Texas vs. OU: Barnes' Biggest Monday Ever At UT

Texas versus Oklahoma. An ESPN &#145;Big Monday&#146; national telecast. A pair of Top 10 teams. If ESPN camera crews could capture the hate in this rivalry, they could sell it to terrorists. As it is, the primetime production from Austin (8 p.m. CST) will feature the nation&#146;s two best guards (UT&#146;s <B>T.J. Ford</B>, OU&#146;s <B>Hollis Price</B>) and what is head coach <B>Rick Barnes</B>&#146; biggest Monday ever at Texas.

Barnes has been building toward something like this since bringing students close enough to the court to get showered in players’ sweat but, more important, to become ravenous difference-makers in this kind of heavy-weight bout. In their last four home games, the Horns have averaged 13,947 fans. Texas has an 11-game home winning streak and is winning by an average of 20.4 ppg in Austin this season.

These days, students are lining up hours before game time to get choice seats. During warm-ups, the PA announcer warns the crowd about not getting too offensive and that all those noise-sticks in the student section are strictly prohibited during play. By tip-off Monday, the once placid Erwin Center should be nearing meltdown.

Sure, the Horns have had Big Monday wins over the likes of Connecticut, Kansas, Iowa State and Bobby Knight (as distinct from Texas Tech) in seasons past. But none of those rank higher than Monday’s tilt against the archest of rivals who have taken eight straight from the good guys.

Sure, Texas is a lock for the Tournament no matter what happens Monday. Still, it’s Oklahoma in a three-way tie for first in league standings at 7-1, while the 6-2 Horns can ill afford another Big 12 setback with road games looming at Oklahoma State and the return trip to Norman.

Depending on where Texas will stand in the latest Associated Press poll (released Monday afternoon), the tilt should mark only the third regular-season game pitting two AP Top 10 teams in the 26-year history of the Erwin Center. Monday's game, however, will mark the second straight Top 10 showdown in the arena as No. 3 Texas tallied a 78-65 victory against then No. 9 Oklahoma State in UT’s last home game, February 1.

Oklahoma is coming off a 91-42 win over Baylor Saturday, the second-largest (49 points) in conference play in OU history. The Sooners have now won 16 of their last 17 games against Big 12 foes, dropping a two-point loss at Oklahoma State last month. Texas rebounded from a disappointing loss at surprising Colorado last week to upend Texas A&M Saturday in their own pasture to raise its record to 15-4 on the season.

While Barnes has been pleading for his post players to step up, Monday’s game should be a showcase for guards. OU's guards have accounted for 69 percent of the team's points and 82 percent of its assists. Thanks to its strong guard play, Oklahoma leads the Big 12 with only 11.3 turnovers per game and has committed the same or fewer turnovers than its foes in 15 of its 19 games this year.

Meanwhile, Texas counters with Brandon Mouton, Royal Ivey and sensational sophomore T.J. Ford.

What else can be said about Ford, other than that the only freshman ever to lead the NCAA in assists is averaging a team-leading 15 points as a sophomore, 18.1 points in Big 12 play.

What else can be said about Price, other than that he has now made 51 of his last 52 free throw attempts and leads Big 12 with a .939 season mark. Meanwhile, his .856 career free throw percentage is tops among all-time Sooners.

The ‘X Factor’ on Monday could be Ivey. Known as arguably the best defensive guard in the conference, Ivey has averaged 15.0 points per game while hitting 15-of-23 (.652) from the field in the past three games. He registered a season-high 17 against No. 9 Oklahoma State, had 12 points at Colorado, then contributed 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and four assists in Saturday's win at Texas A&M.

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