ESPN commentator Dick Vitale (on hand for the ball game) previously labeled Memphis as the "most underachieving team" in the country. The Tigers, a preseason Top 25 pick, showed flashes of brilliance and generally played like a hungry club desperate for a season-turning, statement game but were undermined by the episodic selfish play that has been its undoing. Texas raised its record to 11-2 while Memphis fell to 7-7 after playing one of the toughest pre-season slates in D-I hoops (including losses to Maryland, Syracuse and Pitt).
McDonald's All-American point guard Darius Washington, Memphis' version of Texas' Daniel Gibson, led all scorers with a career-high 23 points. But Tucker took matters into his own hands with Texas clinging to a 69-67. Memphis got the ball after Gibson missed a pair of free throws but, with less than 50 seconds left, Tucker picked Washington's pocket and drove it home, much to the delight of the season-high 12,022 in attendance.
"Daniel played great defense and got Memphis to lose the ball," the sophomore said. "I got it. I knew we needed a bucket to put the game away, so I just went in and dunked it."
Added Rick Barnes: "We were solid on defense tonight. That is where we got it done and made big plays. The key to our games is doing exactly what we are doing, which is focusing on the game at hand. These are talented teams we are defending, but our guys really held them tonight."
Tucker, one of four Longhorns to score in double figures, led his team with 18 points (5-of-11 FG, 8-of-10 FT) while adding four rebounds and one block in 40 minutes of work. The sophomore has been on a tear as of late, averaging 20 points the past six ballgames. Gibson would have enjoyed team-high honors had he knocked down his free throws during the waning seconds but he did nail a key three-pointer with the score knotted at 63 and less than five minutes remaining. The freshman finished with 17 points (4-of-9 FG, including 3-of-7 treys).
Texas got strong inside play from junior F Brad Buckman (12 points and four boards in 16 minutes) and almost single-handedly drew fouls on the entire Tiger front court. The Longhorns went to the line 37 times, connecting on 24 free throws (65 percent). Senior C Jason Klotz posted 11 points and four boards off the bench. Texas shot 44 percent (22-of-50) from the field, including 6-of-18 from beyond the arc.
Gibson's three-point play opened a 5-0 Longhorn lead. Washington answered with a traditional three-pointer as well, making it a 5-3 contest at the 18:27 mark. Senior G Kenny Taylor knocked down a trey before Klotz banked it home to open a 10-3 Longhorn lead.
Sean Banks, the 2003-04 Conference-USA Freshman of the Year, picked up two fouls in three seconds (both on inbounds plays) and immediately took a seat. (Banks was slapped with a three-game suspension earlier in the season.) He finished with 17 points, 14 in the second period, but often played as if he was the only Tiger on the court. His team boasts the kind of young talent that could make a serious run at the league title and claw its way into the Big Dance, but not with a group that is still learning that there is no 'I' in 'Team'.
Rodney Carney answered with a shot from beyond the arc but then Tucker powered his way past three defenders for the layup and a 12-6 Longhorn advantage. Following a Tiger turnover, Tucker pulled up, stopped and popped from eight feet out to make it a 14-6 contest. Memphis manufactured a 6-0 run capped by Anthony Rice's putback to cut into the deficit before Tucker responded with his third straight bucket as the Horns led, 16-12. Carney's jumper made it a two-point game before Buckman knocked down a trey. Gibson nailed a straightaway three to make it a 22-16 ball game.
Washington followed his steal with a three-point play to trim the deficit, 22-19, with 7:20 remaining until intermission. A pair of Klotz FTs extended the Longhorn lead, 28-21, but then Banks answered from three-point range. Banks' steal led to a Carney dunk on the alley-oop pass and the score stood at 28-26. Freshman F LaMarcus Aldridge answered with a 15-footer but Joey Dorsey slammed it home on the other end.
Freshman F Mike Williams sunk a pair from the charity stripe to give Texas a 32-28 lead. But after Washington hit one-of-two FTs, his steal, layup and three-point play tied the game at 32 with 2:36 remaining until the break. Tucker hit a pair of freebies after Anthony Rice was whistled for his third personal. But Carney's trey with 1:39 remaining gave Memphis its first lead. 35-34. Tucker was true from the free throw line on both attempts to tie the game at 36-all at half time.
The Tigers shot 39.6 percent from the field (21-of-53) but were just 8-of-25 from the floor during the final 20 minutes. Following Carney's bucket, Texas opened the second period with an 11-1 run to get some separation from the visitors. Gibson's trey reclaimed the lead for Texas, 39-38, followed by Taylor's steal and layup. Aldridge converted a Memphis turnover into a turn-around jumper to extend to Longhorn advantage.
Arthur Barclay hammered Buckman, denying the junior a driving layup but drawing the intentional foul. Buckman sank 'em both just before Rice was called for his fourth personal. Seconds later, Dorsey was whistled for his fourth personal after Buckman drew the foul. His free throws matched Texas' largest lead at 47-39 with 16:42 remaining.
Taylor hit nuthin' but net on the inbounds pass to maintain the Longhorn cushion, 51-43. Moments later, Duane Erwin became the third Memphis player whistled with his fourth personal with 14:21 remaining. But the Tigers would not go away.
Banks drilled a wide-open trey to narrow the lead, 53-48. Following a Taylor turnover, Banks connected again to make it a three-point game. Klotz hit back-to-back buckets (before hitting Simplice Njoya) to post a 57-51 UT lead. You would have thought that Taylor's trey, bringing the crowd to its feet and giving Texas its largest lead at 60-51, might have been the dagger.
Nope. Washington's bucket launched a 12-3 Memphis run. Moments later, Klotz slugged Njoya in thee low sternum, sending the wounded Tiger to the sideline as the officials missed the call. Banks' three-point play trimmed the Longhorn margin, 62-56. With nearly seven minutes remaining, Rice drained a three to make it a 63-61 nailbiter just before Gibson picked up his fourth personal.
Washington's backhanded finger roll at the 5:14 mark knotted the affair at 63. Moments later, Aldridge was called for traveling but the Tigers would not take a second half lead in the Horns' house. Memphis could not convert, and that's when Gibson knocked down his three-pointer to give Texas the lead for good. Washington's free throws cut the margin, 66-65, with 3:30 left. Buckman responded with a critical tip-in before fouling out seconds later.
Banks could only connect on one of two FTs to make it 68-67. Texas nursed a 69-67 lead following a pair of Gibson clankers from the charity stripe. But that's when Tucker emerged after a relatively quiet half, coming up with the biggest steal of the young season and sealing the deal with the jam. Klotz's free throw with 4.4 seconds left completed the scoring.
Texas opens Big 12 play, 2 p.m. (CST) Sunday at the Erwin Center in a Fox Sports Southwest telecast.