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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Texas moves into finals

Tucker scores 26 in 74-70 victory

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— P.J. Tucker insists he wasn't motivated by the chance to atone for his big mistake in the last Texas loss.

Trying to get the No. 8 Longhorns into the Big 12 tournament championship was enough to drive him.

Tucker did both Saturday, making up for his previous late-game miscue against Texas A&M with a season-high 26 points and 13 rebounds in a 74-70 semifinal victory over the Aggies.

"P.J. is special, he is. His mind-set, what he's got," coach Rick Barnes said. "I don't think he had any more motivation. ... This time of year, you would expect what he did today."

The Longhorns (27-5) set a school record for victories while avenging a 46-43 loss 10 days earlier at Texas A&M. In that game, Tucker was dribbling around after a timeout when the shot clock ran out with 5.9 seconds left. Acie Law then hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Aggies.

"Everybody has been talking about getting a rematch with A&M just because how we ended," Tucker said. "Truth be known, it don't really matter who we play. ... I would have been motivated anyway. I don't think specific teams motivate me. Just playing basketball does."

Especially after being declared academically ineligible midway through last season and watching the Longhorns get eliminated after one game in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments.

Tucker got his academic work in order and returned to the court. He was the AP Big 12 player of the year and led Texas to a share of its first conference championship since 1999.

Now the Longhorns will play for their first conference tournament title since 1995. Texas plays in its third Big 12 tournament championship game Sunday against Kansas (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today; No. 17 AP) -- a 79-65 winner over Nebraska. Texas' last tourney title was in the Southwest Conference.

The Aggies (21-8) had an eight-game winning streak snapped and will have to wait until Sunday to find out if they get their first NCAA bid since 1987.

"I am not a politician. I haven't been. I won't be," coach Billy Gillispie said. "You don't have to be when you play in the Big 12. You finished fourth, you win your first game in the tournament, you play a team that's hopefully going to the Final Four."

Texas A&M had never played on the second day of the Big 12 tournament before this week, losing on the first day nine straight years before getting a first-round bye. The Aggies beat Colorado 86-53 Friday.

Even while going scoreless the last 5:45 Saturday, Tucker was very involved.

Law's two free throws with 3:36 left broke a 64-all tie, putting the Aggies ahead for the only time since midway through the first half.

Tucker grazed the front iron with a shot that was rebounded by LaMarcus Aldridge and passed out to Kenton Paulino for a go-ahead 3-pointer. After rebounding a miss by the Aggies, Tucker drove and handed the ball inside to Brad Buckman for a layup that made it 69-66.

"Coach just tells me to go make a play sometimes and drive whatever is open," Tucker said. "That time, Brad happened to be open."

Aldridge had a putback on Tucker's miss, and the Longhorns then switched their defense. Tucker guarded Law, who couldn't get off a shot and passed to Joseph Jones, whose 3-point attempt with 12 seconds left was woefully short. Daniel Gibson was fouled on the rebound and made both free throws for the Longhorns.

"P.J. showed today why he's the player he is. Not only you look at his line, but defensively what he did for us," Barnes said. "You love anybody as a coach that's going to give you everything he's got."

Paulino had 15 points and Gibson 11. Aldridge had nine points and 11 rebounds.

Josh Carter led Texas A&M with 25 points and seven rebounds. Law had 16 points and seven assists while Jones scored 14.

Texas A&M opened the second half with a 14-4 run during which Tucker had the only Longhorns baskets. Carter had consecutive 3-pointers, one from the right corner and one from the left, before Law's layup got the Aggies within 47-44 with 14 minutes left.

Texas A&M tied it twice before Law's free throws.

That was the only time the Longhorns didn't lead after Tucker drove for a layup, his body in the air and making contact with Dominique Kirk, and made a free throw to make it 23-20 with 8:41 left in the first half.

The Longhorns led 43-30 at halftime, matching their season-low scoring output from the March 1 game. Tucker already had 15 points and eight rebounds.

"He can do it all, all types of plays," Law said. "It was just a dominant performance."

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