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March 11, 2006
P.J. Tucker was not going to lose to Texas A&M, not again. After dribbling out the shot clock in the waning seconds of a tie game, which set up a game-winning 3-pointer by A&M's Acie Law, Tucker has been taunted about his gaffe. On Saturday, in the first Big 12 tournament semifinal, Tucker made sure the final seconds would go the Longhorns' way this time.
Tucker scored 26 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and had four assists as the Longhorns beat the Aggies 74-70, handing A&M its first loss in nine games.
"P.J.'s special. He is," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "I told him after the game, 'You've won a lot of games for us, before you're done, you'll win a lot more.' You love anybody as a coach who's going to give you everything he's got, and he does. He gives it to us every day."
Despite all he heard since the last A&M game, Tucker insisted revenge had nothing to do with his performance on Saturday.
"Truth be known, it doesn't really matter who we play. I don't think we came into this tournament wanting to play A&M 'cause they beat us," Tucker said. "I'm going to be motivated anyway. Anybody on my team can tell you I'm going to be motivated to play every single day."
For all the numbers, Tucker's biggest contribution may have come on the defensive end. A&M had clawed all the way back from a 13-point halftime deficit and grabbed a 66-64 lead.
The Horns led 71-68 when A&M got the ball back with 28 seconds to play. Barnes gave Tucker the assignment of stopping Law, who scored 12 points in the second half, on the game's most important possession.
The 6-foot-5 Tucker forced Law out near midcourt before he had to pass. Joseph Jones, who had hit only two three-point shots all season, launched an airball from the left corner with about 12 seconds left. The Aggies never had the ball with a chance to tie again.
"When Joseph Jones got the ball, I just tried to make sure to deny Acie Law and make somebody else make the play," Tucker said. "Joseph Jones, that's the shot we want."
The Aggies said that shot was also the one they wanted. The play is designed for Law to either get the ball to Dominique Kirk, Josh Carter or Jones off a screen. Carter, the Dallas native who hit 6-of-10 3-pointers on his way to a career high 25 points in his hometown, was in one corner. Jones was in the other corner. Law cut off the screen in Jones' direction.
"That's my fault. I should have took the ball that way and made Image-->a play for him," Law said. "Josh had been hitting the whole game and I should have made that play for him, but I had confidence in Joe to make that play for us and he just wasn't able to make it."
"Joe can shoot the ball as well as anybody on our team, but he shouldn't have shot it today. He knows he shouldn't have shot it today," Aggies coach Billy Gillispie said. "It was my fault because I called that play, I probably should have just told Acie to go flat with it. Nobody wants to put the blame on somebody else and that's why they're a great team. Sometimes, they should say coach didn't know what he was doing - on a lot of things."
Defensively, A&M simply had no answer for Tucker, the Big 12's regular season player of the year. Even when his shots missed, he drew so much attention that his teammates had offensive rebound opportunities. Kenton Paulino and LaMarcus Aldridge both scored critical baskets on putbacks of Tucker misses in the final 2:30, including Paulino's 3-pointer that gave Texas a 67-66 lead they did not relinquish.
The Aggies, the worst rebounding team in the Big 12 during the regular season, lost the battle of the boards 39-28 and Texas scored 20 second-chance points.
"That's where the game was won, is they got the ball in the paint too much," Gillispie said. "When they did miss, they controlled the offensive board and the paint. We had a lot of opportunities to get defensive rebounds and keep them out of the paint and we couldn't do it. They just whipped us in the lane today."
The Aggies were disappointed in the loss, but it did not dampen their excitement about the most successful season since the program joined the Big 12 Conference.
"A very competitive game against a great team," Gillispie said. "I think we've got, not a great team, but a pretty darn good team ourselves."
While A&M waits to learn its tournament destination on Sunday afternoon, Texas moves into the final, looking for its first Big 12 tournament title. They will face the winner of the Kansas-Nebraska game at 2:00 Sunday. The Longhorns beat both the Huskers and the Jayhawks this season.