Hoops: Texas stakes its claim to No. 1 seed

<b>T.J. Ford</b> has stolen <B>Hollis Price's</b> mojo.

The Texas point guard, with his money performance in Norman Saturday in the Horns' streak-busting 76-71 win over Price's Sooners, can now claim the Mr. Clutch label that is so often bestowed on Oklahoma's senior point guard. Over the game's final 10 minutes, as UT overcame a 15-point second half deficit, Ford scored 14 points (out of the team's 24), outpacing the entire OU squad (which scored nine) over that stretch.

After Royal Ivey tied it at 71 with a runner with just over a minute to play, UT's sophomore guard gave Texas its first lead of the day by hitting the first of two free throws. His second attempt caromed off the iron but Brian Boddicker snagged the rebound and, after a UT timeout, Ford drove from the arc to the right side of the lane with Quannas White in tow before nailing a 10-foot fall-away jumper with just four seconds left on the shot clock to extend the Texas lead to a three with 19.9 seconds to play.

Price, the former Mr. Clutch, who had a late turnover and a three-point miss for OU in UT's win in Austin last month, also missed the potential tying bucket with just over 10 seconds to play. Ford had him shadowed.

Price's shot would not be the Sooners' final chance. The officials gave Oklahoma a gift on the rebound of Price's miss. Ivey clearly had the ball while calling for a timeout, with nary a Sooner hand on the basketball, but a phantom jump ball call gave OU another opportunity. In-bounding from under the basket, the Sooners chose to go for a two-point bucket under the basket, but freshman Kevin Bookout bricked the short shot. Texas, though, couldn't control the rebound, and Bookout, while laying in the lane after a scramble for the ball, called a timeout with 5.6 seconds on the clock, giving Oklahoma another shot at the tie. The Sooners got a great top-of-the-key look from another OU freshman, DeAngelo Alexander, but his three-point try hit the front of the rim and then the backboard before falling into the hands of James Thomas. Thomas calmly sank both of his freebies to provide the final margin.

At the final buzzer, balloons were scheduled to rain down on the victorious Sooners in a celebration of their seniors, playing their final game in Lloyd Noble. The win would have been OU's 38th in a row and would probably have set the Sooners up for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a possible Big 12 regular season championship.

Instead, Texas celebrated a win with its freshman-, sophomore- and junior-led team and the resulting (probable) No. 1 NCAA seed and possible league title. The No. 4 Horns (22-5, 13-3) will share the Big 12 title if Missouri beats Kansas tomorrow in Columbia. Regardless of the outcome tomorrow, Texas will be the No. 2 seed in next week's Big 12 Tourney.

"Going into the season, one of the goals we talked about was to be conference champion," Rick Barnes said postgame. "The only way that can happen is with help from Missouri but I think we've done what we can do."

Indeed, although early on it didn't look to be such a glorious day for the good guys.

Texas almost lost this one in the final four minutes of the first half and the first several minutes of the second half.

After trailing by as many as seven in the first half, the Horns clawed back to within one at 35-34 on a Sydmill Harris three-pointer just inside the five-minute mark of the first 20 minutes. Texas, though, did not score again in the half while the Sooners reeled off seven straight points.

Then, after Ivey followed a Thomas miss to open the scoring after the break to pull the Horns within six at 42-36, Alexander pumped in six straight points (four on circus-like shots that were extremely well defended) and Johnnie Gilbert got free inside for an easy one to give OU its biggest lead of the day (to that point) at 50-36. Minutes later, the Sooners extended that lead to 15 at 58-43.

During the first half, the buckets came hard for the Horns (i.e. from long range) and far too easy for the Sooners. OU dominated UT on the boards, getting multiple opportunities on the offensive end and generally holding the Horns to single shots at the other end. At least 20 of Oklahoma's 42 first-half points came from within five feet of the bucket.

The Horns did manage to get the Sooners' big men into a bit of foul trouble in the opening period, with Jabahri Brown and Jozsef Szendrei both picking up three fouls in the half while Bookout was whistled for two but the foul situation didn't play a large part in the second half. UT outscored OU 42-29 after the break.

Ford led Texas with 18 points and 10 assists and added five rebounds. Ivey finished with 16 points, Brandon Mouton and Boddicker added 11 points and Thomas rounded out the Horns' double-digit scorers with 10.

Price, in a losing effort, led all scorers with 22 points, largely on his five of 10 shooting from beyond the arc (although he missed on his last three). The Sooners dropped to 21-6 overall and 12-4 in league play and will be the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament.

"You've gotta feel good about it," the Texas head coach said of the win and all it means, before adding a note of caution. "As they say, proud peacock today, feather duster tomorrow."

With Barnes in charge of this Austin Power, don't expect that to happen.

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