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Sunday, March 30, 2003
Updated: April 4, 12:50 PM ET
Let's hair it for the 'Horns supporting cast

By Seth Wickersham
ESPN The Magazine

SAN ANTONIO -- One is bald. One isn't a natural blond. One could use a little of the second's hair gel.

Assembled in a line out of uniform, Sydmill Harris, Brian Boddicker and Brad Buckman might resemble an equal-opportunity band of hip-hop, pop and country. But with the joy of 2003 Final Four lids covering their doo's, or lack thereof, the Longhorns will ride this ragtag group as long as they keep bailing out their more-famous teammates.

Brian Boddicker
Brian Boddicker scored 15 of the 31 points Texas got off its bench.

Harris is the bald one and Boddicker's spiked doo sits next to him until both are summoned off the bench as well. Buckman is the freshman starter, but despite the long, floppy, mop, he often gets lost behind the flashbulbs that follow star guards T.J. Ford and Brandon Mouton. But in advancing to the Final Four with an 85-78 win over Michigan State, the Longhorns can thank these three for the trip to New Orleans.

Said coach Rick Barnes, "We got a huge lift from our bench."

Texas treated the mostly burnt Orange 30,159 to their first Final Four since 1947. (Quick aside: The NCAA has got to do something to make this a true "national" tournament. It's absurd that Texas' fans can sleep late, lumber in from Austin in an hour, outnumber State's fans 30-to-1, make the Spartans' ears ring, and get home in time to catch "The Simpsons." Teams like Michigan State deserve better than to be forced to overcome virtual home-court advantage this late in the season.)

Michigan State had its eyes on defending Ford and Mouton, and for the most part did so. Ford shot 4-for-12 while Mouton, who has brief spurts of wearing the country's "Most Shameless Chucker" crown, bricked his way to a 4-for-11 night. The young, overachieving Spartans had Texas stumped early. Then the bench broke loose.

Boddicker hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 8. Then Harris scored 10 points in six possessions to turn a four-point deficit into a 25-19 lead. When the Spartans clawed back to 25-24, Boddicker got an easy two and then hit a couple of 3s to put Texas up 41-30. It had the crowd here in Austin, oops San Antonio, stomping its boots like it was a Saturday night at Howl at the Moon.

"Boddicker's shots were wide open," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "Harris' were wide open. But you still have to hit 'em and they did."

"They were worried about T.J. driving and dishing and I got wide-open looks," said Boddicker, a 6-foot-8 forward. "Any time I get an open look I'm going to take it."

The second half belonged to Buckman. During a bizarre stretch where Texas went to the line on nine of 13 possessions, Buckman scored four points. As the Spartans tried to close a seven-point hole, Buckman wouldn't let up. He hit two free throws to put Texas ahead by nine with just under six minutes left, and put the Longhorns ahead 10 with a three-point play a minute later.

"I was really impressed with the physical play of Buckman," Izzo said.

Harris finished with 12, while Boddicker had 15 and Buckman added 11.

After the game, Mouton knew whom to thank, albeit in run-on sentences.

"The guys on the team understand their roles," he said. "And when they come in and don't try to do too much and they just play within themselves and today they did a great job of it."

The result is the Final Four, where Izzo -- he of three trips since 1999 -- thinks the Longhorns' bench marks them as a favorite.

"It's a challenge because they bring two real good shooters off the bench," he said. "They can bring the big bodies in, too. I think that's going to help them. We've played Kentucky, Oklahoma and Syracuse. This team has a real shot."

Seth Wickersham is a writer for ESPN The Magazine.