Longhorns hook berth as lone No. 1 seed by halting Mich. State, 85-76

UT's 1st national semi since '47

30 foul shots in half help top 7th-seeded Spartans

NCAA Tournament

March 31, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO - Order was restored to the NCAA tournament yesterday at the Alamodome, where Texas upheld the honor of college basketball's No. 1 seeds.

The Longhorns attempted 30 free throws in the second half and subdued Michigan State, 85-76, in the South Regional final. With top-seeded Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma losing regional finals, Texas and coach Rick Barnes will go to New Orleans and the Superdome as the favorites in an offbeat Final Four.

Had the Longhorns lost, the Final Four would have been without a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1980. Texas will meet Syracuse in Saturday's semifinals. It last got that far in 1947, when the tournament consisted of only eight teams and the Final Four concept didn't exist.

The Longhorns (26-6) are the first team from the great state of Texas to go to the Final Four since 1983, when Houston lost to N.C. State in an epic championship game. College basketball tradition is lacking in a state that boasts of grandeur in everything from oil to music to high school football, but Barnes has Texas two wins away from an NCAA title thanks to an intriguing mix.

A Tobacco Road outsider at Clemson until he relocated in 1998, Barnes has had recruiting success in state, where South Regional Most Valuable Player T.J. Ford, Brian Boddicker and Brad Buckman looked up to local pros like Steve Francis, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan. Three starters - Royal Ivey, Brandon Mouton and James Thomas - supply big-city savvy thanks to their New York roots.

"I attended my first Final Four in 1979," said Barnes, who will be working his first. "I told my team, if I could do one thing for them, if they could get there and feel it, they would never question anything you ask of them. ... It's where we want to be. It's what we talked about from the first year.

"This weekend was great for University of Texas basketball. The atmosphere here was tremendous."

After beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena and taking down second-seeded Florida in Tampa in the second round, Michigan State (22-13) wasn't undone by a pro-Texas crowd of 30,169. The Spartans enjoyed a 38-28 rebound bulge but did run into trouble with the officials, as coach Tom Izzo, who had predicted "a fistfight," winced as the Longhorns got the most points and free throws, and fewest turnovers allowed by the Spartans this season.

"It was fairly physical under the basket, but touchy outside," said Izzo, whose team was attempting to become the first No. 7 seed to get to the Final Four since Virginia in 1984. "I wish we were half as physical as you guys write. We've never given up that many points. I guess that shows you what kind of team they are."

Izzo started with Kelvin Torbert but ran a series of defenders at Ford. The slick sophomore point guard scored 11 of his 19 points at the line and had a mean assist to turnover ratio, 10-2. Mouton, who had a career high against Connecticut Friday, got 16. Buckman posted up for 11 and the bench helped break it open in the first half, when the Spartans weren't as organized defending the perimeter as they had been two nights earlier against Maryland.

A 35.0 percent shooting team from beyond the arc, Texas made five straight threes at one point. Two came from Boddicker, a 6-foot-8 forward, and Sydmill Harris got another off the bench. His put the Longhorns ahead to stay at 18-16 with 11:22 left, and came on a feed from Terrell Ross, a graduate of Meade High and Allegany Community College who directed a mini-run that Michigan State could never overcome.

"All year long, we've depended upon our bench," Ford said. "That's what we expect them to do."

Ross was in because Ford had asked for a breather. Michigan State, which got a combined 29 points and 16 rebounds from freshman twin towers Erazem Lorbek and Paul Davis, had a chance to make it a one-possession game with 13 minutes left, but classmate Maurice Ager missed in transition and the Spartans could never get closer than five or the ball out of Ford's hands.

The 5-10 Ford was a landmark recruit out of Houston's Willowridge High. Barnes had three NCAA tournament career wins before Ford arrived, but four in the last two weekends alone. Before he could shake Izzo's hand after the final buzzer, Barnes wrapped Ford in a bear hug.

"I remember him walking out of Madison, Wis., last year with tears in his eyes," Barnes said of a 2002 tournament exit courtesy of Oregon. "Having that moment was special. The hug was heartfelt. My wife would probably like me to hug her like that. I haven't had a chance to do that the last couple of months."

Not the 1

This will be the 10th Final Four in which one or no No. 1 seeds participated (seeds in parentheses; boldface indicates champion):

1979: Indiana State (1), Michigan State (2), DePaul (2), Penn (9)

1980: Louisville (2), Iowa (5), Purdue (6), UCLA (8)

1989: Illinois (1), Duke (2), Michigan (3), Seton Hall (3)

1990: UNLV (1), Duke (3), Arkansas (4), Georgia Tech (4)

1992: Duke (1), Indiana (2), Cincinnati (4), Michigan (6)

1994: Arkansas (1), Arizona (2), Duke (2), Florida (3)

1995: UCLA (1), Arkansas (2), North Carolina (2), Oklahoma State (4)

1998: North Carolina (1), Kentucky (2), Stanford (3), Utah (3)

2000: Michigan State (1), Florida (5), North Carolina (8), Wisconsin (8)

2003: Texas (1), Kansas (2), Marquette (3), Syracuse (3)

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