by Jason Paul RamÔrezDaily Cougar Staff
AUSTIN -- This time, there was no coming back. The Texas Longhorns saw to that.
Coming into Saturday's game at the Frank Erwin Center, the Houston Cougars had rallied from double-figure deficits in four of their Southwest Conference victories.
But not this time.
"(Houston) has been coming back and coming back," Texas coach Tom Penders said. "And I didn't care by how much we went up, I knew these guys (Cougars) were coming back."
With a little more than nine minutes left in the game, the Longhorns owned a still-surmountable 55-52 lead, but finished the game on a 25-9 run to take an 80-63 victory before 13,559.
"I think our guys thought that the comeback would just happen; instead of, making it happen," Houston coach Alvin Brooks said. "We'd create a turnover, then turn around and give (the ball) right back to them."
After falling behind 70-59 with 2:11 left in the game, the Cougars (10-8, 5-2 in the SWC) went the next 1:44 without scoring.
"It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if we took care of the ball, we'd be in good shape to win the ballgame," Brooks said. "But when you have 25 turnovers like we did and shoot 10-of-21 (48 percent) from the free-throw line, you're not going to beat many teams.
"Normally, teams that play against Texas that poorly get beat by 30 (points)."
But Houston was in the ballgame for much of the afternoon. In fact, they were on the verge of taking complete control in the first half before the Longhorns (12-6, 5-2 in the SWC) caught a little momentum to end the period.
At the 11:19 mark of the first half, Texas freshman guard Kris Clack had to be taken out of the ballgame with his second personal foul and the Longhorns up 20-15.
At the time, Clack had poured in eight points for the Horns and his substitution helped fuel a 14-2 run for Houston to go up 29-22 with 7:13 left to play before halftime.
Clack then returned to help Texas turn up its defensive intensity to cut the Cougars' lead to 29-27 with 5:36 left. But he then committed his third personal foul with 4:49 left, and Houston senior forward Tim Moore made one of two at the line, giving the Cougars a 30-27 lead.
Leading 37-34 in the final minute before the break; however, the Cougars broke down offensively and allowed the Horns to get back in it. Texas ended the half by scoring the next seven points to go ahead 41-37.
The worst part, however, was a three-point buzzer-beater by junior guard Reggie Freeman. Up until that point, Houston had held Freeman, the conference's leading scorer (24 points per game), to just two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
"That three was a big momentum lift for them," said Cougars junior guard Kenya Capers, who led all scorers with 19 points off the bench. "You could see the momentum change in their eyes. They were just a different team after (Texas' 7-0 run).
So was Freeman. The 6-6, 200-pounder scored 12 points in the second half to finish the game with a team-high 17.
A Brandy Perryman trey with 15:03 remaining gave Texas its biggest lead at 51-41, but once again, the Cougars came back on an 11-4 run to cut the lead to the 55-52 deficit the Cougars faced in the game's final 10 minutes.
"We beat a very good basketball team," Penders said. "We have all the respect in the world for Houston, and Alvin is one of those guys you root for when you're not playing against him."
The victory for Texas gives it a second-place tie with Houston as the two prepare to open the second half of conference play this week.
"We needed to win this game, Freeman said. "We lose this game and it puts us nowhere, to nowhere, in the conference race."
Houston, on the other hand, has a favorable schedule to look forward to in the second half. During the next slate of SWC games, the Cougars will host Texas Tech, Texas and Rice, three of the other top contenders in the league race.
"I like where we're at," Brooks said of UH's 5-2 conference record. "Tech still has to play at Houston and at Texas; Texas still has to play at Rice and us at home; and Rice still has to come see us, too."