-9 Klotz, who has been averaging nearly eight points off the bench during that span.

"With Jason in the inside, he's given us much more of a post presence," Barnes said. "What Jason has given us is a guy our guys believe can go in and score against anybody."

Klotz will be Texas' starting center next season, if not sooner. For now, he's stoked about heading north of the Red River with the conference title at stake.

"Gallagher-Iba (Arena) is the loudest place, other than Kansas, that I've been to," Klotz said. "They've got the craziest fans. The place is built straight up; it's not really a dome. During time-outs, you can't hear anything. I love it. It's great to quiet that crowd. It's gonna be crazy. They (Cowboys) run well. They're so athletic. If we don't come in with our heads in the game and play great defense, they're gonna knock us out. If we don't take care of business, they're going do us in."

More often than not, it's been Barnes who has done the Cowboys in Stillwater. Before last year's 82-77 setback at OSU, Barnes had gone 3-1 in road games against the Pokes. In fact, Barnes has produced the league's best road record since taking over the Texas program. In fact, when asked if it mattered much that Texas must try to clinch the title on the road, Barnes shook his head, said "Nah", and fielded the next question.

Any chance that Texas won't be up for this one? Nah.

Horns Digest Top Stories