Horns Cramming For Nevada On Eve Of NCAAs

Texas opens NCAA Tournament play, 6:10 p.m. (CST), Thursday against a relatively unknown Nevada team, despite the fact that the Reno school returns five players from last year's Sweet Sixteen appearance. The crash course began Monday for the eighth-seeded Longhorns.

The first-round matchup at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis marks just the fourth NCAA appearance for Nevada, prompting the program's Sports Information Director to issue a memo informing media that a) the school's official designation is the University of Nevada and, b) the school's mascot is the Wolf Pack (two words). It's not exactly the kind of scouting information that Texas coach Rick Barnes needs these days, after guiding the Horns to the Big Dance in each of his first seven seasons in Austin.

"We'll try to get as much as we can on them now," Barnes said Monday.

What Barnes won't get from Nevada is game film. The Big 12 Conference has a "no-trade" policy prohibiting its schools from swapping tapes of previous games with opponents. The statute proved to be a mild irritant to Wolf Pack first year coach Mark Fox, prompting Barnes to respond, "If he calls me, I'll sell him some."

Yet Barnes has seen enough of Fox's 24-6 club to know they are peaking at the right time, despite falling to Boise State in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. The Wolf Pack went 9-1 down the stretch to claim the WAC regular season championship.

"They're one of the hottest teams in the country right now," Barnes said. "They're not going to be wide-eyed going into the NCAA Tournament. Nevada is a good team. We know that when we're playing against a good team, if you're not ready to play, you'll be going home."

Barnes' statement begs the question: will Texas be ready? Despite its depleted, eight-man roster, the Horns have been a Jeckyl-and-Hyde program the past two weeks. The gutty 74-73 win at Oklahoma State on March 5 completed an improbable regular season sweep of the second-seeded Cowboys, providing evidence that the Horns could hang with most of the teams in the Tournament. Yet, Texas was uncharacteristically lackadaisical and uninspired against both Oklahoma (on Senior Night, February 28) and Colorado (opening round of the Big 12 Tourney last Thursday). In fact, two of Texas' last five losses have come at the hands of the lowly Buffaloes (the only conference team to lose to Baylor this season).

Ever since Texas lost front court starters P.J. Tucker (grades) and LaMarcus Aldridge (hip injury), Barnes has preached that every player must "show up every night" on a squad that has precious little margin of error.

"We talk about it, and we put it out there, that we need every guy playing at the top of his game," Barnes said, "but you can't coach making shots. What we're looking for are the little things: consistent effort defensively, blocking out, taking care of the basketball. We've had a problem taking care of the ball all year."

Barnes refuses to allow his 20-10 club to look past Nevada to a possible matchup against top-seeded Illinois, noting that "the key is trying to get started. The first round games are always the hardest ones."

Another key this time of year, Barnes said, is ensuring a proper balance between practice time and periods of rest. (The Horns, obviously, have had extra days to rest weary legs following their early swan song in the Big 12 Tourney. On Sunday, junior G Kenton Paulino said he expected to return to practice this week after re-aggravating a dislocated toe against Colorado.)

"This time of year, one of the mistakes you can make is to stay on the floor too long," Barnes said. "The players have been through a lot this season."

At the same time, a lot is at stake. The fact that Texas not only made the Tournament but also was seeded in the middle of the pack "speaks volumes of the program," Barnes added.

"No one could anticipate all the different scenarios that happened to us this season," Barnes said. "I'm proud of our guys because they never made excuses. We never changed our goals of being in the NCAA Tournament. Whether you're a No. 8 or a No. 9 seed, or lower, you're one of 65 teams that have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Our players deserve all the credit of where we are right now and should feel good about the fact that we're making our seventh straight trip and that we'll never take that for granted."

At the same time, Barnes is also guarding against a 'just-happy-to-be-here' mentality.

"Our guys have the thought process that we're in it, we deserved to be in it, now let's go try to do something with it."

Texas departs for Indianapolis on Tuesday.

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