No team (except for maybe Florida) wants to go home early. No teammates (except for maybe Arizona) want to stop playing with each other. Texas' seniors, however, have so redefined Longhorn hoops that it's hard to imagine a Barnes team without them. And that's just part of the dogged determination of a group that wants to keep on playing, not only for the program's sake but for the sake of each other's company.
The numbers tell the story. The seniors accounted for 52 of Texas' 66 total points in the opening round win over Princeton. Then, when the North Carolina game was still up for grabs, the seniors scored 18 of Texas' final 21 points in Saturday's Second Round win.
"We're just going to lay it out on the line and go from there," senior G Royal Ivey said. "That's what we do here. We're just going to go out there, and compete, and have fun with it and hopefully play on. That's our main mindset right now, to just go out there and do what we do and try to play all night."
Ivey was one of the major factors in Texas' two wins in Denver this past weekend, sending the Horns to face red-hot Xavier (15-1 mark during the past six weeks, including a 20-point win over top-seed St. Joseph's) in the Atlanta Regional, 6:27 p.m. (CST) Friday. Ivey averaged 16 points while hitting 9-of-14 FG (64.3 percent) and 14-of-15 FT (93.3 percent). He also contributed a team-best 6.5 rpg and averaged 4.5 assists.
Ivey, like the rest of his so-called founding fathers, have come light years since their over-and-out debut as freshmen in the 2001 Tournament. Playing the early game at the South Sub-Regional in New Orleans, Temple sent Texas packing (79-65) presumably before half the previous night's Bourbon Street revelers awoke from their hangovers.
Now, Texas is one of only five schools (Duke, Kansas, Connecticut, Pitt) to advance to the Sixteen in each of the last three seasons.
"That's what we wanted to do," Ivey said. "A lot of kids go to a program because of the prestige of the program, and I think Texas is now a prestigious program, year to year. A lot of guys, when they hear 'Duke' or 'North Carolina', they go there because of the past and what that program has done. I guess we're just laying that foundation right now."
The foundation laid the groundwork for what many consider to be the top-rated recruiting class in college basketball.
"I think that was a complement to our guys," Ivey said. "People now look at us seriously as a basketball school."
Truth be told, Texas will always be a football school but one that also boasts a Top 10 basketball program in position to compete annually for the national championship. It is no less remarkable that the turnaround was largely accomplished in a four-year span by a group of seniors who will never be mistaken for NBA Lottery picks. Overshadowed by 2003 Player of the Year T.J. Ford, senior G Brandon Mouton is finally getting noticed by national hoops pundits.
In Denver, Mouton averaged a team-best 17.5 ppg including 6-of-8 treys. In his last five NCAA games, Mouton has averaged 20.6 ppg. Now, Mouton is a TV Guide coverboy appearing in regional markets.
"Looking back on my freshman year, when we were traveling, people weren't really sure what Texas team we were," Mouton said. "Now, people know we're the Horns and can identify us by name. That's a great accomplishment. We've done that simply be winning games. I mean, we'd be at the airport and people would ask, 'Are you guys the Aggies?' Now, it's not even a question."
Just like there's no question what the Fab Four has meant to the Longhorn program. Ivey, Mouton, C James Thomas and F Brian Boddicker have each played in a school record 11 NCAA Tournament games while posting a school-record 98 wins in the last four years. That's why Barnes wants his seniors to dictate how their story will end.
"The best part about what we're doing right now is that it's a bonus for me having a chance to spend time with these seniors," Barnes said. "Our days are numbered, obviously. We get at least another week together. Hopefully we'll do well in Atlanta. The most possible time we could have together is two weeks. These guys have been special. As excited as I've been for the program, this senior class has meant so much. Every day that we get to spend with them is a bonus."