No. 4 Texas Rocks The House, Tigers, 76-55

In the not-so-distant future (ideally, around late-March), the No. 4 Texas men’s basketball team will take the show on the road and fully tap the collective potential of the greatest band of hoops talent ever to wear the Orange and White. For now, Saturday’s 76-55 drubbing of a fast-and-physical Missouri squad in front of 14,021 hard-rockin’ groupies packed into the Erwin Center was a sneak preview of coming attractions.

Junior guard Brandon Mouton stole the spotlight by registering a season-high 20 points (9-of-14 FG) while co-star T. J. Ford added a clutch 15 (5-of-10 FG, 5-of-6 FT) to hold the Tigers at bay. With the win, Texas (13-2, 4-0 Big 12) maintained top billing in the league standings and equaled its longest winning streak during head coach Rick Barnestenure at eight games. The fifth-year UT head coach extended to 15 his school-record win total over AP Top 25 opponents (Tom Penders held the previous mark at 10, 1989-98). The No. 20/21 Tigers fell to 11-4, 2-2 Big 12.

The Horns executed Barnes’ scheme to near perfection (he will always find something to correct) by mitigating the double-threat of Missouri’s low post tandem (6-9, 265 C Arthur Johnson and 6-5, 212 F Rickey Paulding) as well as its outside presence (point guard Ricky Clemons). Johnson, Clemons and Paulding entered the game averaging 17 points each.

Barnes’ plan was to limit Johnson not by putting a bigger body on him but by running away from him. And running. And running.

"Our game plan was to run as much as we could," Barnes said. "One of the biggest things was to get our post guys running. We wanted to make (Johnson) run the floor as much as we could and try to wear him down. We also had to go out and get as many easy shots as possible."

Johnson was held to a quiet 10 points (4-of-12 FG) while Paulding got into early foul trouble and was held to nearly half his average (4-of-14, 9 points). Meanwhile, Missouri was the 10th opponent this season that Texas held to less than 40 percent shooting from the field (23-of-63, 36.5 percent).

The Tigers' junior point guard, though, is another story. Clemons contributed 16 points on a 6-of-19 showing (including 4-of-9 treys) but hit just two FG in the second half and, compounding his Saturday woes, will be arraigned later this week on second-degree domestic assault charges (according to a Saturday AP report). The ever-resourceful UT student section raised photocopies of Clemons police lineup mug shot, and booed lustily, every time he touched the ball.

Clemons was arrested January 17 after a St. Claire, Mo. woman accused him of choking her, according to reports. Missouri athletic officials suspended the Tigers’ scoring leader and the team was shellacked in a 76-56 road loss to Oklahoma State. After that, he was reinstated for presumably the remainder of the season.

Texas shot 44.1 percent for the game (26-of-59) but the Horns won this one with superior depth (22 bench points for Texas, 0 for Missouri), by controlling the boards in the second half (UT overcame a 27-19 halftime rebounding deficit by staking a 21-12 rebound advantage in the final 20 minutes) and by getting to the charity stripe. Texas connected on 22-of-30 free throws while Missouri was just 3-of-8 from the foul line.

"Coach has been telling us for weeks that we needed to get to the free throw line more," Mouton said. "We had to be aggressive offensively and to try to get them in foul trouble. We played good team defense today. We talked to each other a lot."

With Texas holding on to an 18-14 lead, Missouri head coach Quin Snyder (who looks like a cross between Mad Magazine cover-boy Alfred E. Newman and Alfalfa) picked up a technical the at 8:51 mark. Although Mouton clanked both free throws, the Horns reeled off eight unanswered points following Clemons' 18-footer. With the Tigers alternating between zone and man defense, junior F Brian Boddicker (playing the best ball of his career) collected both the bucket and the foul on a bullet from Ford. The sophomore followed the assist with a steal and lay-up, completing the run as Texas led 26-16 with 6:23 remaining.

Clemons' third trey of the first half closed the gap, 26-20. But Mouton (5-of-6 in the first half) took over with just more than five minutes remaining. Faking the three, Mouton’s jumper at the top of the key extended the Texas lead to 8. His trey at 1:19 pushed the UT margin to 35-22 before adding a free throw to complete the first-half scoring. Texas held Missouri without a bucket in the final 3:39 and the Tigers shot just 29 percent from the field in the first half.

The second half was a story of two big runs, and Missouri answered the second half buzzer with the first one. Johnson’s jumper at the 15:17 mark made it too close for comfort, 41-35. Following Boddicker’s jumper, Johnson backed into the paint for a turnaround jumper, capping a 17-8 Missouri run as the Longhorn lead was trimmed to 44-39.

Texas had gone nearly four minutes without a field goal until Ford’s jumper at 12:06. With Texas slowly rebuilding its lead, Ford grabbed a defensive board, directed a razzle-dazzle fast break which he capped with a driving lay-up with 9:05 remaining as Texas led, 56-46. Snyder screamed for time and -- quick, someone take a picture for Barnes scrapbook! -- the Erwin Center is rocking like a hurricane, just like Barnes hoped it would since leading the charge to bring students closer to the court.

During the next seven minutes, Texas would unleash a 19-6 run to turn this one into a laugher. From that point, Ford’s name is all over the play-by-play book (lay-ups, jumpers, free throws, rebounds, assists) but the acceleration, tenacity, peripheral vision, hustle and passion that this sophomore phenom brings to the floor can not be quantified on a stat sheet. The amazing thing is, despite his God-given ability, he is still learning the game (particularly from the scoring end), you can see the improvement from week-to-week, and you know this team (despite its outrageous depth) can go as far as Ford can carry it.

"I wouldn’t trade T.J. for any one," Barnes said.

Texas also took care of the ball, committing just eight turnovers (getting solid play from Terrell Ross, Ford’s back-up) while scoring 16 points off of 16 Missouri turnovers.

The Horns now have a critical ESPN ‘Big Monday’ game at Kansas, 8 pm (CST). The No. 6 (and falling) Jayhawks (13-5, 3-2 Big 12) have now dropped consecutive contests, including Saturday’s 91-74 home loss to top-ranked Arizona.

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