DALLAS (AP) -- Playing in an NBA arena, Texas center LaMarcus
Aldridge sure looked like he was in the right place.
From dunks to long jumpers, altered shots to broken-up passes,
plus rebound after rebound, the 6-foot-10 sophomore was at his
menacing best on both ends of the court Friday, carrying the No. 8
Longhorns past Texas Tech 77-70 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12
tournament and sealing Red Raiders coach Bob Knight's worst season
in 35 years.
Aldridge finished with 20 points, 16 rebounds and left no doubt
why he won the conference's first-ever defensive player of the year
award. The performance was especially meaningful to him because he
was playing not only in the home of the Dallas Mavericks, but
because he's from nearby Seagoville and had a lot of friends and
family in the building.
"I'm just like a kid in a candy store," Aldridge said.
This is his first conference tournament because a hip injury
ended his freshman season long before then. Texas was mediocre
after that, losing its first game in the Big 12 tournament and the
NCAA tournament. With him this season, the Longhorns (26-5) just
tied the school record for victories, a mark they can break
Saturday in a semifinal against Texas A&M.
"I'm just excited to be on the court," said Aldridge, who is
projected to be taken as high as first and probably no lower than
third if he turns pro after this season. "I wanted to play last
year, I wanted to help us win. I'm glad I have the chance now."
The Red Raiders (15-17) appeared headed to their third lopsided
loss to Texas this season, then rallied for a brief lead. They tied
it with 8:29 left and were within four twice in the final minute
but couldn't finish the rally, despite 28 points from Big 12
scoring leader Jarrius Jackson.
Knight had a losing record for the first time since going 11-13
with Army in 1970-71. He won the fewest games since that same
season and finished with three more losses than any of his previous
39 seasons. He's also probably going to miss the postseason for the
first time since 1976-77.
Knight closed the season with 869 career victories, third on the
major-college list behind Dean Smith (879) and Adolph Rupp (876).
"The one thing I really enjoyed today was our press
conference," Knight said while walking out of the room after no
questions were immediately asked.
He was probably glad not to talk about Aldridge, whose only
failure on the day was not getting the 18-20 rebounds he told coach
Rick Barnes he was after.
Aldridge made eight of 13 shots, with most of his misses errant
tip-in attempts. He had 10 offensive rebounds, blocked two shots
and stole a pass, although he altered a lot more shots and
disrupted several other passes.
There were several times when Aldridge followed a great
defensive play by hustling back and scoring. He hit several long
jumpers from the top of the key and turned a tougher one from the
wing into a three-point play. His timing was good, too, as many of
his best plays came when the Longhorns were either trying to hold
off the Red Raiders or were pulling away.
"He's 6-10, he's strong and he can jump," Tech's Alan Voskuil
said. "He's going to be great in the NBA."
Jackson bounced back from an awful shooting game in the opening
round, making going 8-for-16, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers.
Daniel Gibson scored 18 points for the Longhorns and Kenton
Paulino scored 13. P.J. Tucker, who received his Big 12 player of
the year award in a pregame ceremony, had 10 points and 13
rebounds. A.J. Abrams added 10 points and eight assists.
Texas won the two previous games against Tech by 34 and 21, and
seemed headed toward another easy one following an early 15-2
spurt. Then the Red Raiders opened the second half by making
hitting 7-of-8 shots, four of them 3-pointers, to get within two.
After Tech went ahead 50-49, Gibson immediately hit a 3 to put
Texas back in front. Then Aldridge broke up a pass, hustled back
and turned a rebound into his first big dunk. The Red Raiders had
one last spark, tying it at 54, then the Longhorns answered with a
"LaMarcus hasn't even began to go where he's going to go,"
Barnes said. "He has got a repertoire of things he's not yet
knowing how to use all at the same time."