"I don't think we were trying to prove anything to the country," said Aldridge. "We were just trying to get ourselves back on track so that when this thing gets rolling to NCAA, we'll be locked and ready to go. If we finish out strong and win our next couple of games, anything can happen. Any of the other No. 1 seeds could lose. We still have a chance (to be a top seed)."
Submitting a virtuoso performance in front of nearly 15 NBA scouts, an ESPN Game Day crew and the second home sellout of the season, the sophomore hit 9-of-10 FG to finish with 18 points, four blocked shots, eight rebounds and one steal in 35 minutes of work.
"I rushed that shot," Aldridge laughed. "That's why I missed it."
Otherwise, there wasn't much not to like about this one, from a Burnt Orange perspective. The 80-55 shellacking atoned for Texas' 25-point loss in Lawrence last season and handed the storied program its worst defeat since falling by 31 to Wake Forest in December, 2000. The Horns are now alone at the top of Big 12 standings with a 12-2 mark and, at 24-4 overall, notched the most regular season wins in school history. Texas can clinch the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Conference Tournament with a win at Texas A&M, 7 p.m., Wednesday.
P.J. Tucker led all scorers with 19 points (6-of-13), with 17 points coming in the second half. The Horns shot a sizzling 55.1 percent from the field (27-of-49), including 10-of-20 from three-point range, and knocked down 16-of-18 foul shots (88.9 percent). But the subplot to the much-hyped showdown between the league's top teams was the Texas bench. Just three days after the Horns got all of two points from its bench in a one-point win at Kansas State, Longhorn subs contributed 20 points Saturday.
No backup stood taller than undersized guard A.J. Abrams. The true freshman drained four three-pointers to break open a tight ball game during the first period. He added four assists and three steals in 27 minutes.
"Daniel (Gibson) got into foul trouble and he's our main guard for getting points," Abrams said. "They were doubling up on P.J. and I got some open looks. I was just kicking it out and I got some great passes. I wasn't trying to do anything too big; I was just trying to play my game."
It was also RS-freshman Connor Atchley's most spirited and confident performance of his young career. He tallied five points and hustled after four rebounds in ten minutes of play. He seemed more poised than at any other time in a Longhorn uniform. (Now, if only sophomore Mike Williams can locate his offense, the Horns will have a bench to rival the 2002-03 Final Four team.)
"I told our guys before the game that the key would be what we got from our bench," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I watched our last game (KSU) where we bogged down on the offensive end. Obviously, A.J. came up big. They did a great job of double-teaming the post."
Little more than 24 hours before tipoff, Barnes noted that his team had yet to play a complete game this season. He acknowledged it came close Saturday but added, "When I see that we had 16 turnovers, that tells me there's room for improvement."
Kansas fell to 20-7, 11-3 in Big 12, as its 10-game win streak came to an abrupt end. The Jayhawks shot 42.6 percent (23-of-54) from the field and went to the free throw line just seven times, hitting five.
A pair of Kenton Paulino free throws gave Texas an early 11-8 lead as the Horns then went to a 2-3 zone at the 15:38 mark. Subbing for Paulino, freshman Abrams came up with a steal and drained a trey from the left wing. Kansas responded with a 7-0 run to reclaim the advantage, 17-16, before Texas switched back to man. Abrams was just getting warmed-up, wrapping a pair of three-pointers around Paulino's FG from outside the arc to make it 27-21, Texas. The defense forced a shot clock violation, leading to an Aldridge layup. Abrams' fourth trey gave Texas its largest lead of the first period, 34-23, capping a 10-2 Longhorn run.
"We knew LaMarcus could score but we didn't count on A.J. coming in and getting 12 points," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He was the difference in the first half."
Aldridge's putback at the buzzer, following Tucker's miss, gave Texas a 36-27 lead at the break. The Horns shot 50 percent (13-of-26), including 6-of-12 outside the arc, during the first period. Kansas, meanwhile, was just 1-of-8 from outside the line in the opening frame, and held to 39.3 percent (11-of-28) from the floor. Aldridge was a beast during the first 20 minutes of play, connecting on all six of his FG attempts while adding five boards and two blocks.
Kansas C Sasha Kaun was called for his third personal just 32 seconds into the second period but Gibson was just as quickly whistled for his third, as well. Tucker's turnaround jumper made it a 42-31 game before his kickout to Gibson in the left wing, leading to Texas seventh trey of the game, which spotted the Horns a 12-point cushion. Aldridge remained perfect from the field, collecting his eighth FG, just before Tucker's dunk brought the sellout Erwin Center crowd to a full-throated frenzy.
KU sophomore G Russell Robinson's driving layup ended a 9-2 Longhorn run but Gibson answered with his second trey in as many attempts. Brad Buckman's old-fashioned three-point play gave Texas a 20-point lead, 55-35.
The Jayhawks hit a couple of treys, just their third in 11 attempts, before switching to a 2-3 zone. RS-freshman Atchley hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 62-43. Buckman's bucket from the top of the key pushed the Longhorn lead back to 20, 70-50, with 5:23 left. Texas was content to drain some clock at this point, but not before the red-hot Aldridge drained one last jumper with 1:54 remaining. Both coaches cleared their benches as J.D. Lewis' trey gave Texas its largest lead at 80-52.
So, is Texas deserving of a No. 1 seed when the Madness of March is bracketed? Tucker is content to leave that kind of speculation to the talking heads.
"We know how good we are," Tucker said. "It's up to everybody else to critique us but, in-house, we know we're a good team. And we know that we're gonna keep getting better."