Kentucky-Texas A&M Preview
Kentucky cruised through its non-conference schedule with wins over top-10 teams and plenty of big-name programs.
Conference play was by some accounts supposed to be even easier for the top-ranked Wildcats in an otherwise unacclaimed SEC, but that proved to be anything but the case in their opener.
Texas A&M now gets the unenviable task of following up that wake-up call when the schools meet Saturday in College Station, Texas.
Kentucky (14-0, 1-0) needed overtime to get by Mississippi in Tuesday’s 89-86 home win to extend its best start since winning its first 19 games in 2009-10.
"It was definitely a wake-up call for all of us, I think," forward Trey Lyles told the team’s official website. "They’re going to come out and play that much harder against us. It’s SEC play now, very physical. I’d say it was the most physical game we played so far this year and we’re going to get every team’s best shot so we just have to be prepared for it."
Aaron Harrison scored a season-high 26 points against Mississippi and considered the game testament to the league’s strength.
"The SEC is tougher than what people think," said Harrison, who leads Kentucky with 11.4 points per game.
Freshman guard Devin Booker scored 13 points and is averaging 14.0 while shooting 63.3 percent in the last four games.
The Wildcats have been a strong but not necessarily dominant offensive team this season, averaging 76.3 points while shooting 46.8 percent and 34.0 percent from 3-point range. While they’ve shot 41.8 in the last two games, their long-range game has taken a major step forward in the last four contests with a 48.0-percent mark.
The Ole Miss game was close because Kentucky allowed it to shoot 49.2 percent and 52.9 from 3-point range, both season highs for Wildcats opponents, which have totaled a national low of 31.1 percent from the field.
The Aggies (9-4, 0-1) didn’t show any signs of being able to keep things close with the top team in the country in Tuesday’s 65-44 loss at Alabama, shooting a season-low 30.8 percent.
Top scorer (13.3 points per game) and rebounder (6.0) Jalen Jones sat out with a sprained ankle. Second-leading scorer Danuel House (11.4) was limited to five points on 1-of-9 shooting as the starting five totaled 22 points.
House has been limited to 27.0 percent shooting in the last four games, while Jones is considered day to day. Texas A&M figures to be in plenty of trouble if he’s unable to face a Kentucky team that already manages a plus-9.8 rebounding advantage.
"Any team that doesn’t have their best player, it’s going to hurt you," Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. "Especially a team like ours that struggles scoring. He’s our motor, our engine inside. He’s our toughest player around the basket."
Texas A&M is averaging 68.1 points per game, while Kentucky has held teams to 50.6, but as his team found out against Ole Miss, coach John Calipari says avoiding further letdowns will be all about not taking any nights off.
"It’s all effort and energy, but these guys are young," Calipari said. "What we’re asking them to do is really hard. They’d rather not do it. They’d rather do it their way: Let me jog and stand straight up and shoot a fade away. You just can’t win playing that way."
Kentucky has won two of three meetings since Texas A&M joined the SEC.
The Aggies have dropped 25 straight games against the top 10.