Hoops: Heartbreaker, Part III

For the third time this season, Texas played one of the very best teams in the country on almost equal terms for 40 minutes and for the third time, the Horns came up just short of the upset. Sadly, the gutsy guys in Orange and White won't get a fourth chance at redemption.

The Horns' season ended when UT's T.J. Ford missed a 12-foot runner at the buzzer that would have sent the Midwest Regional semifinal to overtime, allowing Oregon to escape to the Elite Eight with a 72-70 win in Madison.

Several minutes into the second half, it certainly didn't look like either team would need any last minutes heroics. With the teams trading baskets, the Ducks maintained their 13-point halftime lead through the first four minutes after the break. After a Chris Christoffersen bucket made the score 51-38, though, the Horns made it a game.

Over the next four minutes, Texas, with a 13-0 run, turned that Oregon lead into a 51-51 tie. The comeback came largely on the outside shooting of Brian Boddicker, who after scoring just two first half points knocked down three treys, three more than the entire UT team managed in the first 20 minutes. As they did after every Texas run in the first half, the Ducks darted back in front, this time by seven at 60-53 with three buckets -- two from Luke Ridnour and one from Luke Jackson -- on three straight possessions. Brandon Mouton trimmed the Oregon lead back to three with two straight buckets of his own to set up the thrilling final 7:14 of the game.

For the next several minutes, every time the Ducks scored, the Horns answered. Finally, with just 1:20 on the Kohl Center clock, Texas pulled even at 68 when Ford calmly sank two free throws. Oregon point guard Ridnour put the Ducks backs on top 70-68 at the one minute mark by nailing an 18-footer after coming off a screen near the top of the key. On UT's next possession, Ford tried to drive the lane but defender Frederick Jones forced the Texas freshman into a turnover. Two Longhorn fouls put James Davis at the line for a one-and-one with 35.7 seconds to play, but Davis missed the front end and Mouton ripped down the rebound and set Texas up for the possible tying bucket. James Thomas got that tying bucket by posting up Robert Johnson and powering the ball into the basket, drawing a foul in the process. Thomas, though, couldn't convert his free throw opportunity, a charity stripe attempt that if made would have given the Horns their first lead of the game. The miss, rebounded by Johnson, set up the final frantic seconds of the game.

Rather than Ridnour or Jackson, Oregon coach Ernie Kent elected to put the game in the hands of Jones, who the Horns almost completely shut down throughout the game. The Duck senior shooting guard, controlled the ball near midcourt before taking defender Fredie Williams off the dribble and down the middle of the lane. Jones pulled up about five feet out and rolled the ball off the back iron and the backboard and in with 2.8 seconds to play.

After a Texas and then Oregon timeout, the Horns set up for the game-tying attempt. Boddicker inbounded the ball to Thomas who quickly flipped to a streaking Ford near midcourt. Ford flew down past center court to the right free throw line extended and got a good look at the basket from about 12 feet out but the ball caromed off the back of the rim and Mouton's tip came after the final buzzer.

Texas shot just 40.8-percent from the field for the game compared to 53.4-percent for Oregon, but the Horns got 13 more shooting opportunities by banging the boards in the second half. UT made just three from beyond the arc, all by Boddicker in a four-minute span of the second half. The Ducks finished six-for-18 from long range.

Thomas led the Horns with 15 points and 12 boards but his three free throw misses in four attempts, including the potential go-ahead try with under 30 seconds to play, will surely linger long past the night's initial disappointment. Boddicker totaled 13 points while Royal Ivey, Mouton and Ford pumped in eight apiece. Jason Klotz, who helped keep Texas in the game during the first half, finished with six points, as did Deginald Erskin, who went just three-of-eight from the floor, his worst shooting performance of the post-season. Sydmill Harris and the Horns' lone senior Williams rounded out the UT score sheet with four and two points, respectively.

Oregon's offense came largely from Jackson and Ridnour, who scored 25 and 20 points, respectively. Texas particularly had no defensive answer for Jackson. Mouton and Harris mainly drew the unenviable assignment and both guys gave up several inches in height to the Ducks' 6-7 swingman. The Horns did hold Jones, the third member of UO's Big Three, in check, until the final, game-winning shot, that is. Jones finished with four points but with the two that mattered the most.

In the first half, the teams played the game's first few minutes at a frenetic pace, although neither the Ducks nor the Horns had much luck getting the ball in the basket. Texas didn't score until its sixth possession of the game, and Oregon, after taking a 16-9 lead six minutes in, went five straight possessions without a bucket as the Horns cut the lead to 16-13. One of the early turning points came when Ivey, with a great defensive effort as the Ducks tried to extend that 16-13 lead, created an Oregon turnover and saved the ball from going out of bounds by diving and flipping the ball to a streaking Harris. Harris, all alone on the break, double dribbled before he went in for the dunk that would have cut the UO lead to one at 16-15. The Ducks responded by reeling off nine straight points to take a 25-13 lead.

From that point on, Texas faced an uphill battle just to get back in the game and Oregon answered every UT run. The Horns scored six straight to trim the Ducks' advantage to six at 25-19 but Oregon came back with two quick buckets to extend the lead back to 10. Texas pulled within five twice over the half's final five minutes, once at 29-24 and again at 33-28, but the Ducks closed out the first period with a seven-zip run, including a demoralizing, guarded three-pointer by Jackson at buzzer to push UO's lead to 13, its largest lead in the game. Jackson scored 17 first half points. As it turned out, that Jackson trey was the point difference between a UO and a UT win.

The loss, no matter the margin, ended the Texas '01-'02 campaign at 22-12 overall, the third consecutive 20-plus win season for the Horns. The closeness of the setback simply makes it that much tougher to take, but the Horns' run to the Sweet 16 with a team that lost its all-America candidate at midseason is a testament to both the talent and heart of the guys wearing the Longhorn jerseys and, for a team with just one senior, may be a stepping stone for greater things to come.

[Editor's note: IT will have season-ending analysis and commentary in an upcoming report.]

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