Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Alamodome hits home with Texas

March 30, 2003


— With one more win today, the Texas Longhorns can add to their impressive list of accomplishments this season. They can advance to the Final Four for the first time in modern basketball. And if they do so, they can cap a perfect season at home with a record mark of 16-0.

For where the Longhorns opened the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament with a win Friday over Connecticut may as well have been called Erwin Center South. To the Huskies' unfair disadvantage, there was absolutely nothing neutral about the Alamodome.

This time, there was nothing to criticize about Orangeblood fans. They turned out early. They stayed until after it was over. And in between, they were loud. The cheer "Texas fight" reverberated inside the cavernous dome.

There was nothing but a curtain of burnt orange behind each of the baskets for as high up as the eye could see. There was a burnt orange sea behind the Texas bench and across the court from the Connecticut bench. And here and there, there were little patches of Texas dabbed into visiting-team sections.

The announced crowd for the Texas game was 33,009. That made it the fourth-largest crowd to see a Texas basketball game.

At least three-quarters of the crowd was Texas. That made it the largest home crowd to see a Texas basketball game.

That wasn't right. The NCAA selection committee should never allow such a thing to happen again. Not for any team. It is patently unfair. And it doesn't have to be so. The committee can make sure that no team winds up playing with such an overwhelming home-court advantage.

It is a good idea to reward top seeds like Texas by keeping them close to their fan base, but it is a bad idea to allow them to play in arenas that they can turn into home gymnasiums.

"Near the end of the game," said a smiling Texas point guard T.J. Ford, "Brandon (Mouton) and I looked up at all the fans we had, and it was great. It helped us out a lot."

To the Huskies' credit, they didn't complain much about the environment in the aftermath of falling four points short, 82-78. They took it like the competitors they turned out to be. They didn't whine.

"With two minutes to go, did you know who was going to win the game? I didn't," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "We were able with determination and heart to negate this situation. To the victors go the spoils. The fact that Texas was here, I don't have any (complaints) about that."

On the eve of the game, however, the always-candid Calhoun criticized, although in a joking manner, the Longhorns' luck of getting to play just an hour's drive or so from campus.

It would be a discredit to Texas coach Rick Barnes and his players to overlook the fact that they ultimately decided the game Friday. Despite shooting horribly as a team, they outplayed the Huskies in a number of other critical areas. They grabbed 52 rebounds, or 11 more than the Huskies. They made 80 percent of their free throws to just 56 percent by the Huskies.

Michigan State, which defeated Maryland Friday, plays Texas today and should, unfortunately for them, expect even more.

The Longhorns may never get such an advantage to springboard to the Final Four. A loss today will be a blown opportunity.

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