Who got the better of the matchup? There's no easy answer and the verdicts were mixed from those in attendance. But Team Texas took down the Jackson Tigers, 61-56, in the quarterfinals of the Boo Williams Invitational and Aldridge was all smiles.
"I got him," Aldridge said postgame with a wide grin.
Jefferson outscored him handily and showed his dominating power in the paint, but Aldridge had more memorable moments, especially on the defensive end.
And Jefferson set the tone from the outset, scoring the game's first basket with an offensive putback after moving Aldridge off the block, as the Tigers took an early lead.
Several minutes later, Aldridge answered back, emphatically rejecting a short Jefferson shot. And he continued to impact the game defensively, denying numerous entry passes despite the powerful presence posting him up (he stole a total of four entry passes on the night).
Jefferson, meanwhile, was piling up points by setting up low, turning and either scoring or drawing the foul against the collapsing double- and triple-team, even going up and under for an and-one twice. He totaled 16 points in the half and his team trailed Team Texas, 30-26.
What turned the tide for Team Texas at the end of the first half and carried into the second was their full-court press, forcing turnovers and preventing Jackson from setting up the half-court offense.
And Aldridge thrived in that setting. On defense, his speed and wingspan are lethal in the press and he's quick to get back for a block. On offense, he's the first down the floor – on every single play – making assists easy for his point guard, Jason Horton.
"No matter how big you are and how strong you are, I'm still going to beat you down the floor no matter what," he said.
Thanks in part to the press, Team Texas held off Jackson for the entire half, leading 52-48 with under two minutes remaining, when Jackson resorted to fouling and Horton sank eight free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Jefferson finished with 22 points (7-13 fg, 0-3 3pt, 8-9 ft), 6 rebounds, 1 block and 1 turnover. In total, Jefferson had two baskets while one-on-one against Aldridge, in a simple case of overpowering size and strength in his drop-step, but no other points were scored in the head-to-head situation.
"It was a challenge," the exhausted Jefferson said of the matchup.
"He's good," Aldridge said. "It was interesting because I didn't know how he'd come out. I like the contact – I'm getting aggressive and I like that contact now."
Aldridge filled his stat line with 11 points (4-10 fg, 0-4 3pt, 3-6 ft), 6 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 steals, 3 assists and 1 turnover.
"I did all right – my free throws weren't falling, but man, I was tired," he said, after his third game of the day and fourth in 24 hours.
So who is the better player? The jury is out on that question but the consensus is in on another question – both are among the top talents in 2004 and a case can be made for either as No. 1 in the class, though Dwight Howard might have something to say about that later this summer.
Check out IC's profile of Lamarcus Aldridge.
Check out IC's profile of Al Jefferson.