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Saturday, April 5, 2003

Texas at a glance: Final Four huge for UT’s Barnes

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This is Texas' first trip to the Final Four in the modern era of college basketball, and getting there has been the focus of coach Rick Barnes' recruiting. It is the dream on which he has based his program and what attracted many of the players on his 10-deep roster.

"This means a lot," point guard T.J. Ford said, "to know this will be very important for (Barnes') career and for ours."

Junior guard Royal Ivey said the fact that the Longhorns are going to the Final Four has "hit me right now. This is a big accomplishment that we've been working toward all year long. It was one of our goals, and now we've made it. I'm elated."

Texas (26-6)

How the Longhorns got to New Orleans: Defeated No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville 82-61 in the first round; defeated No. 9 seed Purdue 77-67 in second round; defeated No. 5 seed Connecticut 82-78 in regional semifinals; defeated No. 7 seed Michigan State in regional championship.

Why they got there: This is a team with a star player in T.J. Ford, a perimeter defensive stopper (Royal Ivey), a tenacious rebounder (James Thomas), a scorer (Brandon Mouton) and a slew of role players who add up to a 10-deep roster. They are also bound by purpose and, with minor blips, have played with consistent, steady purpose. Sometimes flashy, always businesslike, they have a tendency not to put teams away until late in games, when, in tournament competition, they have been at their best.

NCAA Tournament history: This is Texas' 21st appearance in the tournament, in which the Longhorns are 23-23. Texas reached the Final Four eons ago in 1943 and 1947, but the furthest they had advanced in the modern era was an Elite Eight berth under Tom Penders in 1990 when the Longhorns lost to Arkansas in the regional championship.

Last Final Four trip: Texas advanced in 1947 out of an eight-team field by defeating Wyoming 42-40 before losing to Oklahoma 55-54.

Star player: Point guard T.J. Ford last season became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists, and followed that up by winning the Naismith Award as college basketball's player of the year. Ford has lived up to that billing in the tournament, winning the award as the South Region's most outstanding player.

Role player: Junior forward Brian Boddicker could start, but prefers to come in off the bench. His three-point shooting ability brings the player who guards him out on the floor and frequently opens up the middle for guards such as Royal Ivey and Brandon Mouton to get put-backs. Boddicker is also the team's fourth-leading rebounder.

Trivia time: The song Texas Fight in 1990 was judged the ninth-best fight song in the country.

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