"Those turnovers were tough, man," said F Brad Buckman following the final game of his Longhorn career. "We tried to get something going and we had a couple of mental lapses and it just happened. It's how the game goes out. It's a tough way to feel like that but it's been a great season."
It was a disappointing end to what was the winningest season (30-7) in Longhorn history, culminating in the program's second Elite Eight appearance in four years. Yet, Texas' erratic performance in OT was more self-inflicted than anything thrown at them from a Tiger team that outmuscled Texas -- and Duke -- not only in the paint but also on the perimeter. For Texas, it was almost inevitable that a team bereft of a true point guard in its half-court offense was going to get untracked against the most physical D-I club this side of Connecticut.
"We were trying to get P.J. (Tucker) isolated (in OT)" said Texas coach Rick Barnes, "and we just didn't execute it. We didn't handle it the way we needed to. We allowed them, on their first possession (of OT) to go down there and score. We came back and we just didn't execute. I could break it down a couple of different ways but I told the team in the lockerroom that no one single guy cost us the game today. We won as a team all year and we lost as a team."
Fair enough, but you can't talk about this game without mentioning LaMarcus Aldridge.
The sophomore F has tremendous upside, and may already be an NBA lottery pick according to several professional scouts, but anyone who has seen Texas this year knew that LSU's big, physical frontcourt is precisely the kind that gives Aldridge fits. From the opening tip, LSU played above the rim while Texas' frontcourt settled for jump shots. The Tigers tallied 38 points in the paint while the Horns mustered just 10 in 45 minutes of basketball. LSU F Glen 'Big Baby' Davis generally had his way in the low post, notching a game-high 26 points on 11-of-19 FG. Meanwhile, Aldridge finished with all of four points on a night when he misfired on 12-of-14 attempts (mainly turnaround jumpers that jumped off the rim). His defense, however, was generally solid as he was credited with a game-high five blocked shots, 10 rebounds (seven defensive) and two steals.
"People are going to talk about LaMarcus but I thought where (LSU) does an unbelievable job was with their perimeter defense," said Barnes. "It's not just about their inside defense. Big Baby is a tough matchup for LaMarcus, The thing that I wanted LaMarcus to do was to get a little bit deeper post-up so he could get up over the top of him. We then tried to work inside-out and get movement with our perimeter guys. They did a great job of fighting through screens, being there on the catch and they turned in an outstanding defensive effort."
All three of Buckman's FGs were outside the arc, but Buckman joined F P.J. Tucker in notching a double-double. Buckman was a workhorse Saturday, finishing his collegiate career with a game-high 14 rebounds and 13 points. Tucker added 10 points (4-of-11 FG) and 13 boards.
Aldridge and Tucker were named to the five-member All Tournament team. They joined Davis, Duke C Shelden Williams and LSU Tyrus Thomas who was named Most Outstanding Player. The forward was virtually unstoppable, hitting 10-of-14 FG for 21 points and collecting 13 rebounds.
Both teams were responsible for seven blocks, but LSU's frontcourt altered enough Longhorn FG attempts to produce Texas' lowest FG percentage of the season (30.4 percent, on 21-of-69 shooting). The Horns were 10-of-29 from three-point range (34.5 percent). Texas attempted just 11 foul shots, hitting eight (72.7 percent). Texas outrebounded LSU, 45-42.
The Tigers shot 42.4 percent (28-of-66) from the field and were 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) outside the arc. They connected on 11-of-16 foul shots (68.8 percent)
The Horns held an early 9-4 lead when Tucker injured his left hand 4:23 into the ballgame. (He returned one minute later with a tape-job around his thumb and wrist.) The Tigers reeled-off eight straight, including three consecutive buckets from Big Baby. Buckman stuffed Magnum Rolle on his way to the hole and followed with a trey on the opposite end to reclaim the Longhorn lead, 15-14. Gibson's deep three (his first FG of the game) gave Texas a 20-19 lead while Tucker followed with his first FG (a 10-foot jumper) at the 2:38 mark. LSU's Thomas' third alley-oop slam of the first period trimmed the Texas margin, 22-21. Big Baby's traditional three-point play (over Aldridge) knotted the score at 24 with 1:18 remaining until the break. Tied at 26, Darrel Mitchell picked Gibson's pocket, converting the steal into a layup at the halftime buzzer.
Aldridge was 1-of-9 from the field during the first period as the Horns shot 32.1 percent (9-of-28) before intermission. It was dead even primarily because of Texas three-point shooting (4-of-9, compared to 1-8 for LSU), four blocked shots and five steals. Texas got more dribble penetration from guards during the second period, which opened as a seesaw affair with five lead changes during the first four minutes. Aldridge's turnaround jumper put Texas up, 33-32. It would be his last FG of the ball game.
Mike Williams' turnover led to a Tyrus Thomas layup and a 36-33 Tiger lead. Gibson's second three-bomb of the day tied the game at 36. Big Baby outmuscled Aldridge for the offensive board and putback, giving LSU a 40-36 advantage before Gibson's baseline jumper trimmed the deficit, 41-40.
Gibson's third trey made it 43-all but Mitchell's trey gave LSU a 50-45 advantage. Paulino drained a pair of foul shots before Tucker's bankshot brought the Burnt Orange within one at 50-49. Big Baby nailed a jumper as the shot clock expired. The frenetic battle for boards and loose balls during the final 90 seconds was worth the price of admission. When Gibson's arching shot from three-point land drew nothing-but-nylon, we had our seventh tie of the ballgame at 52.
The Tigers had 32 seconds to launch a game-winner in regulation but Big Baby's three-ball drew nothing but air. Garrett Temple could not have been more wide-open in the left wing but his uncontested trey drew iron. It only delayed things for five minutes. Tasmin Mitchell was quick off the blocks, scoring the first bucket of the OT in four seconds while the Horns responded with two turnovers and a Daniel Gibson airball. The dagger may have been Big Baby's improbable trey. It was just his sixth three-ball of the year but the Tigers never looked back with a 59-52 lead.
"The three that Glen Davis hit was really something special," said LSU Coach John Brady. "You've got to have those kind of plays when you've had the kind of season we've had."
For the Burnt Orange, the pain of being an overtime win from the program's second Final Four appearance since 2003 was still too fresh to look for a silver lining. But Barnes managed to summarize both the game, and the 2005-06 season.
"We'll always look back and question this or question that, but there's no doubt this team had a great year. I've enjoyed coaching them. They haven't given me any problem. We have had a happy lockerroom all year. I watched guys improve and get better. We'll go back and get back into what we need to do. We'll try to work at trying to put ourselves back in a position to get back here again."