Dallas Playing in an NBA arena, Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge sure looked like he was in the right place.
From dunks to long jumpers, altered shots to broken-up passes, plus rebound after rebound, the 6-foot-10 sophomore was at his menacing best on both ends of the court Friday, carrying the No. 8 Longhorns past Texas Tech 77-70 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament and sealing Red Raiders coach Bob Knight's worst season in 35 years.
Aldridge finished with 20 points, 16 rebounds and left no doubt why he won the conference's first-ever defensive player of the year award. The performance was especially meaningful to him because he was playing not only in the home of the Dallas Mavericks, but because he's from nearby Seagoville and had a lot of friends and family in the building.
"I'm just like a kid in a candy store," Aldridge said.
This is his first conference tournament because a hip injury ended his freshman season long before then. Texas was mediocre after that, losing its first game in the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA tournament. With him this season, the Longhorns (26-5) just tied the school record for victories, a mark they can break Saturday in a semifinal against the Colorado-Texas A&M winner.
"I'm just excited to be on the court," said Aldridge, who is projected to be taken as high as first and probably no lower than third if he turns pro after this season. "I wanted to play last year, I wanted to help us win. I'm glad I have the chance now."
The Red Raiders (15-17) appeared headed to their third lopsided loss to Texas this season, then rallied for a brief lead. They tied it with 8:29 left and were within four twice in the final minute but couldn't finish the rally, despite 28 points from Big 12 scoring leader Jarrius Jackson.
Knight had a losing record for the first time since going 11-13 with Army in 1970-71. He won the fewest games since that same season and finished with three more losses than any of his previous 39 seasons. He's also probably going to miss the postseason for the first time since 1976-77.
Knight closed the season with 869 career victories, third on the major-college list behind Dean Smith (879) and Adolph Rupp (876).
"The one thing I really enjoyed today was our press conference," Knight said while walking out of the room after no questions were immediately asked.
He was probably glad not to talk about Aldridge, whose only failure on the day was not getting the 18-20 rebounds he told coach Rick Barnes he was after.
Aldridge made eight of 13 shots, with most of his misses errant tip-in attempts. He had 10 offensive rebounds, blocked two shots and stole a pass, although he altered a lot more shots and disrupted several other passes.
There were several times when Aldridge followed a great defensive play by hustling back and scoring. He hit several long jumpers from the top of the key and turned a tougher one from the wing into a three-point play. His timing was good, too, as many of his best plays came when the Longhorns were either trying to hold off the Red Raiders or were pulling away.
"He's 6-10, he's strong and he can jump," Tech's Alan Voskuil said. "He's going to be great in the NBA."
Jackson bounced back from an awful shooting game in the opening round, making going 8-for-16, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers.
Voskuil scored 14 points and Darryl Dora had 11 before fouling out with 13:59 left. Tanner Ogden earned his first start since mid-December with a great game Thursday, but was 1-of-8 for three points.
Daniel Gibson scored 18 points for the Longhorns and Kenton Paulino scored 13. P.J. Tucker, who received his Big 12 player of the year award in a pregame ceremony, had 10 points and 13 rebounds. A.J. Abrams added 10 points and eight assists.
Texas won the two previous games against Tech by 34 and 21, and seemed headed toward another easy one following an early 15-2 spurt. Then the Red Raiders opened the second half by making hitting 7-of-8 shots, four of them 3-pointers, to get within two.
After Tech went ahead 50-49, Gibson immediately hit a 3 to put Texas back in front. Then Aldridge broke up a pass, hustled back and turned a rebound into his first big dunk. The Red Raiders had one last spark, tying it at 54, then the Longhorns answered with a 10-0 run.
"LaMarcus hasn't even began to go where he's going to go," Barnes said. "He has got a repertoire of things he's not yet knowing how to use all at the same time."