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No. 1 for a Reason

Texas, the South's top-seeded team, turns back Purdue, 77-67, and hopes to capitalize on home-state advantage.

March 24, 2003|From Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Triple-threat T.J. Ford and his Texas teammates are going home -- to keep playing in the NCAA tournament, that is.

Ford shook loose in the second half and the Longhorns followed his lead, defeating Purdue, 77-67, Sunday in the second round of the South Regional.

Considered by some to be the best guard in college basketball, Ford scored 21 points and had nine rebounds and eight assists.

"We're not a one-man team," Ford said.

Maybe, but it was hard to tell by the way the fast, 5-foot-10 point guard controlled the tempo down the stretch. Fittingly, Ford dribbled out the final seconds, spiking the ball near midcourt at the buzzer. It was a fun way for Ford to spend his last day as a teenager. He turns 20 on Monday.

Now, Ford and the top-seeded Longhorns (24-6) can take their traveling party back to Texas. They're headed to San Antonio, where they'll take on fifth-seeded Connecticut on Friday at the Alamodome.

"It means a lot," Ford said. "We're going to use the home-court advantage. It just feels good they believed we were going to get there."

Ford got off to an uncharacteristically poor start. Limited to five points and two assists with four turnovers at halftime, the Longhorns needed him to open up after the break, and he did.

"When you look at the line on T.J. Ford, it says he's as good as everybody says he is," Purdue Coach Gene Keady said.

James Thomas contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds and Royal Ivey had 14 points as Texas reached the round of 16 for the second consecutive year, a first for the program.

Willie Deane's disputed three-pointer at the halftime buzzer put Purdue ahead, 31-30, and sent the ninth-seeded Boilermakers running to the locker room shouting, "We're for real!"

But Deane, the team's leading scorer, missed all seven shots in the second half. Purdue (19-11) fell short of making the round of 16 for the fourth time in six years.

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