Texas A&M rides momentum into matchup vs. No. 8 Auburn

Texas A&M is coming off one of its best performances since early in the season, in the opinion of Aggies coach Billy Kennedy. A&M dominated South Carolina in an 83-60 triumph over South Carolina on Saturday.

The Aggies will try to maintain that level of play Wednesday when they travel to No. 8 Auburn for an SEC clash with the surprising first-place Tigers.

Auburn (21-2, 9-1 SEC) is ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2000, deservingly so, too. Coach Bruce Pearl’s team has bounced back from a loss at Alabama in mid-January with five straight wins. The Tigers have won 19 of 20 overall, behind a potent, up-tempo offensive attack. They are averaging 86.0 points per game, seventh most in the nation, and are a top-35 rebounding team. Not bad for a squad picked to finish ninth in the SEC by the media in the preseason.

“We are still the underdog,” Pearl told reporters after Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt. “We are the winningest underdog in college basketball. That’s who Auburn is right now, and that’s who we’re going to stay.”

Texas A&M, loaded with experienced, next-level talent, was picked to finish third in the SEC in the preseason. However, the Aggies have been plagued by injuries and struggled to find consistency in conference play. Kennedy is hoping the dominant showing in the blowout of South Carolina is the start of a late-season surge. Senior guard Admon Gilden, one of the Aggies who has missed time this season, led four A&M players in double figures with 15 points, and the Aggies held the Gamecocks to 27.5 percent shooting.

“This is the best we have played, in my opinion, maybe since the beginning of the year,” Kennedy said. “I think it is just about coming together and taking time to grow as a team.”

“(It) makes a big difference when you’ve got guys healthy and are feeling good about their bodies, especially when you are playing against a good, physical team like South Carolina,” Kennedy added after the South Carolina game. “I was proud of our guys playing both ends of the floor. We were in attack mode from the beginning of the game, and that was a big key.”

This week would be a good one for A&M to find its stride. After the Auburn game, the Aggies return home to host No. 24 Kentucky.

“They’re back to being healthy and they’re really deep, and I think they’re going to play their way back into the tournament,” Pearl said of the Aggies. “They’ve got a top-30 RPI. They’re just a couple of key wins away from being right back in the picture.

“But, we’re playing for something, some things that are pretty significant, and so we’ve got to be able to beat people along the way.”

The Tigers have lost four of five to A&M, including an 81-62 loss last February. Auburn is 12-0 at home this season, though, and the Aggies are just 1-5 on the road.