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Longhorns returning to form

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Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge grabs the offensive rebound during the Longhorns' 58-53 victory over No. 3 Villanova on Saturday in Austin.

Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge grabs the offensive rebound during the Longhorns’ 58-53 victory over No. 3 Villanova on Saturday in Austin.

Harry Cabluck, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Forget that mid-December slump. Eighth-ranked Texas is looking more like the team that began the season ranked No. 2 and talking about the Final Four.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and the Longhorns smothered No. 3 Villanova with its best defensive game of the year to pull out a 58-55 victory Saturday.

Texas has won six straight since consecutive blowout losses to No. 1 Duke and Tennessee, including two victories over top-10 opponents. The Longhorns have done it with stifling defense that held all six opponents in the streak under 40 percent shooting.

On Saturday, Villanova shot 27 percent, including a miserable 7-of-30 performance from 3-point range where the Wildcats have been so dangerous.

"Our defense was outstanding again," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "That has been the difference in our team."

So was Aldridge, who scored eight points in the final 4 minutes, including two free throws with 8.3 seconds left that gave Texas a three-point lead. He also tied his career-high with five blocks.

Daniel Gibson hit two more free throws with 3.9 seconds left before Villanova's Randy Foye bounced a running 3-pointer off the backboard. Kenton Paulino added 13 points for Texas (14-2).

Foye, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray each scored 13 points for Villanova (11-2), which came in shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

Foye, who hit two 3-pointers to open the game before missing 14 of his next 15 shots, also missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 52-52 with 1:02 left.

Traveling outside the Big East to the Big 12, Villanova brought its quick and versatile four-guard lineup to match up with Texas' bigger lineup that tries to use the 6-foot-10 Aldridge as a dominant force in the paint.

Texas has struggled against guard-heavy teams all season but found the right matchups on the perimeter this time. The Wildcats missed 10 straight shots in one early stretch and struggled to contain Aldridge and Brad Buckman on the boards. Foye opened with his two 3-pointers and was jawing with Texas' P.J. Tucker up and down the court. But after taking an 8-6 lead, Villanova went scoreless over the next 5 minutes. Buckman scored six straight points and had five rebounds before he twisted his left ankle and was helped off the court.Buckman didn't return and Texas ran into further problems when Gibson picked up three fouls in the half with only two points.

Villanova's defense held Tucker, Texas' leading scorer this season, to two points in the first half and the Wildcats led 26-24 at halftime as both teams shot under 35 percent.

"Coach said they're relentless on the 3-point line," Gibson said. "And we would have to get out and contest their shots."

In the locker room, Barnes challenged Aldridge to be a force on offense after spending the first half looking for a turnaround jumper that never materialized.

"He said, 'Are you going to shoot turnaround jumpers all night, or get in the lane and make some layups for us?' " Aldridge said. "I had to get deeper in the paint."

The second half was more smothering defense and missed 3-pointers.