Just Chillin': No. 6 Horns Put Huskers On Ice

Junior G <B>Brandon Mouton </b>scored a season-high 24 points, including four-of-eight from beyond the arch, as the No. 6 Texas men's basketball team (17-4, 8-2 in Big 12) thumped the cellar-dwelling Cornhuskers 75-63, Saturday in the frozen tundra that is Lincoln, Nebraska in mid-February.

There was about as much ice blanketing the Midwestern landscape as there was in Mouton's veins, who scored Texas' final 12 points of the first half to break open a tight game. The harsh wintry weather meant Texas did not arrive in Lincoln until after 11 p.m. Friday as head coach Rick Barnes opted to skip the usual pre-game shoot around until early Saturday morning. But Texas shook off the jetlag and any potential emotional letdown from Monday's epic triumph over Oklahoma because it simply has too much depth and, on this, too much Mouton.

"Brandon was feeling good about what he was doing," Barnes said. "He carried us there in the first half, but the post guys were working hard. To their credit, Nebraska is a hard team to penetrate (alternating between a sagging man-to-man defense and a 2-3 zone)."

Nebraska is the only conference team with an overall losing record (9-14, 1-9 in Big 12 play) but with the tendency to keep it close at home (including last week's seven-point loss to league-leading Oklahoma State). As to be expected, this one was close for a while.

Texas jumped to a 7-0 lead, but with point guard T.J. Ford getting his weekly, one minute of rest on the bench, the Horns went scoreless on four possessions as Nebraska fought back, 17-16. Senior G Brennon Clemmons, pacing his team with 17 points, nailed a trey that ended a three-minute scoring drought for both teams to pull Nebraska within one, 19-18. Sophomore F John Turek's free throw tied the game at 19 with 7:07 remaining until halftime.

One minute later, three-point specialist G Sydmill Harris limped off the court with a reported twisted left knee and returned after intermission on crutches. Clemmons' layup put the Huskers up, 24-21, as the game neared the five-minute mark, but that's when Mouton went nuts.

A pair of Mouton buckets, followed by a trey, put Texas back up 28-26 with little more than three minutes till the half. With the game knotted at 28 with 2:48 remaining, Texas extended its defense as Mouton extending his scoring spree, adding a jumper, a trey and a layup, giving him 19 first-half points as Texas led 35-30, at the break.

For a while, the Horns first-half shooting percentage was about as high as the outside temperatures, but the Horns ended up at 41 percent at intermission.

"I thought we settled early for threes (4-of-14 from beyond the arch at halftime)," Barnes said, "but they are as hard as any team in the league to get the ball close to basket and they're going to make you shoot jump shots."

Still, Texas began to separate itself from the hosts when Mouton drained another trey with about three minutes gone in the second half to make it, 41-34. After Turek picked up his fourth personal, Ivey swished a three to make it 46-35. Junior F Brian Boddicker's inside move gave Texas its first double-digit lead at 50-41, followed by senior F Chris Ogden's second trey of the year.

Center James Thomas converted on an old-fashioned three-point play after the Big 12's leading rebounder registered a block, layup and free throw as Texas led 58-43, with 10: 56 remaining. Senior G Terrell Ross' bucket off a three-on-one break gave Texas its largest lead at 60-43.

The Huskers cut the Texas lead to 68-58 with three minutes remaining. But Thomas' blocked shot and subsequent slam dunk with 2:10 remaining signaled to the hometown fans that there would be no upset in Lincoln.

Thomas continues to see double, contributing 10 points and 12 boards. His 11.3 rebounds per game makes him chairman of the boards in the Big 12, NCAA No. 6. Ford has had a quiet scoring week, virtually shutout in the second half against Oklahoma and adding five points in this one. Still, the All-American dished out 10 assists and compensates with top-notch defensive play. Ivey continues to be a surprise scoring threat, adding 12 points (3-4 FG). The extent of Harris' injury would be determined either Sunday or Monday, Barnes said.

The road win, combined with Texas' triumph over No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 2 Louisville's upset loss, should make the Horns a solid Top 3 or 4 team when polls are released Monday afternoon as well as, amazingly, the No. 1 ranked team in the RPI. For the second straight week, Texas hosts ESPN's Big Monday telecast at 8 p.m. (CST), this time against Bobby Knight. (Oh, yeah. The provocative coaching icon is bringing his Texas Tech basketball team as well.) The UT football team will be honored at halftime for its Cotton Bowl win over LSU.

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