Hoops: Horns Shoot Down Cowboys, 80-46

A No. 4 national ranking. A nine-game winning streak. A spotless conference mark. It's official: Texas basketball is in the zone, and in more ways than one following an 80-46 shellacking of Oklahoma State in Austin Monday.

For the first time this season, Longhorn coach Rick Barnes stayed with a 2-3 zone for an entire ball game. It was a game-time decision, Barnes said, to zone it up against a taller lineup and a Cowboy team so young that their ponies still have training wheels.

"Our players came into this game knowing they were going to play man," Barnes noted, "and we never went to it."

The 34-point margin of victory ties for the largest Longhorn win in the history of the 66-game series, but Texas is doing it with defense. Nine wins ago, this was a team in search of an identity following consecutive losses to Duke and Tennessee by an average of 24 points. Since then, the makeover has come in the form of defensive tenacity and points-off-turnovers. The Horns have held every opponent to below 40 percent FG shooting during that nine game stretch and led the nation in FG percentage defense (.358) through January 16. During an ESPN 'Big Monday' telecast, UT limited Oklahoma State to just 34 percent (18-of-53). Texas collected 23 points off 20 Cowboy turnovers and held G JamesOn Curry well below his 13 ppg average with a 1-for-8 showing.

The Horns raised their record to 17-2 (5-0 Big 12) for the program's best start since the 1977-78 NIT Championship season.

Senior F Brad Buckman led all scorers with 19 points on a 7-of-9 showing, including 2-of-3 from outside the arc. Sophomore G Daniel Gibson picked up where he left off, following his 9-of-12 showing from three-point range at Baylor Saturday, by connecting on 5-of-10 three balls to finish with 18 points. He is 25-of-46 (.543) from three-point range in Big 12 play.

"We're rolling right now," Gibson said. "We feel like anything we can put our minds to, if we go out there and execute, we feel like we can get it done."

Cowboy coach Eddie Sutton has no delusions that his 12-7 (2-3 Big 12) Cowboy club that starts three freshmen is NCAA Tournament material. That's why he told his squad it would have play a perfect game, plus get a little help from Texas, to have a chance in this one. Instead...

"We played horrible guarding the three-point line," Sutton said. "It seems to me they out-toughed us on some rebounds... The thing that disappointed me the most is I didn't think we competed as well as some of the other teams we've brought here."

Some of Eddie's other teams haven't faced a Texas team with this many weapons. Four Horns finished with double figures as Texas shot 48.4 percent (31-of-64) from the floor, continuing its recent barrage from outside the line with 12-of-23 three-pointers (52.2 percent). Sophomore F LaMarcus Aldridge got untracked in the second period, contributing 14 points, four rebounds, two steals and one block. Junior F P.J. Tucker was one bucket shy of a double-double with eight points and 10 boards. Senior G Kenton Paulino, whom some consider Texas' best ball handler, tallied a career-best nine assists and no turnovers.

"The great part about our team is we have so many guys who can get it done on any given night," Tucker said. "People try to play tough defense on me and LaMarcus, but it opens up things for Daniel. Our strength is we can do something at every position. We feel like we have a mismatch coming into every game against anybody."

Gibson drained a pair of treys to spot Texas an early 13-6 lead. The Cowboys switched from their 2-3 zone to man defense, but that only got Texas' front court involved. Buckman, Aldridge and Tucker would combine for Texas' next 12 points before guard A.J. Abrams drained a three-ball from the right wing to make it a 28-12 ballgame. The freshman followed with another from outside the arc to stake a 17-point Longhorn lead, but Cowboy G Jamaal Brown countered with a three-pointer at the buzzer. The Horns took a 36-22 advantage into the locker room.

The Cowboys stuck with their man defense throughout the second period as the Texas lead gradually became insurmountable. The outcome of this one was never in doubt; the only question was when the lid would come off the basket for Aldridge. The big guy was held to one FG at Baylor and 2-of-8 from the field in the first period Monday. Aldridge followed his turnaround jumper with a traditional three-point play to give Texas a 45-27 cushion. It was deju vu all over again as Aldridge added another three-point play at the 12:17 mark. A pair of Gibson treys made it a 58-32 runaway.

But Tucker's highlight reel, one-hand slam on the alley-oop from Abrams was worth the price of admission, sending the announced 13,221 Erwin Center crowd through the rafters.

"I didn't think he was going to get it," Gibson said.

"He's mad because he can't dunk," Tucker responded.

Not to be outdone, Gibson's alley-oop lob from the top of the key resulted in an Aldridge dunk. Gibson followed with a traditional three-point play to push the Longhorn bulge to 70-40. Barnes began pulling his starters as freshman C Connor Atchley capped the scoring with a trey of his own.

It came as no surprise that most of the questions that the Horns fielded from the media had less to do with Monday's game as it did the immediate future of this team: Does the squad expect to run the table in the Big 12? Can it complete the Burnt Orange trifecta by adding a basketball national championship to those shared by the football and baseball programs?

"This team is playing great ball right now," Buckman said. "We can't let go. We have to keep our eye on the prize. We can't let go no matter what."

Next up, Texas travels to No. 24 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. (CST), Saturday, in an ESPN telecast.

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