Posted: Sunday March 19, 2006 10:52PM; Updated: Sunday March 19, 2006 11:29PM
Daniel Gibson was part of a much-improved performance from the Longhorns' guards.
DALLAS -- After a lackluster 60-52 win against Penn on Friday, Texas coach Rick Barnes was asked if he was relieved or disappointed by the Longhorns' play. "Are you kidding?" he replied. "If you think there are going to be blowouts [in the tournament], there are not."
He was wrong Sunday and happily so. In a 75-54 dismantling of North Carolina State, Texas played its most complete game away from Austin since early February and regained the look of a team that could challenge to be the last one standing.
The difference was guard play. Sophomore Daniel Gibson (17 points), freshman A.J. Abrams (16) and senior Kenton Paulino (8) attacked the bucket and combined to hit 8-of-18 3-pointers. The second-round performance was a complete turnaround from the first half of the Penn game in which the Longhorns received no scoring from any of their guards.
"Coach told the guards that we can't go a half without getting any production from our guards," Gibson said. "We came out aggressive [tonight] and played off our [big men]. It was a great team effort."
Improved guard play could be the difference between Texas losing in the next round to West Virginia or hanging around until the first weekend of April.
Player Who Impressed Me
P.J. Tucker, who grew up in the shadow of the N.C. State campus in Raleigh, did it all for Texas. The 6-foot-5 forward scored 17 points in a variety of ways -- driving to the bucket, leaners off the glass, baseline jumpers. His stat line also included a team-high 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals, but what the box score doesn't show is the numerous times he brought the ball up the court against N.C. State's pressure and the sticky defense he played on senior guard Cameron Bennerman, who finished the game with 16 points. "He does a lot," Barnes said, "and he is a guy who the other guys really look to."
Who was the first person to congratulate Barnes after he walked off the court at American Airlines Center? Texas football coach Mack Brown. ... Barnes said Paulino, who played Sunday with a sore left knee, will play Thursday against West Virginia. Paulino had his knee wrapped in ice after the game. ... Despite heavy rains and flooding in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the game drew 19,251. ... Bennerman has a unique game-day ritual: He always wears a blue T-shirt with a Superman logo. He says he doesn't do it to try to channel the Man of Steel. "I just think it's cool," he said. ... Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge has more than 900 songs on his iPod.
If their guards continue to play like they did Sunday, the 'Horns could find themselves playing in Indianapolis. They've already beaten West Virginia, 76-75 on Nov. 21, and, with Abrams more experienced, they're better than they were four months ago. However, an Elite Eight matchup against top-seeded Duke, which throttled Texas by 31 on Dec. 10, could await in Atlanta. "We're a confident group of guys," Gibson said. "We definitely think that we can go all the way."