"If he hadn't gotten hurt, I don't think we would have watched him play tonight," Barnes said. "He'd be in the NBA."
Tucker was right behind with 18 points (7-of-11 FG) while F Brad Buckman caught fire in the second period and finished with 16 (6-of-9).
The Horns advance to face Samford, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, in the second round after the Bulldogs came back to edge Sacramento State, 52-49. Texas is one of four host sites for the 16-team tournament with the winners advancing to the semi-finals in Kansas City on Nov. 21. If the seeds hold true, Texas would face No. 14 West Virginia on Monday and then No. 8 Kentucky for the championship on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Aldridge was virtually unstoppable in the low post, connecting on 9-of-11 shots while adding four blocks.
"I feel stronger down low," Aldridge said. "I feel like I can make more sound and quicker moves now."
It was Tucker's first game since he was declared academically ineligible for the remainder of the 2004-05 season on January 19. The junior shook off an early shoulder injury that sidelined him for several minutes at the beginning of the contest and was credited with seven rebounds, four steals and one blocked shot on the night.
"Every day I try go out get there and get better," he said. "After what happened last year, I don't take anything for granted. I always want to go out and give it my all. I was just playing hard every possession. After the game is over, you can't get that possession back."
Texas shot 49.3 percent (33-of-67) for the game, including 10-of-21 from three-point range. Nearly half of Texas' points (42) came in the paint on a night in which seven Horns connected from outside the arc.
Granted, it was just Southern, and it's only the first game of a long season, but this could be the best defensive team of Rick Barnes' tenure. The Horns held the Jaguars to 36 percent (24-of-67) from the floor while notching 12 blocks and 12 steals. Texas grabbed 43 rebounds, 28 on the defensive side of the glass. It was simply a relentless effort, fueled by the revolving door of fresh legs that disrupted countless fastbreaks and forced Southern to extend its offense, settling for 4-of-17 outside the arc.
Southern got on the scoreboard first before Tucker tallied five of Texas' first seven points, including a traditional three-point play. Aldridge's jumper capped a 9-0 Longhorn run. Consecutive Chris Alexander buckets cut the Texas lead, 16-11, before freshman guard A.J. Abrams scored the first points of his collegiate career with a nothin'-but-net, pull-up jumper. Tucker followed with a steal and layup to make it 20-11, Texas.
Gibson answered Alexander's shot from outside the arc with his first trey of the season to make it, 26-16. Otherwise, it was a relatively nondescript outing (by his standards) for Gibson, who finished with seven points (2-of-8 FG) and five assists. Tucker followed his bankshot with a layup on the no-look pass from Gibson. Aldridge brought the Erwin Center to its feet when he converted a Tucker miss into a putback slam.
"He's the total package," Barnes said of Aldridge. "He's everything every coach would like to have."
RS-freshman C Connor Atchley's first shot as a Longhorn rang true from Three-point Land to spot Texas a 37-18 advantage. Aldridge hit a turnaround jumphook before a pair of Tucker free throws gave Texas its largest lead of the half, 41-20, with 4:13 remaining. Junior G Deforrest Riley-Smith's third trey of the half trimmed the Texas margin, 44-32. Buckman's putback gave Texas a 46-32 lead heading into intermission.
Southern cut into the second-half Texas lead with six unanswered points to pull within 51-38 before an Aldridge bucket, followed by a Kenton Paulino trey, launched a 16-2 run. That's when Buckman got untracked, scoring nine of Texas' next 13 points, including a straightaway trey at the 14:53 mark. Paulino's steal and layup gave the Horns 14 unanswered points and a 65-38 cushion.
Texas hit back-to-back treys, the first from Abrams and then F Dion Dowell got in the stat sheet with his first FG of the season. That made it a 75-46 game, but the trend would continue. Buckman drained his second three-ball of the evening before freshman J.D. Lewis drained one from NBA range as Texas opened up a 84-53 bulge. Lewis capped the scoring with another shot from the parking lot to make it official, 89-56.
By that time, 11 Horns saw at least 10 minutes of action and 10 of them scored.
"I could go through the whole lineup because every guy out there did something good," said Barnes. "We can rebound the ball better and we had 16 turnovers. It's just a matter of cleaning it up."
And now that Tucker and Aldridge are back, the Horns should continue to clean up on the competition.