Tucker, Aldridge Dominate at No. 6 Texas
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge were in street clothes last year when Texas started to struggle. Now, they’re leading the way as the sixth-ranked Longhorns plow through the Big 12 schedule.
Tucker and Aldridge missed 14 and 16 games, respectively, last season as Tucker struggled with his grades and Aldridge nursed a hip injury. Now they’re the top two scorers and rebounders for the Longhorns (20-3, 8-1), who are in first place in the conference.
Winners of 12 of their last 13 games, Texas plays Nebraska (15-7, 5-4) at home Saturday.
``We’re just trying to make the best of the opportunity. Just have fun,″ Tucker said. ``Play as hard as you can.″
Tucker is making a strong case for conference player of the year.
The muscular 6-foot-5 forward leads the Longhorns in scoring (16.8 points) and rebounds (9.4). His rebounding mark is best in the league, and he’s averaged 21 points and 13.6 boards the last three games.
Teams struggle to find a good matchup for him on either end of the floor. Tucker’s strength and balance allows him to take on bigger players near the basket and he’s quick enough to drive past defenders on the perimeter.
Although he moved from power forward to small forward, Tucker still does his best work close to the basket.
``Coach (Rick Barnes) finds the mismatch that will give the advantage down low. We’ll run plays that take advantage of that,″ Tucker said.
At 6-10, Aldridge knows first-hand what kind of problems Tucker creates for defenders big or small.
``No one can guard him,″ Aldridge said. ``He’s strong with a low center of gravity.″
Aldridge, who injured his hip last year against the Cornhuskers, creates the perfect complement to his bullish teammate.
A lean and long presence at center, he forces opponents to alter their shots near the basket and has developed a nifty array of offensive moves with a short hook and turnaround jumper. He has 44 blocks, averages 15.7 points and 9.1 rebounds and leads the Big 12 in double-doubles this season with 11.
``Aldridge is the best center in America,″ Texas Tech coach Bob Knight said after Aldridge scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 65-44 victory Monday night.
That’s when he can stay on the floor.
Aldridge’s biggest problem has been staying out of foul trouble. Before the win over Tech, he totaled just 10 points in wins over Missouri and Texas A&M.
Against A&M, Aldridge spent most of the game on the bench, opening the door for Aggies forward Joseph Jones to score 31 points.
Aldridge tends to leave his feet on shots or ball fakes by opponents. Barnes has implored him to stay still and use his height and length to his advantage.
``We told him all year he’s got to stay down defensively,″ Barnes said. ``He’s got to improve that. He’s too good of a player not to learn that lesson.″
Aldridge’s foul troubles also exposed a broader problem that could haunt the Longhorns: depth. Barnes relies heavily on a seven-man rotation with guard A.J. Abrams and forward Mike Williams coming off the bench.
Aldridge and Tucker both played all 40 minutes against Tech. Those kind of minutes could drain them later in the season.
Still, their presence has drastically eased the burden their teammates shouldered last season when they were out. Senior forward Brad Buckman was Texas’ workhorse under the basket over the second half of last season and appreciates the help.
``Having those two guys makes everything easier,″ Buckman said. ``Last year, I was the post guy getting the ball down low. Now I don’t have to get the ball as much. I can freelance and do whatever I want.″