Tucker Ineligible; Aldridge Out Indefinitely

Photo: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas

Texas small forward P.J. Tucker has been declared academically ineligible for the rest of the 2004-05 season, it was announced Thursday. It was also disclosed that F LaMarcus Aldridge will be out "indefinitely" with an injured left hip.

Tucker led the Longhorns in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). Aldridge started the first 16 games of the season before injuring his hip last Saturday at Nebraska. A visibly shaken Tucker apologized to his coaches, teammates, family and Longhorn fans before vowing to return as both a better person and an improved player.

"I went through some hard times last semester," Tucker said. "I'm disappointed in myself. I apologize to everybody. I made a mistake. I'll try to learn from my mistake and get better in school and come back next semester. I will be back playing."

Tucker will be allowed to practice with the team, but is not eligible for competition. He will be able to sit on the bench during home games but not when the team travels. Texas visits No. 18/21 Oklahoma this Saturday, 2:45 p.m., in a CBS regional telecast.

Barnes' attitude was one of dogged optimism.

"Somebody will emerge, there's no doubt about that," he promised. "Somebody will step into that role."

Senior Sydmill Harris will start Saturday at Oklahoma in place of Tucker on the wing, Barnes said, adding freshmen Dion Dowell and Mike Williams will gradually log more minutes.

"Players don't over-analyze these kind of situations like we do," Barnes said. "Guys like Mike Williams and Dion Dowell think they can play."

Williams missed the first five games of the season to resolve issues surrounding his amateur status while Dowell has gradually overcome a bout of tendonitis in his right shoulder. Harris, who missed two games this season due to a groin injury, said he is nearly 100 percent and expects the 14-3 team (3-1 in Big 12) to handle well the latest adversity.

"I think we've already responded to it well," Harris said. "We believe we have the capacity to win out, even though we are definitely a better team with (Tucker) than without him."

Tucker's absence and Aldridge's uncertain status just means that Monday's big win over No. 5 Oklahoma State just got even bigger.

"The best thing about the game the other night, other than that we won, is that we played great basketball during the last 15 minutes of the first half without P.J. Tucker," Barnes noted.

After Tucker got poked in the eye and picked up a couple of quick fouls, the Horns overcame a four-point deficit by launching a 15-0 run.

"As coaches, you've got to believe in your players," Barnes said. "You've got to find a way to make yourself believe that, in a 40-minute basketball game, you can get it done."

Currently ranked No. 11/14 in the major polls and picked to finish third in Big 12 play, Barnes quickly dismissed speculation that Texas' stock has significantly dropped with the loss of Tucker and Aldridge.

"I don't play the stock market," Barnes said. "When you lose two of your top players, I'm sure there are some people who are licking their chops. But I really don't care what people think."

Even without Tucker and Aldridge, the Horns still have four players averaging in double figures.

"We've got some guys coming off the bench that could start on other teams," Tucker said. "We are so deep. It would definitely not surprise me if we stayed in the Top 15."

For now, freshman sensation Daniel Gibson is Texas' leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and is coming off a career-best 27 points and 10 rebounds against Oklahoma State. Tucker, however, was the identified emotional leader of the team. But Gibson has increasingly proven himself as a go-to guy and thrives in big-game environments.

"When situations got tough, we could count on (Tucker) to get a basket," Gibson said. "But I think I can help in that area... I'm not going to flinch. I'm going to keep playing as hard as I can."

Barnes reiterated his long-standing philosophy of neither dwelling on the past nor on things that he cannot control. Instead, his approach has to do with the short-term preparation for Saturday's game as well the long-term consequence for Tucker's future.

"There's no doubt that he knows how I feel about it," Barnes said. "He will learn. He knows he let down a whole lot of people. I heard him tell his mother on the phone, 'I've got no one to blame but myself.' He understands that a prized possession has been taken from him. It's a bitter pill to swallow. But, in the long term, if it helps him grow as a person, we'll say it's a lesson well-learned."

Harris borrowed a dose of Barnes' optimism when he made this long-term prognosis for Tucker.

"From now on, he'll have nothing but A's."

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