"He's kind of quiet," Aldridge said. "I call him a 'silent assassin.' People always forget about him but he always comes through when we need him."
Not that there was much danger of Texas dropping a home game to Nebraska for the first time, but somebody to light a fuse under the Horns ice-cold offense. The opening period was U-G-L-Y for Texas, which misfired on 18 of its first 23 FG attempts. Paulino's three-pointer had the effect of raising the temperature in the cavernous building, giving Texas a 48-39 lead less than five minutes into the second period. His driving layup gave Texas its first double-digit lead, 52-41. Paulino converted his steal into an uncontested layup, and then followed with a three-ball from the right wing to extend the cushion, 58-41.
The Horns raised their record to 21-3 while Nebraska fell to 15-8. It represents the program's best showing through 24 games since the 1946-47 Longhorns started at 23-1 on the way to the Final Four. Texas is now 9-1 in Big 12 play, holding a 1-game lead over second-place Kansas. When the Jayhawks and ESPN College GameDay visit Austin in two weeks, the word will already be out on Texas' "silent assassin." Now, if only that word would reach Paulino. The senior has fought for minutes on teams that have fielded consensus All-American T.J. Ford and prep All-American Daniel Gibson. That's why he has as much of a tendency to discount his contributions as have opponents.
"I've always told Kenton that he sells himself short," head coach Rick Barnes said. "He's a much better basketball player than he thinks he is. He's got a great pace to his game. You're not going to speed him up much. He's really embraced the fact that he wants to run the team. He's comfortable now. He knows his teammates. He knows what we need to work our way into."
Paulino has been 'silent' but deadly since assuming the point guard spot from Gibson on December 22, following consecutive losses to Duke and Tennessee. Paulino has averaged 11.8 points during the past 17 ballgames after notching just 4.9 ppg in the seven previous contests. He has reached double-figures in 11 of the past 17 contests.
"It opened up my game a lot," Paulino said of his move from the two-spot. "Defenses collapse on the other guys and I've been getting open looks."
Open looks came at a premium during the early going Saturday, at least for the Longhorns in the low post. The Huskers sported a sagging defense that filled the paint but gave the backcourt room to roam around the perimeter. It made for a tough afternoon for scoring-leader P.J. Tucker, who managed just 3-of-11 FG and never went to the line. He was whistled for his third personal with just 79 seconds eclipsed from the second period after starting 0-for-7 from the field. He had averaged 21 ppg and 13.7 rpg during the past three ball games, averaging 16.8 ppg overall prior to Saturday's contest.
F Brad Buckman was 3-of- 8 from the field -- he made all four of his foul shots -- but those 12 points were enough to put the senior in elite company. He joins 25 other Longhorns who have scored 1,000+ points in 100 years of Texas hoops. Buckman now has 1,004 points on his resume. Gibson was the fourth Longhorn to score in double figures, adding 13 points (4-of-11 FG) and four assists.
Three straight Cornhusker three-balls erased an early six-point Longhorn lead, resulting in a 20-15 deficit for the home team. Paulino's trey, followed by Aldridge's slam off Gibson's razor-sharp assist, aroused the otherwise listless 11,307 in attendance, but G Marcus Perry answered with another Nebraska bucket from outside the arc. Gibson's jumper gave Texas the lead for good at 31-28 with 3:32 remaining until the break. The Horns would finally hit their stride, connecting on nine of their final shots of the opening frame to take a 38-35 lead into the locker room.
The Huskers were able to hang tough by hitting 6-of-10 from outside the line during the first 20 minutes of play but were just 1-of-9 from three-point range after intermission. At halftime, Barnes noted that his defense produced three consecutive stops just once during the opening period. He insisted on more ball movement and more screens to try to create open shots after his team shot 41.2 percent from the floor. Tucker's foul problem was almost a blessing in disguise. It forced Barnes to go with a smaller lineup; the result was a 15-0 run and the Horns never looked back.
Barnes also stayed with a zone defense after Texas grabbed the lead for good. After hitting half of its 24 FG attempts in the first period, Nebraska was limited to 8-of-31 FG (25.8 percent) during the final 20 minutes.
"I think the difference today was that we picked it up on defense in the second half," Paulino said. "We got our transition game going and we got some open looks."
Tucker's reverse layup game Texas its largest lead at 78-52. He would also add 11 rebounds, one block and one steal.
Texas shot 41.9 percent (26-of-62 FG) while Nebraska finished at 36.4 percent (20-of-55 FG). The Horns were 17-of-23 (73.9 percent) from the charity stripe while the Huskers converted 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) of their foul shots. Texas controlled the boards, 44-33.
The Horns host Baylor, 7 p.m., Tuesday.