Longhorns lasso Spartans

Published 9:25 am Monday, March 31, 2003

By Staff
JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO -- As the final seconds ticked off, T.J. Ford dribbled to halfcourt, flashed the ''Hook 'em Horns'' sign to a sea of burnt orange in the crowd and hugged his grinning coach.
The star guard and the rest of the Texas Longhorns can celebrate all the way to the Final Four, the school's first trip there in 56 years.
Ford scored 19 points and had 10 assists in an 85-76 victory over Michigan State in the South Regional final Sunday, leaving the Longhorns as the only top-seeded team in the tournament.
They did it just 80 miles from their Austin campus, and in front of a crowd that filled the Alamodome with chants of ''Texas Fight'' and ''Final Four.'' Texas will play Syracuse next Saturday night in the semifinals.
The last time the Longhorns played in the Final Four was 1947, when the NCAA tournament field was only eight teams.
The Texas victory means the Big 12 will have two teams in the Final Four for the second straight year. Kansas, the league's regular-season champion, won the West Regional on Saturday.
The loss kept Michigan State from appearing in its fourth Final Four in five years.
The last time only one No. 1 seed made the Final Four was 2000, when top-seeded Michigan State won the national title.
Texas (26-6) 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 (22-13) with 15 points, and Erazem Lorbek had 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Spartans had a 38-28 rebounding advantage but couldn't match Texas' 49-percent shooting and 29-of-38 effort from the foul line. Texas never trailed after leading 18-16 in the first half, and the Spartans didn't get closer than five in the second.
Texas dictated the fast pace it wanted in the first half, shooting 53 percent as Boddicker and Harris combined to hit five 3-pointers to counter the Spartans' 23-11 rebounding advantage.
Izzo had predicted that the game would look like an ''old-fashioned fistfight,'' and it took on the expected physical tone right away.
The Spartans tried to frustrate Ford by closing down the paint on defense and bumping him with larger bodies, especially 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard Kelvin Torbert, who had five inches and 50 pounds on Ford.
The tactic seemed to work, as Ford appeared frustrated when he twice tumbled to the floor.
Instead of slashing, Ford started looking outside for Boddicker and Harris. Texas twice built 11-point leads, the last at 41-30 on Boddicker's 3-pointer with 3:01 left in the half.
Texas led 43-38 at halftime. It was the second-most points the Spartans gave up in the first half all season.
The Spartans started heating up from long range in the second half and cut a 10-point Texas lead to 59-54 when Torbert hit his second 3-pointer.
Frequent whistles slowed the game dramatically in the second half. Texas was in the shooting bonus with more than 13 minutes to play but couldn't sustain any momentum because of the frequent stops in play. Paul Davis converted a three-point play with 7:59 left, getting the Spartans within five at 66-61.
But they couldn't pull any closer, and the Longhorns kept getting to the line.
After a timeout, Mouton hit a short jumper and Buckman hit a pair of free throws and converted a three-point play on a strong layup over Erazem Lorbek.
Ford took over from there. With Torbert moved off him because of foul trouble, Ford started cutting to the basket again, hitting a driving layup and making two more free throws that made it 79-69 with 3:46 to play.
That's when the ''Texas Fight'' cheers got the loudest. Chris Hill quieted the crowd for a moment when his 3-pointer from the right wing made it 79-74 with 2:21 left.
Ford then fed James Thomas with another one of his spectacular assists, a sharp pass to Thomas under the basket. The layup helped Texas pull away for good.