If you're looking for claims of moral victories in this one, don't look to Rick Barnes.
"I told our guys we've played hard all year; it's not about playing hard anymore," the Texas head coach said post-game. "It's a fine line. I told the team that we're not gonna take any pride in the fact that we came back. We've gotta win those games."
The Horns had their chances. Down 83-82 in OT with 12.5 seconds to play, James Thomas couldn't put down an in-bound alley-oop from T.J. Ford that would have given Texas the lead. Also, both Fredie Williams and Ford missed one of two free throw attempts in the extra period. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Wednesday's K-State loss can largely be pinned on poor clutch free throw shooting. Put this one in that category as well, according to Barnes.
"We've hurt ourselves the last couple of games with free throws," he said. "The mistakes that we made are mistakes that you can't make. When it gets down to winning, we've gotta make free throws and we didn't. That's the fine line."
As Barnes pointed out, though, Kelvin Sampson probably would have said the exact same thing had the Horns pulled this one out. The Sooners missed five of their seven attempts from the line over the game's final 6:31 of regulation as Texas sliced away at a 68-51 OU lead.
What did Barnes tell the team during the timeout when the Horns trailed by 17? "I said, 'One possession at a time. We've gotta get some stops.' A lot of time was left."
Just enough, as it turned out, to send the game to OT.
On UT's first possession out of the Texas timeout, Thomas got open in the post and slammed down a two-handed dunk. That play ignited a 23-6 Longhorn run to close out regulation. Brian Boddicker, Royal Ivey and Brandon Mouton each knocked down long range bombs during the run. Mouton capped the comeback that knotted the score at 74 and sent the game to OT with a trey from the corner in front of the Texas bench on an inbounds play with just .7 seconds remaining in the game.
"During the timeout, coach Barnes drew up a great play," the sophomore swingman said. "It was a double screen for me with the second option Brian Boddicker popping to the opposite screen as well. The biggest thing I concentrated on was getting the shot off and making it. It was a good pass from T.J. and a great shot."
Texas immediately jumped on top in the overtime with a Boddicker bucket, taking its first lead since late in the first half, but Oklahoma answered on its first possession when Quannas White drove, recovered his own airball and followed with a short jumper. The Horns regained the lead with another inside basket from Boddicker, but the Sooners pulled ahead 79-78 after a free throw from Jabahri Brown and another driving bucket by White on Ford.
Texas retook the lead at 80-79, OU went back on top on the next possession 81-80, and then the Horns responded with a single made free throw on each of its next two possessions to move ahead 82-81. Junior guard Hollis Price converted for the Sooners on their next possession as Oklahoma again grabbed the lead at 83-82 setting up the alley-oop inbounds miss from Thomas. After OU reserve Jason Detrick made both his free throws after Ford fouled out fighting for the loose ball on Thomas' miss, Ivey came up short on a desperation, closely guarded three with just a couple of ticks left on the clock. Mouton grabbed the errant shot and scored a two just before the buzzer to provide the final margin.
"I didn't think they could guard Quannas and Hollis and I didn't think we could guard T.J.," Sampson said post-game. "It kinda evened out."
Ford finished with 13 points and 11 assists, while White totaled 16 points and Price scored a team-high 25. Mouton led the Horns with 26 points.
At the end of the first half, Texas dug itself a hole that it struggled to fight out of for the remainder of the game. The Horns, after trailing for all of the first 15 minutes of the game, took a brief lead at 27-23 on back-to-back Ford 15-foot jumpers with just over four to play in the first but Texas would not score again until after the break. The Sooners, meanwhile, closed with 10 unanswered points, eight from Price, capped by a Price guarded, top of the key three as time expired. Price, who picked OU over UT in a close recruiting battle three years ago, proved the difference in the first half of this battle, scoring 15 of the Sooners' 33 points.
OU, now 17-3 overall and in sole possession of second place in the Big 12 at 6-2 in league play, hit five of its 11 three-point attempts in the half to offset a poor overall shooting performance (37.9-percent from the field). Neither team got a point from its bench before the break.
If the final scoreboard tally didn't give enough evidence of just how closely played this one was, check out these numbers. Both teams attempted 69 shots. Both teams made 31 buckets. Both teams attempted 22 free throws. Both teams committed 21 fouls. Texas owned the boards, but by a slim 45-40 margin. Oklahoma hit 10 threes to UT's seven. The Horns had 15 turnovers, two more than the Sooners. Texas got 12 points from its bench players, one more than Oklahoma.
"It shows what this team is capable of doing," Mouton said. "I've heard OU is a Final Four team and if that's the case, I feel like we're right in the ballpark."
Well, Final Four teams don't lose to A&M at home or even K-State on the road. Matter of fact, teams that want to make the NCAA Tourney without anxious Selection Sunday moments don't lose to the Ags or the 'Cats. But despite the final score, the OU game did represent UT's best overall performance since mid-January. That's little consolation, though, if this team only shows this type of performance vs. the league's elite teams.
We'll know if that's the case soon enough.
The Horns (14-7, 5-3) will look to break their two-game losing streak at Reed Arena vs. A&M in four days. The Aggies started UT's downward spiral (three losses in four games) on Jan. 23 in the Erwin Center with their 80-74 upset of the Horns.
"This game today was no bigger than the game Wednesday night (in Manhattan) and I told 'em the game Wednesday night (in College Station) is just as big as the game today."
Make no mistake, though, another loss to the College Station crew could signal a Texas team and season in free-fall. Today's loss, while no bigger than any other in the standings, ensured that.