Mouton Lifts UT Past OU, 66-63, In Big 12 Tourney

DALLAS -- The Thursday edition of <I>The Dallas Morning News</I> listed senior G <B>Brandon Mouton </B>as one of the Big 12's least effective players in the clutch this season. Got news for ya: Texas' biggest comeback of the year, a 66-63 nail-biter against Oklahoma in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament Friday, is in the record books because Mouton was on the line in the waning seconds.

The second-seeded Horns now face Kansas, a 94-69 winner over Missouri, at 3:20 p.m. (CST) Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Oklahoma was down to eight available players after senior C Jabahri Brown was dismissed from the team earlier this past month on marijuana possession charges. Yet Texas trailed most of the game, from 9:22 in the first half until the final 26 seconds of the contest. That's when Mouton's traditional three-point play put Texas ahead for good, 64-63. He sealed the deal with a pair of free throws with 5 seconds remaining after Texas' zone press forced a Drew Lavendar turnover.

"I knew we needed a basket and the ball was in my hand," Mouton said. "I saw a great driving lane and I took it. Afterwards (fouled by Brandon Foust) I just concentrated on making the free throw."

He completed Texas' biggest comeback of the season, surpassing the 10-point deficit overcome in the 62-61 OT win at Texas Tech on January 26. Texas trailed 58-46, with 7:09 remaining against the Sooners and in front of 18,057 in attendance. The win raised No 11 Texas' record to 22-6 and possibly secured a No. 3 seed when NCAA Tournament brackets are announced Sunday. The win also extended UT's win streak to five games over its Red River rivals.

Head coach Rick Barnes said Mouton "was just terrific" after the senior tied freshman F P.J. Tucker as the game's leading scorer (16 points). Mouton essentially became a coach in the locker room, rallying his troops after Texas trailed 37-28 at intermission.

"Brandon's demeanor and the way he carried himself kept us from going out flat," Barnes said. "Our guys know he's going to compete even when he struggles. It's tournament time and I think games are going to be close in this league."

It can be argued that Texas won this one by attrition. With Oklahoma down to eight available players and Texas boasting the deepest bench in the Big 12, this shaped up as a contest where the Horns' superior depth would wear down their shorthanded opponent. Yet OU's bench players (all three of them) outscored the Texas bench 33-10.

"Our bench didn't seal the deal like they had all season," senior G Royal Ivey said. "They came through down the stretch and played tough, and we pulled it out. We just need to stay focused to keep winning."

With Texas clogging the middle, the Sooners lit it up from the perimeter during the first half with a 5-of-12 showing from three-point range. Texas also turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and committed 18 giveaways overall. Part of the problem is that Texas point guard Kenton Paulino, recovering from a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Saturday's loss at Kansas State, was limited to 14 minutes of action. Ivey ran the floor, contributing six points, four assists, two steals (but three turnovers) in 31 minutes.

Barnes went tall at tip-off. Junior C Jason Klotz received his second start of the season while sophomore F Brad Buckman was back in the starting line-up for the first time since Feb. 14. The sixth-year coach wanted to pound the ball inside (32 points in the paint), get OU's post players into foul trouble (freshman C Larry Turner was whistled for his third personal with 8:05 remaining in the first half and Texas trailing, 19-17) and control the boards (which Texas did, 39-28). As such, Texas attempted a season-low three-point shots (making one) but were also held to a season-low 43 FG attempts.

Texas' post payers got involved early, as the inside guys accounted for 11 of UT's first 17 points. Senior C James Thomas' lay-up gave the Horns a 17-12 advantage. Sophomore G De'Angelo Alexander's bucket completed a 12-0 run as OU led, 24-17. Alexander's three-pointer gave OU the game's first double-digit lead, 33-23. A pair of Alexander FTs made it 37-26 in the waning seconds of the half while Tucker's lay-up at the buzzer gave Texas a badly needed shot of momentum heading into the locker room. The Horns trailed 37-28 at the break despite shooting 50 percent (12-of-24) from the field.

That's when Mouton cleared his throat as Barnes listened in.

"At halftime I mentioned how we couldn't afford to come out flat," Mouton said. "A lot of teams this time of year are coming out and playing with a purpose, and we're doing that as well. We can't come out and be too relaxed and expect that a win is just going to happen. We had two wins over Oklahoma and maybe we were too relaxed (in the first half) thinking the third win was just going to happen. It's hard to beat a team three times (in a single season)."

The biggest thing, Barnes said, was that Texas was not aggressive defensively (nor did it push the ball offensively) in the early going. Oklahoma's three-point barrage, he said, "was kind of deflating."

Texas fought back with a steady diet of Klotz. The junior opened the second half with a pair of FG (including a resounding jam), a pair of FTs and a block leading to Ivey's bucket, trimming the Sooner lead, 37-35. OU answered with back-to-back treys (Alexander, Lavender) before Tucker responded with a traditional three-point play as F Johnnie Gilbert was whistled for his fourth personal with 16:45 remaining. Mouton's jumper cut the deficit to 43-42 with 14:52 left. After Tucker cleared another rebound -- he grabbed a game high 12 boards to record his seventh double-double of the season -- Texas had a chance to take its first lead of the second half when Thomas threw the ball to... nobody.

"Some of our turnovers were just ridiculous," Barnes said.

Frankly, so was Texas' free throw shooting. The Horns were 21-of-34 (61.8 percent) from the charity stripe and missed more front ends of one-and-ones than Barnes cared to remember.

"If we make our free throws, this is a totally different basketball game," he said.

The Horns also went more than seven minutes without a FG in the second half as OU built its largest lead, 58-46. But you could sense the comeback when senior F Brian Boddicker drained Texas' lone three-pointer (and his only bucket in 19 minutes) to launch a 17-5 run. The Horns also went to a 2-2-1 zone for the first time in Barnes' six-year tenure at Texas. The whistles finally took their toil on the Sooners, as Turner fouled with 6:11 remaining followed by G Lawrence McKenzie less than two minutes later.

"When Turner fouled out, I thought that was a factor," OU head coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Whether he scores a basket is irrelevant. He's a big body. His size is a factor."

Texas is the only team in the Big 12 Conference to earn a first-round bye in the league's postseason tournament in each of the past six seasons. OU advanced to the quarterfinals with a 63-59 win over Nebraska Thursday but is considered an NCAA bubble team with its 18-10 record, 5-6 during the past 11 contests. The Horns have now reached the conference semifinals for the sixth time in eight years while the three-time defending Big 12 Tournament champ fell for the first time since 2000 (a 70-58 loss to Iowa State in the Tournament finals).

Texas shot 51.2 percent (22-of-43) from the field. After knocking down 52 percent (13-of-25) from the floor in the first half, the Sooners succumbed to Texas' relentless defensive pressure and were just 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) after intermission.

"We found a way a win," Barnes said, "and that's just the story of this team."

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