Bombs Away! No. 3 Texas Axes 'Jacks In Home Opener

In Texas' 81-56 home-opening win against Stephan F. Austin, the only element of suspense for the 9,658 on hand at the Erwin Center Saturday was whether the third-ranked Horns would shatter the school record for 3-point FG attempts (40). If it weren't for the tenacious defense and disciplined ball movement, you would think <B>Tom Penders </b>was back on the sideline after Texas launched 37 treys, connecting on 10.

"If you're open, it's hard to turn down those shots," said head coach Rick Barnes, whose squad improved to 2-0. "They were just daring us and double-daring us to shoot it."

But when the outmanned visitors attempted to congest the driving lanes by clogging the middle, it was simply a matter of choosing their poison. The Lumberjacks typically play man-to-man defense but surprised Texas by operating out of 1-3-1 zone in the first half. SFA went to a 2-3 zone during much of the final 20 minutes, but with neither squad shooting well (Texas was 27-of-70 for 38.6%; SFA was 16-of-51 for 31.4%), it was Texas' three-point barrage, pressing defense, 52-to-33 rebounding advantage and just overall superior talent that turned this one into a runaway early in the second half.

The zone was intended to keep the likes of T.J. Ford from slashing to the hole, according to SFA head coach Danny Kaspar.

"I've been working in this state for 25 years and I don't know if there is a better team (than UT) to have come through here since the mid-1980s when the University of Houston had its great teams," Kaspar said. "Rick Barnes is an excellent coach and he has a strong group. They do the job by committee, which is not a bad thing at all."

But if there is a chairman of board to this Longhorn committee, it would be president Ford. The sensational soph's stat sheet (10 assists, 4-of-11 for 9 points, one steal, and one soaring blocked shot that sent the ball at least three rows into the student section) fails to do justice to his gravity-defying feeds to teammates who still look surprised that, yes!, he really is able to get the ball into their hands through all that traffic.

"T.J. Ford is a marvelous player," Kaspar added. "He can beat you by himself no matter what you throw at him."

It's a bit harder to squeeze the warm-fuzzies out of Barnes, who wanted the selfless Ford to take at least 19 shots like he did in Texas' 77-71 win against No. 16 Georgia last week. He also was none too pleased with his team's 16 turnovers, 10 in the first half.

Brandon Mouton led all scorers with 18 points on a 7-of-13 showing, including 4-of-6 from three-point range. The junior hit a pair of treys to open the game as Texas jumped to a 10-2 lead.

"They did a great job of keeping the ball out of the paint," Mouton said. "The zone was so packed that they were basically giving us open shots."

The Horns held the visitors to just two field goals during the first 10 minutes of play. But the ‘Jacks hung tough, trimming a 12-point deficit to five with 8:20 remaining. But Texas would finish with a 21-8 run, as Ford's buzzer-beating 3-point swish gave Texas its largest lead of the first half, 42-29, going into intermission.

Things began to unravel for SFA when senior F Rashad Wright picked up his fourth foul with just under three minutes gone in the second half. That's when Mouton took over. His soft runner at the 16:38 mark upped UT's cushion to 49-32. Two minutes later, he nailed a 3-pointer as Texas increased its lead to 20, 54-34. Mouton then added a smashing dunk from a lob pass from Ford, and Texas never looked back.

When Wright returned minutes later, his lay-up ended a 17-2 Texas run.

Ford brought the Erwin Center faithful to their feet when he converted a steal into a slam (and then almost intercepted the in-bounds pass), as UT led, 70-40, with 8:29 left. He then picked up his 10th assist when he deftly scooped the ball to Deginald Erskin who laid it in to boost the lead to 32. (The feeling here is that the reason why the insurmountable lead didn't send Texas fans to the parking lot is that they stuck around to see what sort of slight-of-hand that master magician Ford would accomplish next. He simply is that amazing).

Now in his fifth season at Texas, Barnes' persona is engrained all over this team, as evidenced by the full court press that resulted in only one foul in the first 10 minutes of second half. A rub on Barnes has been that he works his guys to death defensively and that they run out of gas by season's end.

"We did get fatigued a little bit," Barnes said. "I asked Deginald (who missed most of the preseason with a shoulder injury) after the game how he was feeling and he said, ‘It's hard to play that hard.'"

But you have got to love a team that maintains its defensive intensity by pressing, trapping and relentlessly hustling for loose balls with a 30-point lead late in the game.

C James Thomas (the UT player Bobby Knight would most like to have on his team) registered the 13th double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 boards. Freshman Brad Buckman, one of three McDonalds All-Americans on this year's team, tallied 12 points (2-3 FG, 8-10 FT) in his Erwin Center debut. SFA C Percy Green paced his team with 14 points.

Barnes cleared the bench in this one, as every scholarship scored except Chris Ogden played.

The Horns now own a 5-0 mark against the Lumberjacks. Texas is 21-5 in home openers since hoops play began in the Erwin Center.

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