The 2005-2006 Texas men's basketball team began the season as an experienced and reunited squad poised for a run at the national title. Back from injury was Lamarcus Aldridge and back from scholastic probation was PJ Tucker. Joining those two stars in the starting lineup were seniors Brad Buckman and Kenton Paulino and sophomore guard Daniel Gibson. These five were able to lead the Horns to their second ever conference title but fell short of their ultimate goal losing 80-70 in overtime to LSU in the Elite Eight.
Overall, this season will surely go down in history as a success even with the prevalence stagnant half court offense and the too premature end to the season.
Before we get to our season preview for this year, let's take a brief look back at last season.
The Horns began the season by cruising to back to back home wins over Southern and Samford in the first two rounds of the Guardian's Classic. They then traveled to Kansas City for the next two rounds. Thanks largely to free throw misses by Kevin Pittsnoggle and an all world last second blocked layup by Aldridge, Texas marched on to the finals after a one point victory. The Horns beat their second ranked opponent of the season, #18 Iowa, 68-59 to take the tournament title.
Texas was not tested again in the next two weeks pasting Louisiana-Monroe, Texas Pam-Am, and Texas-Arlington at home and then dominating Rice at the Toyota Center in Houston. This set up the biggest pre-NCAA tournament matchup of the season: Texas vs. Duke.
The trip to the Meadowlands cannot be forgotten soon enough. JJ Redick torched the overmatched Horns scoring 41 points while leading Duke to a 31 point blow out. If that wasn't enough, Buckman was also lost to injury during the debacle. His absence was felt firmly as the Horns dropped their second straight to Tennessee back at the Drum. Daniel Gibson also played only sparingly after suffering a concussion early in the game.
Texas stood at 8-2. By some media reports, they started over. It showed, and it worked. Texas began to play better defense, including an impressive 2-3 zone, and began to shine by playing team basketball. The newly committed Horns reeled off six straight wins including wins at #4 Memphis and over #3 Villanova.
The aforementioned six straight included two conference victories: Colorado at home (during which I missed a half court shot for two tickets anywhere American Airlines would take me) and at Iowa State. The Horns continued their fast conference start with three more victories over Texas Tech, Baylor in Waco, and Oklahoma State.
The streak came to halt on Saturday afternoon in Norman. With all the Sooner fans dressed in white, the home team dealt the Horns their first conference loss 82-72. Rick Barnes' club bounced back admirably running off another five straight wins: at Missouri, A&M, at Texas Tech, Nebraska, and Baylor. The Horns led the Big 12 with a 10-1 record.
Then, Texas laid an egg with their trip to Stillwater losing 81-60. The Horns didn't play defense, got outrebounded, and shot the ball poorly. The Cowboys dealt the Horns their worst non-Duke defeat of the season. Predictably, Texas got back to winning quickly by defeating Kansas State on the road and rolling a talented Kansas team at home.
The most talented team in the Big 12 was two wins away from an outright conference title. Unfortunately, they would have to settle for a split. The Aggies upset the Horns thanks to Acie Law's ridiculous three point jumper in College Station 46-43. Texas did take care of business with a home victory over Oklahoma to end the regular season with a 13-3 conference record.
Big 12 Tourney
Texas was the #1 seed in the tourney but given the format probably wasn't the favorite. The Horns did survive Tech and got revenge over the Aggies in the first two rounds before dropping the championship game to the deeper Kansas Jayhawks 80-68.
Texas stood at 27-6 and was rewarded with a #2 seed in the Atlanta Regional. The Horns also got to play their first two rounds close to home in Dallas. The Horns easily took care of Penn in round one and NC State in round two.
As expected, the next two steps to the Final Four were not as easy. For the second time this season, Texas beat West Virginia behind strong performances from Aldridge and Tucker. Thanks to an upset by LSU, Texas faced the Tigers instead of a rematch with the Dukies. The Final Four was within sight. However, it was not to be. LSU was an extremely athletic but very beatable team. The Tigers dominated the paint and took advantage of our slow start to overtime eventually prevailing 80-70. I felt this was a huge missed opportunity at the time and in hind sight think we weren't eliminated by a very average team.
The Horns finished the year 30-7 and ranked #9 in both polls. Even thought the season ended short of a championship, it would be foolish to label the '05-06 season anything but a huge success. Texas became one of only five schools to reach at least the Sweet 16 in four of the last five years. They became one of only six schools to make Elite Eight appearances in two of the last four years. They led the nation in rebounding margin at +10.6 per game. They finished 16-1 at home including an undefeated mark in Big 12 play. The Horns also had three players drafted in the NBA draft in June and the other two starters finished with career marks of 101-33, good for the most wins in a four year period in Texas basketball history.
A complete breakdown of this year's squad coming soon.