Texas' Dance Card In Aldridge's Hands

Can LaMarcus Aldridge come out and play? This time of year, the adage is that a team will advance as far into the NCAA Tournament as its point guard can carry it. The argument here is that No. 2 Texas will live up to its lofty seed if the power forward can match his level of play against some of the Horns most high-profile opponents this season.

It's hard to miss the lanky, 6-10 sophomore when he's on the floor. But there have been notable times this season, particularly in the Championship Game and Semifinals of last weekend's Big 12 Conference Tournament, when the only place where Aldridge was invisible was in the final stat sheet. It can be argued that the episodic failure to involve Aldridge more fully in the offense falls primarily on the shoulders of the point guard. Yet, Texas coach Rick Barnes has stressed all season that it is incumbent upon Aldridge to be more aggressive, more selfish, more anything, in order to get the ball in his hands in the low post.

"If LaMarcus could demand the ball in there, get down in there and want it...," Barnes said Tuesday, without fully completing the thought. "The way he carries himself on the floor is really important to us."

How important? Consider this:

During Texas' six quality wins this season over teams that finished in the final AP Top 25, and are currently a high-ranked seed in the NCAA Tournament, Aldridge shot a sizzling 66 percent (41-of-62 FG) and averaged 15.3 points. Breaking it down further, the numbers look like this:

TEAM; NCAA SEED; SCORE; ALDRIDGE'S TOTALS

Memphis; No. 1; 69-58; 6-of-7 FG (12 points)

Villanova; No. 1; 58-55; 6-OF-12 FG (19 points)

Iowa; No. 3; 68-59; 8-of-15 FG (18 points)

Kansas; No. 4; 80-55; 9-of-10 FG (18 points)

West Virginia; No. 6; 76-75; 7-of-10 FG (15 points)

Oklahoma; No. 6; 72-48; 5-of-8 FG (10 points)

The Big 12 Conference Tournament was a microcosm of Aldridge's season. He opened with 20 points and 16 boards against Texas Tech and was selected to the All-Tournament team, but was Missing-In-Action against the more physical Texas A&M and more aggressive Kansas defenses. Aldridge had one FG in the second period against the Aggies and just one FG all day against the Jayhawks. The A&M game was a one-possession affair that came down to the wire while the Horns went 9:15 without a FG against KU in the second period.

"I don't feel like I played well at all (against Kansas)," Aldridge said. "I think I'll be motivated to come out strong once the Tournament starts."

Sounds like a plan, but it also raises questions about whether Tournament foes will scheme against the Horns in much the same way the league's defenses did over the weekend. Texas Tech, for example, was determined that Texas wasn't going to beat them close to the basket. The Red Raiders were content for Texas to settle for three-pointers and shortened the game by not attacking defensively until there was less than 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Kansas and Texas A&M applied more pressure. F P.J. Tucker always draws a crowd but the Jayhawks double-teamed whoever held the ball inside the paint. Before long, the Jayhawks got Aldridge playing away from the basket and then played him one-on-one.

Aldridge has shown a career-long tendency to get into early foul trouble, but they aren't always the kind of hard, aggressive fouls with which his head coach can more easily accept. Case in point was Aldridge's second foul against Kansas when he reached in on a ball screen.

"Those are the kind of plays that I've told him all year that it takes him out of the game," Barnes said.

Like any collegiate, Aldridge is due an off night or two. But when the big guy is off, his teammates had better be on. Specifically, F Brad Buckman cannot duplicate Aldridge's disappearing while Tucker is turning the ball over six times while G Daniel Gibson is missing 8-of-12 FG, like against Kansas.

"When we've lost games this year, we've only had a couple of guys who were consistently doing what they needed to do," Barnes said. "Then we get in a situation where some guys are trying to do too much and we start turning the ball over. This time of year, you can't have just two guys playing for you. You've got to have them all."

Added Barnes, "Brad Buckman understands what he needs to do but we need both of those guys (Buckman, Aldridge) to definitely be more aggressive."

Part of what the Texas staff has done this week to prepare the Horns for the opening rounds of the Atlanta bracket is to assemble highlight reels of games when players were playing their best.

"We show them what they're capable of because, this time of year, the mental part is much more important than the physical part of it," Barnes said.

For Aldridge, the trip down memory lane includes footage of his stellar regular season performances against the likes of Kansas, and Villanova and Memphis. But he is convinced he needs little incentive to perform well, considering his last outing, not to mention the fact that he missed the last half of the 2005 season as well as Texas' brief stint in the Tournament with a hip injury.

"I'm really excited and just happy to be part of the experience," Aldridge told Inside Texas. "I'm just going into this tournament trying to help my team out and trying to win games."

Texas tips off against Ivy League champ Penn at 8:50 p.m., Friday, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.


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