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March 19, 2006

Longhorns get off to a fast start, beat Wolfpack

DALLAS - With the Texas guards playing like they did in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the dynamic duo of P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge didn't have to dominate for the Longhorns to advance.

Freshman guard A.J. Abrams scored 16 points after the starting backcourt of Daniel Gibson and Kenton Paulino got the Longhorns off to a fast start in their 75-54 victory over North Carolina State on Sunday.

Texas (29-6) advanced to the NCAA round of 16 for the fourth time in five seasons, after their first-round exit a year ago without Tucker and Aldridge. The second-seeded Longhorns play West Virginia (22-10) in Atlanta on Thursday in the Atlanta Regional.

Abrams scored 10 of his points in an eight-minute span of the second half when he came in after Paulino picked up his third foul.

North Carolina State (22-10) was within 42-37 when Gavin Grant shuffled the ball to Cedric Simmons for a one-handed slam dunk with 15:45 left. After a timeout, Abrams hit a 3-pointer.

The Wolfpack then had four turnovers and missed two shots on their next five possessions before Tony Bethel's 3-pointer from the right corner bounced on the rim several times before falling.

Abrams hit a jumper at the other end, starting a run in which he scored seven straight points. He made a 3-pointer and after his two free throws with 8:50 left that put Texas up 56-40, he went to the bench to a standing ovation from the partisan Longhorns crowd as Paulino re-entered the game.

Cameron Bennerman had 16 points to lead North Carolina State, which was trying to advance to the round of 16 as No. 10 seed for the second year in a row.

Tucker, the Big 12 player of the year who is from Raleigh, N.C., still had 17 points and 10 rebounds. And Aldridge, the league's defensive player of the year, had 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds.

Those numbers were similar to what Tucker and Aldridge had Friday night when the Longhorns had to grind out a 60-52 victory over Ivy League champion Penn. But the guards were held scoreless in the first half of that game, when Texas trailed.

Gibson and Paulino got the Longhorns off to a quick start Sunday. Gibson finished with 17 points and Paulino eight points while being limited to 20 minutes because of the foul trouble.

Gibson already had 11 points when he made his third 3-pointer to put the Longhorns up 23-11 with 10:52 left. Paulino had two 3s in the first five minutes, the second after Aldridge blocked a shot.

When North Carolina State got within 32-30 on Bennerman's layup, Abrams made a 3-pointer and was fouled. He added the free throw and then made another basket before halftime to give Texas a 38-33 lead.

Texas is two wins closer to following its football and baseball teams as national champions; no school has ever held all three crowns at the same time. Mack Brown, the Longhorns' football coach, attended Sunday.

The Longhorns are still another win away from a possible rematch with Duke, which beat them 97-66 on Dec. 10. Texas followed that with a 17-point loss to Tennessee, but has won 20 of 24 game since.

Grant had 14 points and Simmons 12 for the Wolfpack, who made just seven of 27 shots (26 percent) in the second half after making 15 of 29 before halftime. They were 3-for-22 on 3-pointers.

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