NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) - A pair of superstars square off Saturday when T.J. Ford and Texas meet Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse in the second national semifinal at the Louisiana Superdome.
Ford and Anthony each was named the Most Outstanding Player of his respective region in leading Texas and Syracuse to this point. Ford is the Naismith Award winner and Anthony is the national Freshman of the Year.
"We know Texas is one of the most physical teams in the country," Anthony said. "We know they like to run and gun with T.J. When he's got the ball in his hands, we've got to try to contain him and keep him in front of us."
Texas (26-6) has reached the Final Four for the first time since 1947, when the NCAA Tournament had only eight teams. The Longhorns lost to Wyoming in the 1943 championship, when the field had four teams.
"We are not satisfied with making it to the Final Four," Ford said. "Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship. We've made it this far because it is a team effort and a team sport and we are going to do the best we can."
Ford had 19 points and 10 assists as Texas moved into the Final Four with Sunday's 85-76 victory over Michigan State. Ford, a sophomore considering entering the NBA draft, did not shoot the ball well from the floor, but made 11-of-13 at the line.
Ford has made just 7-of-27 shots in the last two NCAA Tournament games. Still, he has fearlessly led a team with no seniors in the starting lineup into the Final Four although the Longhorns were considered the weakest top seed in the field. They are the only top seed to reach the Final Four.
Texas has a pair of players besides Ford who average in double figures in Louisiana native Brandon Mouton and James Thomas. Mouton averages 14.4 points while starting center Thomas contributes 11.1 points and 11.1 rebounds.
Thomas is a native of Schnectady, New York who was recruited by Syracuse. Ironically, the Orangemen's starting center is Jeremy McNeil, who is a San Antonio native.
The Longhorns also boast impressive depth with 10 players averaging 10 or more minutes. Reserves Sydmill Harris and Brian Boddicker combined for 27 points against Michigan State.
"Ford is the best point guard in the country and the player of the year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They're big and physical. They've got all the answers like all the teams playing right now."
Syracuse (28-5) has also never won a national championship and will make Boeheim's third Final Four appearance. The Orangemen suffered a 74-73 national title game loss to Indiana in New Orleans in 1987 and also lost to Kentucky in the 1996 championship.
Anthony collected 20 points and 10 rebounds as Syracuse cruised to a 63-47 victory over Oklahoma to capture the East Regional. He scored 12 points in the first half after scoreless first halves in Syracuse's two previous NCAA Tournament games.
Hakim Warrick added 13 points and nine rebounds as Syracuse shot 52 percent. But the story of the game was the defense of the Orangemen, who used Boeheim's famed 2-3 zone defense to limit Oklahoma to 18 baskets.
"His zone has always been good," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "The one he's got now is the length of his players - big and athletic - taking away gaps. I'm not sure he's changed that much in his philosophy or the way he's taught the zone but I like his personnel. I think they are a great zone team, primarily being the zone and the way they rebound out of it."
Boeheim is 2-0 in national semifinals, defeating Providence in 1987 and Mississippi State in 1996.
The schools have never met. Texas is 2-1 against Big East Conference opponents this season with wins over Seton Hall and Connecticut and a loss to Notre Dame. Syracuse is 3-0 against the Big 12, defeating Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
The winner will face Kansas or Marquette in Monday's title game.