Jan. 15, 2000

By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer

AUSTIN, Texas - The more physical the game got, the harder Gabe Muoneke played - and the more he scored - against Oklahoma.

Muoneke scored 30 points, including 20 in the second half, as No. 15 Texas muscled past No. 16 Oklahoma and the Sooners' Eduardo Najera for a 79-66 victory Saturday night.

Muoneke, whose name in his parents' native Nigerian language means "spirit that creates," found it easy to create scoring chances for himself as Oklahoma concentrated on stopping Longhorns center Chris Mihm.

Muoneke finished 12-for-14 from the floor and was 6-for-9 from the foul line.

"Obviously we did a horrible job on Gabe," said Najera, who scored 28 points. "I think we did a horrible job of giving him easy baskets."

Actually, there were few easy baskets in a physical game that saw the teams combine for 46 fouls.

The crunching style of play allowed Texas, which came in shooting 61 percent from the foul line as a team, to get to the line often. The Longhorns (11-4, 3-0 Big 12) converted an uncharacteristic 28 of 34 free throws against the Sooners.

Muoneke, whose 13.5 scoring average is down from a year ago, started taking over the game in the first half with six straight points - on a dunk and two fade-away jumpers - to spark a 9-2 run that gave the Longhorns a 26-15 lead.

"I was not too happy with how I was playing," Muoneke said. "I thought I could help the team a little more. God did this thing for me."

Oklahoma (14-2, 2-1) came right back to cut the deficit to 28-24 after Najera and Tim Heskett hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Sooners.

But Muoneke, the Longhorns' most physically intimidating player, continued to thrive.

After Oklahoma closed to 37-34 on J.R. Raymond's 3-pointer, Muoneke scored seven points in an 11-6 run that gave the Longhorns a 48-40 lead with 13:59 left.

"Gabe got it going at the end of the first half," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "He was creating some looks inside and made some tough shots."

Heskett's 3-pointer got Oklahoma to 51-47 before Muoneke converted again on a layup that started another run that gave the Longhorns a 60-49 lead with 8:46 to play.

Najera did what he could to keep the Sooners close and finished 9-of-19 from the floor, but got little consistent help offensively as his teammates combined to hit just 12 field goals.

At one point in their matchup, Najera patted Muoneke's head after a foul was called. Muoneke, who served a one-game suspension last season for punching an opponent, stayed calm.

"I didn't appreciate that. In my country, a pat on the head is a sign of dominance. I had to let it go," Muoneke said.

"It means so much to him," said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who carefully watched Muoneke's emotions. "People have no idea how important this game is to him."

Both teams started their physical play from the opening tipoff. Although Mihm finished with 15 points, he was held without a field-goal attempt in the first half. The leading rebounder in the Big 12 finished with just six boards.

But Texas started taking advantage of the rough play immediately at the foul line. The Longhorns led 12-9 after nine minutes despite having just one field goal.

Mihm finished with 15 points and William Clay added 12 for Texas, which shot 76 percent from the floor in the second half and 57 percent for the game against the Big 12's best defense.

Raymond had 13 for Oklahoma, which shot 38 percent. Texas has held five of its last six opponents under 40 percent shooting.