Unsung star puts Texas in region final

Published March 24, 2006

ATLANTA - Kenton Paulino might not get the publicity of many of his teammates, but he showed Thursday night why Texas wouldn't succeed without him.

After West Virginia tied the score on a 3-pointer with five seconds left, the senior guard took a feed from A.J. Abrams on the left wing and beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer of his own for a dramatic 74-71 win in the Sweet 16 at the Georgia Dome.

"A.J. came to my side and I was calling for the ball, and he put it right on the money and I just shot the ball," he said.

Paulino was immediately mobbed by his teammates and even the Texas mascot, although the officials huddled at the scorer's table to see if Paulino had beaten the clock. Even before they ruled, fans and the Longhorns erupted again when the replay showed he had clearly let it go in time.

"I've never hit a game-winner before," he said. "I can remember my junior year when I missed a game-winner at Wake Forest, but I never made a game-winner."

The No. 2-seeded Longhorns (30-6) will make their third trip to the region final and play No. 4-seeded LSU on Saturday.

"I'm just glad shot went in; I haven't really thought about the importance," Paulino said. "I'm just living the moment."

Paulino, the team's top 3-point shooter, had made 1-of-6 before his clutch finale. But the Longhorns were in the position to win thanks to the play of sophomore forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who must like going against West Virginia (22-11).

The Longhorns beat West Virginia 76-75 in the Guardians Classic semifinals Nov. 21 when Aldridge scored on a putback with 3.6 seconds left, then blocked senior forward Mike Gansey's layup.

Four months later, Aldridge was again THE force. He hit all eight first-half shots to give Texas a 39-27 lead. He finished with a career-high 26 points and 13 rebounds.

But No. 6-seeded West Virginia opened the second half with a 10-1 run to get back into the game and regained the lead for the first time since midway through the first half by doing what it does best.

The Mountaineers, who entered second in the nation in 3-pointers (10.1), tied it, then took a 61-58 lead on back-to-back long-range shots from senior center Kevin Pittsnogle and Gansey with 7:20 left.

Coach Rick Barnes "always talks about wanting to be out there, play all day and all night, just loving the game," Texas junior forward P.J. Tucker said. "You dream about being here when you're a kid and being in these type of situations, so you've got to just love it and live it. If we would have gone into eight overtimes, we would have stayed out there and fought all night. Our team just didn't want to lose."

Neither did the Mountaineers. After Aldridge made 1 of 2 free throws with 13.9 seconds left, Pittsnogle hit a 3 from the top of the key over Aldridge. That set the stage for Paulino.

"We told them that we were going to switch everything (defensively) and if they score, we've got to get it back in and run it at them," Barnes said. "We got as good a look as we could probably get."