Texas Draws No. 8 Seed, Faces Nevada In NCAA

Texas is the No. 8 in the Chicago Regional and will open NCAA Tournament play against Nevada, Thursday in Indianapolis. Not that anyone's looking ahead, but a first-round win would pit the Longhorns against an Illinois team that's been ranked No. 1 in both major polls every week since the first week in December.

Well, maybe one Longhorn is looking ahead.

"Shock The World!" senior C Jason Klotz shouted as he entered a Selection Sunday press conference on The University of Texas campus.

With the bid, the 2004-05 Longhorns extend the school-record for most consecutive NCAA appearances to seven and 24 overall. During that span, Texas has been no lower than a No. 7 and was seeded first and third during the past two seasons, respectively. Head coach Rick Barnes said that he never considered this year's squad as a Bubble team.

"I felt like we were in the Tournament," he said, "but I've been doing this long enough to know that you never know. But I told (the team) all along that you don't ever take it for granted. I told them that today. I told them that you don't ever take a trip to the NCAA Tournament for granted. I want them, all the way to the last game, to play like we were playing just to get into the Tournament. But, if people go back to look at the body of work from start to finish, then I thought that we had (gotten in) especially with everything that we've had to deal with."

The "body of work" reveals a Longhorn team that stands 20-10 on the season, including a pair of wins against Oklahoma State, announced Sunday as a No. 2 seed. The fact that Texas is a No. 8 seed indicates that the program was in no jeopardy of failing to make the Tournament for the first time since 1998.

"I figured we had a great shot after we beat Oklahoma State at their place," junior F Brad Buckman said. "I think the (Selection) Committee looked at that. It's a sigh of relief when you see your name on TV, but I think we all knew we were going to be in it."

It was also a year where the Selection Committee gave heavier weight to the outcome of conference tournaments, Barnes said. Last Thursday, the Horns became the first No. 6 seed in Big 12 Tournament history to fall to a No. 11 seed when Colorado upended Texas, 81-69. The Committee also looks closely at how a team finishes, and the Horns split their last ten games. It's just that UT's best win of the season (the 74-73 thriller at Stillwater) is bracketed by two of the ugliest losses of the year (including the 74-58 loss to Oklahoma on Senior Night). But the Tournament provides a fresh start to a challenging season where Texas was reduced to eight scholarship players, five of whom are completely healthy.

"We've just got to move over that and forget about it," Buckman said of the Colorado loss. "We can wipe the slate clean. We've got Nevada and Illinois ahead of us. We've got to focus on them now. The regular season stuff is behind us."

Klotz was still in the shower following Sunday's practice when Texas' name was called very early during the nationally televised Selection show.

"I heard every one yelling so I was pretty happy," he said. "I wasn't nervous at all, just excited."

Senior G Sydmill Harris suspected that the Horns were Tournament-bound, but didn't know how the team would be seeded.

"I'm going to be honest, I really didn't have much of a clue what seed it was going to be," he said. "I was just hoping we would get in. I wasn't worried about the seed. When I heard 'eight', well I heard that we were in. I was very happy. There was some high-fiving (among teammates). It's a happy feeling."

The last time Texas entered the Big Dance as an eighth seed, the Horns were quickly shown the door by Iowa, 98-92, in 1992. But the current crop of Horns may find some much-needed mojo in noting that the last time Texas played at the RCA Dome in Indy, the result was one of more monumental wins in program history. That's where Texas upset No. 2 seed Purdue, 73-72, in 1990 to advance to its first Sweet 16 in modern college hoops history.

"There were a lot of teams sitting at home watching Selection Sunday that didn't hear their names called," said senior G Kenny Taylor. "We're very thankful for the selection. Now, we've got to get focused and get ready for Nevada. It's been a very long season for us. We had a lot of things go wrong for us, a lot of things that weren't good. We're happy to know that we've done enough to get into the Tournament. Anybody can make a run."

For freshman G Daniel Gibson, his first-ever Big Dance represents (to this point, at least) the culmination of a life-long dream to be playing college hoops in mid-March.

"It feels like a lot of weight has been lifted off of our shoulders," Gibson said. "The main goal, when the season started, was to try to get us a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Now that we've accomplished it, it's a great feeling. Today, you saw a lot of smiles on the guys' faces."

Both the Big 12 and Big East conferences sent a Tournament-best six teams to the Big Dance. Joining Texas in the Madness of March are No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Kansas, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas Tech and No. 9 Iowa State.

Almost to a man, the Wolfpack of Nevada are an unknown commodity to the Longhorns (even though the program was the Cinderella team of the 2004 Tourney by joining the Horns in the Sweet Sixteen). The crash course on the Wolfpack comes Monday. That's when the team will practice in Austin before departing for Indianapolis on Tuesday. For now, another NCAA Tournament bid is a highlight to what has been a topsy-turvy season for the Horns.

"It's been a big rollercoaster ride with a lot of ups and downs," Gibson said, "but we're happy that it's going back up."

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