Senior C Jason Klotz, who finished with 15 points but spent too much time trying to dribble around the perimeter, echoed Barnes' sentiments.
"If all eight guys show up," Klotz said, "we can play with anybody."
Instead, Senior Night belonged to freshman G Daniel Gibson and emerging freshman F Mike Williams. Gibson tied Oklahoma G Lawrence McKenzie for leading scorer honors with 16 points. Gibson also came up with five rebounds, two blocked shots, five assists and a steal.
"Our freshmen really played well and that was the bright spot," Barnes continued. "No one played harder than Daniel Gibson. Daniel was amazing. He was being guarded by their entire team."
Indeed, the Sooners so completely shadowed Gibson that it forced Texas guards to try to step up. None did. Senior G Kenny Taylor started in place of F Dion Dowell (after the freshman logged six consecutive starts) and went 0-for-7 from the field before fouling out with 1:54 remaining. Sydmill Harris (groin) and Kenton Paulino (dislocated toe), who have practiced little and have played with pain since suffering injuries February 4 against Iowa State, managed but one FG apiece.
Barnes has never made excuses about the fact that he really has only six healthy scholarship players, three of which are freshmen. But, in this case, the lack of practice time for Texas' shooting guards finally caught up with them, Barnes said.
"Daniel was doing everything he could but the other guys need to make harder cuts to get open," Barnes said. "Our guards stood around and watched too much. I can understand Daniel standing around because he played 39 minutes. You've got to have more than one guy willing to handle the basketball."
Williams basically took junior F Brad Buckman's spot in the front court and led the Horns in rebounding with nine while hitting 3-of-4 FG in 22 minutes. Buckman played only six minutes in the second half, and finished with nine points and four boards. Buckman had been a beast in the paint during a recent stretch where Texas won four-of-five, but Monday was one of those nights where you wondered what planet Buckman was on as the game continued around him. Case-in-point: the second period began when G Terrell Everett literally took the ball out of Buckman's hands and then completed the coast-to-coast lay-up.
The loss dropped Texas to 19-9 overall, 8-7 in Big 12 play while No. 20 Oklahoma improves to 22-6, 11-4 in conference. The setback resurfaced the obvious questions about Texas' Tournament chances. Barnes has refused to look beyond the next game. Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson (who, after facing a similar situation last year, can better empathize with Texas' situation than any other coach college coach in the country) said it may come down the whims of the NCAA Selection Committee when bids are announced on March 13.
"We were 8-8 last year and didn't go, so it just depends," Sampson said. "There are lot of similarities between their team and our team last season. We lost (F Kevin) Bookout and a couple of other guys to injury. Obviously, if they had LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker, they certainly wouldn't be 8-7. The two kids they lost weren't role players; they were impact players. My hat is off to Rick Barnes. He's done a really good job with this team. But losing LaMarcus and P.J., I don't know how the Committee rates that. Sometimes you have to be lucky, and they've been pretty unlucky this year."
While Barnes will not speculate about his team's chances, he maintains that the Big 12 is a strong enough conference to deserve six bids. In all likelihood, Texas can clinch its seventh straight NCAA appearance with an opening round win (probably over Baylor or Colorado) in the Big 12 Tournament on March 10. That would give Texas a 20-win season in a tough league, leaving Iowa State and Texas A&M on the bubble.
But with a chance to essentially assure itself a berth Monday night, Texas shot 20-of-51 (39.2 percent) from the field while Oklahoma went 24-of-55 (43.6 percent). The Sooners hit 20-of-27 foul shots (74.1 percent) compared to a 13-of-19 (68.4 percent) for Texas. It's just that the Horns missed the front ends of some critical one-and-one opportunities down the stretch when the game was still within reach.
Oklahoma outrebounded Texas, 39-29. The Sooners tallied 14 fast break points; the Horns had none. The Sooners also converted 15 Longhorn turnovers into 23 points. OU tallied 14 fast break points; Texas had none.
The most glaring stat is that three Oklahoma guards (McKenzie, Everett and David Godbold) combined for 42 points on 13-of-29 shooting.
"More often than not, a game is decided by guard play," Barnes said. "Their guards outplayed our guards. They set the tone early."
Texas worked the ball down low as Klotz and Buckman combined for all of Texas' points to take an early 10-9 lead. Gibson sank the game's first trey to give the Horns a brief 15-11 lead. But Godbold almost single-handedly launched a 12-0 Oklahoma run, bracketed by a pair of shots from outside the line for the freshman guard. McKenzie then knocked down a pair of treys to build a 29-19 OU lead.
After Buckman missed the back end of the one-and-one, Harris gave Texas a badly needed three to pull the Horns within six at 29-23. But McKenzie drained his third trey to give OU its largest lead of the half at 37-27. Taylor rattled in a pair of foul shots, but then so did junior G Terrell Everett as the Sooners took a 39-29 lead into the locker room.
Oklahoma had (outscrapped and) outrebounded Texas 21-13 at intermission, collected seven steals and sank 5-of-10 from outside the arc. Things got uglier in the second half. It began when Everett picked Buckman's pocket and then completed the coast-to-coast lay-up. It was part of 10-2 run, as the Sooners limited Texas to just one shot and turned the Erwin Center into a morgue.
The crowd got back into when William's lay-up on the dish from Gibson followed Klotz's FG, but Texas still trailed 49-35 with 14:27 remaining. Williams knocked down a jumper, displaying the kind of offensive swagger that had been MIA most of the season, but McKenzie answered with a wide-open trey from the left wing as OU led, 54-37.
Gibson sank a pair of foul shots before Buckman's bucket brought Texas to within 54-41. But consecutive UT turnovers led to fast break points for OU. That put the Sooners up 58-41.
Gibson and Paulino collected back-to-back treys to give the Horns a chance at 59-47 with 8:12 remaining. Bookout answered with yet another pair of second chance points for OU. Williams and Klotz proceeded to miss the front ends of one-and-ones. Gibson came down with a defensive board, converting his own rebound into a bucket at the other end. It brought Texas to within 62-49 but, with 3:56 remaining, fans were already heading toward the parking lot.
Williams' tip-in made it a 62-51 ballgame while Gibson's NBA three cut the Sooner lead to single digits at 64-55. That was as close as it got. Everett hit a pair of FTs before Williams was guilty of Texas' 15th turnover of the contest. All Texas could do was send the Sooners to the free throw line, where they sank all 10 during the final two minutes.
Monday's contest marked the final regular season home game for four Texas seniors (although an Erwin Center NIT contest is not out of the question): Klotz, Taylor, Harris and non-scholarship player Adam Gracely. The senior class, which helped lead the Horns to three straight "Sweet 16" appearances, were honored just before tip-off. The Horns are now 9-2 in 'Big Monday' home games.
Texas closes out the regular season at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m. Saturday in an ESPN national telecast. For the Horns, it's another chance to punch their dance card with a win. Or, like Monday in Austin, prolong the post-season uncertainty.