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Still dancing: Texas is lone No. 1 in Final Four



Published: Mon, March 31, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Longhorns haven't been to the national semifinals in 56 years.

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- T.J. Ford's shot was off, way off.

Yet the Texas point guard wasn't going to let that stop him. The Longhorns were one win from the Final Four and he was determined to get them there.

Driving recklessly to the basket in hopes of passing to an open teammate or getting fouled, Ford pushed Texas past Michigan State 85-76 Sunday in the South Regional final.

"He finds a way to win," Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. "He finds a way to get it done. T.J. made things happen."

Visits to the line

Ford was 4-of-12 from the field, sinking three layups and just one jumper. But he went to the free throw line 13 times, making 11, for a game-high 19 points.

The sophomore sparkplug also had 10 assists as Texas (26-6) scored the most points the Spartans (22-13) allowed all season.

"They were tough," Ford said. "They made me work for everything."

In eliminating the lowest seed that made the regional finals, the Longhorns became the only No. 1 seed to reach New Orleans. The other three No. 1 seeds lost in their regional finals -- Kentucky and Arizona on Saturday and Oklahoma on Sunday.

Texas will make its first appearance in the national semifinals in 56 years Saturday night against Syracuse.

Ford couldn't wait to begin celebrating the feat. As the final seconds ticked away, he dribbled to midcourt, flashed the Hook 'em Horns sign to the burnt orange boosters who filled the Alamodome and hugged his grinning coach.

"It was just a great moment to know we're going to New Orleans," Ford said.

Added Barnes, "My wife probably wishes I would hug her like that at this time of year. I'm sure I haven't hugged her like that in the last three months."

The Texas victory means the Big 12 will have two teams in the Final Four for the second straight year. Kansas, the conference's regular season champion, won the West Regional on Saturday.

From long distance

The Longhorns took control midway through the first half when Sydmill Harris hit a 3-pointer for an 18-16 lead. Four of Texas' final five baskets before halftime were from behind the arc, and several came on wide-open looks.

Michigan State had allowed only 29, 27 and 24 points by halftime in the tournament. Texas had 43.

"That part is disappointing because defense has been our strength all season, especially the last month," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.

In the second half, Michigan State was never closer than five but never behind by more than 11. The Spartans kept it close and were hoping for one last run when Chris Hill hit a 3-pointer with 2:21 remaining.

"We felt like if we could get a stop and another quick score, we were going to have a great chance at the end," Hill said.

Michigan State didn't make another basket and got just two free throws the rest of the way. An intentional foul by Alan Anderson with 58 seconds remaining hurt the Spartans, then their final possession ended with James Thomas intercepting Hill's pass.

Balanced scoring

Texas had five players score in double figures. Brandon Mouton had 16, Brian Boddicker 15, Sydmill Harris 12 and Brad Buckman 11 as the Longhorns tied the school record for victories in a season.

Paul Davis led Michigan State with 15 points, and Erazem Lorbek had 14 points and nine rebounds.

"They've got all the key ingredients to win a championship," Spartans forward Aloysius Anagonye, who was on the 2000 title team, said of Texas. "Rebounding, the guard play and the defense."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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