The Longhorns also got 18 points (6-of-13 FG, including four treys) from freshman G Daniel Gibson, just one point shy of tying his career scoring mark. Texas' 11-of-25 shooting from three-point range helped get separation in a surprisingly close contest in which the Horns did not take a double-digit lead until 9:33 remaining in the ball game.
Texas shot 29-of-53 (55 percent) from the field, placing four players in double-figures, while Baylor connected on 22-of-48 (45.8 percent). But Texas held the Bears without a FG during the final 7:03 to post a perfect 7-0 mark in Big 12 openers during the Barnes era. Texas, 12-2 on the season, has now won 39 of its past 40 home games. The game, however, was further evidence of Aldridge's steady emergence. One of four McDonald's All-Americans currently wearing the Burnt Orange, Aldridge was 5-of-6 from the floor (6-of-7 FT), while adding two assists and a steal during a career-best 33 minutes of work.
The freshman may be the hardest working player on the team.
"There's no question that he's put in more time than anyone," Barnes said. "It's amazing how much stronger and how much more physical he is. LaMarcus just continues to work at it. He gave us great presence inside. Of all our post players, he was the one that really got down low and wanted the ball deep in there. Good things eventually happen to guys who work as hard as he does."
Good things like his wicked, one-handed slam with 11:34 remaining to give Texas a 14-point lead. It atoned for a previous botched dunk.
"I did a better job of trying to post deep, get in rebound position and keep playing hard," Aldridge said. "I need to work on my right-hand dunk. I made my left-handed dunk but I missed the right one."
F Brad Buckman continues to be the kind of workhorse that we saw during post-season play two seasons ago. On Sunday, the junior notched 12 points (6-of-8 FG) and registered six blocks and grabbed eight boards. It was just a small indicator of how dominant Buckman can be.
"I think he needs to be more aggressive down in the low post because I don't think there's anybody out there who can stop him," Barnes said. "I don't think Bradley understands, and this is my fault, just how much we want him to be a guy that does it night in and night out. I don't think he understands how dominant he can be. There's nothing he can't do out there."
One of the things Texas can't do "out there" is turn the ball over 18 times, forcing 14, against stiffer Big 12 competition.
"Any time you shoot 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from the three, you feel pretty good about your numbers," Barnes said, "but the guys who we count on to handle the point (Gibson, Paulino) had nine turnovers between them. That's an area where we have to improve."
Speaking of improvement, Baylor is a program on the rebound and won't finish last in league play this year. (In fact, they didn't last year. The Aggies did.) The Bears brought a 7-3 mark to the Erwin Center, admittedly forged against much weaker competition but boasting a 73-72 win at Purdue on December 30. Suiting up just six scholarship players, Baylor hung tough with the No. 11/15 Longhorns during a first half that saw eight lead changes.
"Coach said 'Don't ever underestimate a team,'" Aldridge said. "I didn't think they were going to come up with the kind of drive that they had. They gave everything they had."
Baylor grabbed an early 8-5 lead after Texas opened with a 2-of-9 showing from the field. Paulino and Gibson triggered a barrage of treys (combining for 5-of-8 from outside the line as Texas looked like it might break the game open during the final 12 minutes of the opening period. Paulino's second trey in as many attempts spotted Texas a 14-12 lead. His third three-pointer made it 19-15 with 9:51 remaining. Gibson's trey gave Texas a 22-15 cushion.
C Tommy Swanson's trey capped a 7-2 Baylor run to cut into the Longhorn lead, 24-22. The Bears regained the lead, 27-26, after F Tim Bush followed his FTs with a bucket at the 6:15 mark.
"Coach always tells us were not going to get the game in the first eight (minutes)," Gibson said. "If you play the kind of ball that coach wants you to play, eventually you're going to be all right."
The Bear lead was short-lived when Gibson nailed his third trey of the afternoon. F Patrick Fields' three-pointer made it a one-point affair, 31-30. Following Aldridge's turnaround jumper, Swanson was whistled for his third personal with 3:09 remaining. Moments later, G Roscoe Biggers picked up a technical that allowed Gibson to sink a pair of freebies and then the ball.
Tucker's wrap-around lay-up made it 39-32, but Bush's three-pointer kept the Bears close at 39-35 with two minutes left. Kenny Taylor's second trey of the day gave Texas its largest lead of the opening frame at 43-35. A Brad Buckman FG completed the scoring just before time expired as Texas took a 45-37 lead into the dressing room.
"We just had to pick it up, get it going and pick up some stops," Paulino said. "In the first half, we were a little impatient and had some uncharacteristic turnovers."
Baylor got right back in it, 47-44, with Bush's three-pointer and freshman G Aaron Bruce's shot from just inside the arc. After Tucker laid it in, Taylor swiped the inbound pass, setting up Gibson's fastbreak FG. Buckman's slam dunk on the feed from Taylor made it 53-44, bringing most of the 7,839 in attendance to their feet. (The figure represents the actual turnstile count while the official attendance for ticketed fans was 11,483.)
Bush's third trey of the day brought the Bears back, 55-49, before Gibson answered with a three-pointer of his own. Aldridge's traditional three-point play gave Texas its first double-figure lead at 61-49 with 12:11 left. He followed that with a wicked, one-handed slam before Fields silenced the crowd with his shot from beyond the arc.
Bruce, who leads the conference in three-point shooting (54.8 percent) fouled out (11 points) with 9:33 remaining, sending Paulino to the charity stripe. His trey later made it a 70-56 ballgame. Swanson jumper with 7:03 remaining would be the last time the Bears drew nylon as Texas held Baylor without a FG the rest of the contest. Paulino's fifth three-pointer gave Texas a 73-58 advantage. Buckman's jumper gave the home team a 77-60 lead with 2:07 remaining while Aldridge completed the scoring with his slam dunk with 50 ticks on the game clock.
Texas outrebounded Baylor 38-17.
"Texas' job on the boards was the difference in the game," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
That, and overall talent. But the Bears compensated for nearly three-fourths of the contest with disciplined ball movement, heart and hustle.
Texas hits the road for a pair of conference games, starting with Wednesday's 7 p.m. (CST) matchup at Texas A&M (Fox Sports Southwest telecast). The Horns visit Nebraska Saturday in a 12:30 p.m. contest (ESPN+).