The Horns inched closer to their first ever Big 12 Tournament championship and a possible #1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a solid win over Texas Tech this afternoon. Texas rode the strong play of its three best players, Aldridge, Tucker, and Gibson, to wear out the Red Raiders 77-70 in Dallas.
Aldridge and Tucker played all 40 minutes and each recorded a double-double, while Gibson played all but two minutes en rout to scoring 18 points. Player of the Game honors probably go to Aldridge, who just dominated Tech with 20 points and 16 rebounds (10 offensive), as well as three blocks.
The biggest story in my mind, though, was the strong play from Gibson. Picking up where he left off in the season finale against Oklahoma, Gibson played aggressive, smart basketball and looked like the floor leader Texas has sorely missed this year. I was especially pleased to see him drive to the basket on several occasions, and even when he missed, the penetration created opportunities for others. Gibson looks so much better than he has all year, and whatever Rick Barnes said to him seems to have stuck. If this is the Gibson Texas is getting for the NCAA tournament, I'll be hard pressed not to advance them to the Final Four in my bracket.
Texas survived a blistering Texas Tech three point attack in the second half, when they made 8 of their 16 attempts. It kept them in the game, but I never got the feeling watching the contest that they had any chance to win. Texas had far more talent and was playing well on offense.
The only real struggle for Texas came during a six minute second half stretch when Rick Barnes inexplicably used Connor Atchley. Now, Atchley has improved to the point where he's not -totally- worthless, as he was earlier in the year, but he's a far cry from Brad Buckman. Atchley contributes nothing to the half court offense and, in fact, bogs everything down. He manages to get in the way of teammates in an attempt to set screens and winds up completely ruining whatever flow there might be. Once Rick put Paulino back on the floor, things ran much smoother and Texas pulled back in front by 10 points.
The only reason Atchley was even getting those minutes, though, was the forgettable performance by Buckman, who managed an astounding line of: 8 minutes, 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 5 fouls. So Atchley wasn't the worst player on the day, after all! There's nothing to be worried about though; Buckman's fine. Just one of those days.
In the end, it was a quality win for the Horns over an unusually hot shooting Texas Tech team. While Tech managed to hang around, they didn't have much of a chance against Texas today. The only real concern is the heavy minutes played by Aldridge, Tucker, and Gibson. If the Horns have another tight game in the semifinals tomorrow, they may find themselves running on empty for the finals.
For now, it's a good win featuring great games from our best players, and solid contributions from the Paulino and Abrams. Texas will now relax and watch Colorado and Texas A&M fight for their NCAA lives and a chance to battle with Texas tomorrow.