No. 3 Texas Not Satisfied With Runner-Up Status

From a distance, all looks well with the Texas men’s basketball team, a deep and supremely talented squad that is peaking at just the right time.

Consider this…

A 22-5 record and a lofty No. 3 national ranking in both the latest Associated Press and ESPN-USA Today polls. A first-round bye and a No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament that runs Thursday through Sunday in Dallas. The warm afterglow of that 76-71 triumph at Oklahoma. Sensational sophomore point guard is the current Big 12 Player of the Week (and improves with each contest. T.J. Ford averaged 14.5 points, nine assists, and four rebounds in two wins last week).

So, why isn’t head coach Rick Barnes smiling? Because it isn’t enough!

"One goal (the players) expected for themselves that we didn’t achieve is the Big 12 championship," Barnes said. "I thought 13-3 would get it but Kansas was one better (at 14-2). Right now, going into the Big 12 Tournament, we want to go up there and get it."

Although it’s not exactly "Take Back Dallas" week for Texas hoops, Barnes’ bunch wants to bring home the hardware and preserve what it is expected to be an unprecedented No. 1 seed heading into the Big Dance.

For Texas, the madness begins 6 p.m., Friday, at the American Airlines Center, against the winner of the Thursday's Texas Tech-Baylor matchup. Texas swept both teams this season. In fact, Texas has not lost to the Bears in five years and has now posted 13 straight wins over the Sand Aggies, dating back to 1997.

"We’ve already been in four really good games with those guys," Barnes said. "Our players understand that nothing comes easy and have to earn everything we get."

The Burnt Orange crystal ball says Texas will face Tech, but who knows with Bob Knight’s schizophrenic team? Neither the Bears nor the Red Raiders will advance to the Big Dance unless they run the table in the Big 12 tourney.

Incredibly, Knight announced Monday that he will not accept his base salary from the past season (a reported $250,000) because neither he nor his team met expectations. It’s a heady move that should motivate his squad enough to be bad news for the Bears and then suffer another close loss to the Horns).

(Hey, Knight. What should Tech do with the money? "That’s none of your goddamn business.")

Tech is likely headed to an NIT berth while Baylor partisans will be left to ponder just how much their chances would improve for post-season play if they competed in the WAC.

Texas will likely advance to face yet another matchup against Oklahoma in the semifinals (assuming the Sooners defeat Colorado after the Buffaloes knock off Kansas State). The semis are set for approximately 3:20 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2/ESPN+).

"It seems like the last couple of years turned into that (OU-Texas matchup)," Barnes said. "I know how much players and coaches at both schools respect each other and how hard those games are, if it happens we got to be ready for it."

The Championship Game will tip-off at 2 p.m. (ESPN), Sunday, and will likely include Big 12 champ Kansas. The Jayhawks are the top seed for the fourth time in the seven-year history of the conference tournament. Kansas has won three Big 12 tourney titles (1997, 1998, 1999) while Oklahoma is two-time defending champion. Texas reached the championship game in 2001 before squandering a double-digit lead to No. 3 seed OU.

For now, the eyes of the Texas team are solely upon Friday night’s contest.

"I think our team has been a team that, all year, has looked only at the game right in front of them," Barnes said. "I don’t think they’ve ever given a thought to what’s down the road other than the next game. That’s where I want them to be right now. We realize the winner has to win three games and we have to worry about the first one."

TOMORROW: Does an NCAA No. 1 seed depend on Texas reaching the Big 12 final?

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