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Solid guard play helps Texas trounce NC State

DALLAS (AP) -- A.J. Abrams certainly got over those jitters that
bothered him in his NCAA Tournament debut.

In his second tourney game Sunday, the Texas freshman guard was
only doing what his coach told him to do. Abrams was aggressive and
took open shots, scoring 16 points as the Longhorns advanced to the
Atlanta Regional semifinal with a 75-54 victory over North Carolina
State.

"He was a little jumpy the other night and we got him for it,"
coach Rick Barnes said. "He had a great response. He definitely
had a different perspective on things."

With Abrams and the starting backcourt of Daniel Gibson and
Kenton Paulino playing the way they did, the dynamic inside duo of
P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge didn't have to dominate for Texas
(29-6) to get into the round of 16 for the fourth time in five
seasons.

Abrams was scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting in 18 minutes Friday
against Penn. Gibson and Paulino were held without a point in the
first half of that game, when the Longhorns trailed.

But Gibson and Paulino got the Longhorns off to a fast start
against N.C. State with their 3-point shooting. Then Abrams came
through in two key stretches, including 10 points in the second
half after Paulino picked up his third foul.

"He's the rookie, but he's one of the best players I've ever
played with," said Tucker, the Big 12 player of the year. "He
knows how to play the point guard position. He can move the ball
around and get shots for us."

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.

Then it was Abrams' turn. He scored the next seven points.

"We knew he was a good shooter," Bethel said. "Because of
their offense, their guards are going to get open looks. He knocked
down some tough ones. He stepped up for them."

Abrams hit a jumper at the other end and then added a 3-pointer.
After his two free throws with 8:50 left 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.

"I think I got over my jitters last game. ... I felt more
comfortable," Abrams said.

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

But after North Carolina State got within 32-30 on Cameron
Bennerman's layup and a timeout, 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.

"He'd passed up two shots. During that timeout, I told him he
better take the next shot he had," Barnes said.

The second-seeded Longhorns play West Virginia (22-10) in
Atlanta on Thursday in the Atlanta Regional.

Tucker, who is from Raleigh, N.C., but wasn't offered a
scholarship by the hometown Wolfpack, 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 in
the 60-52 victory over Penn, but they didn't get much help in that
game.

"With their inside prowess, it makes it more challenging to
guard them," Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said. "What makes them so
special is their balanced. Stopping that trio of guards is equally
challenging."

Texas is still four wins away from 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.

Bennerman had 16 points to lead N.C. State, which was trying to
advance to the round of 16 as No. 10 seed for the second year in a
row. The Wolfpack were the only team that entered the tourney with
a four-game losing streak, then beat California in the first round.

"I hope this year is not judged by our last four losses because
we had a very good season," said Ilian Evtimov, the fourth-year
starter who had two points on 1-of-6 shooting. "We should be
judged by our good body of work."

Grant had 14 points and Simmons 12 for N.C. State, which made
its fifth straight NCAA appearance and won at least 21 games for
the third straight season.

The Wolfpack made seven of 27 shots (26 percent) in the second
half after making 15-of-29 before halftime. And they were 3-for-22
on 3-pointers.

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