No. 6 Kentucky 65, No. 20 Texas A&M 62
Dire as it looked for Kentucky at halftime Thursday night against Texas A&M, A'dia Mathies knew the second half offered the sixth-ranked Wildcats a great chance to recover.
In Mathies' case, that meant getting open on the perimeter.
The senior guard hit three of her four 3-pointers in the second half for 11 of her team-high 23 points, and Kentucky overcame a sluggish first half to rally past No. 20 Texas A&M 65-62 in a tense Southeastern Conference showdown.
''We knew it wasn't a 20-minute game. We said that at halftime,'' said Mathies, who finished 4 of 7 from 3-point range and 9 for 20 overall. ''It was a 40-minute game, and every 40 minutes we go out and try and go out and play as aggressively on offense and defense as we can.''
Kentucky responded big defensively against Texas A&M, which shot 59 percent (17 of 29) in the first half behind a slew of layups from Kelsey Bone and Kristi Bellock for a 37-31 halftime lead. The Wildcats clamped down to wear down the Aggies on the perimeter and inside, forcing 11 second-half turnovers and 21 overall while holding Texas A&M to just 32-percent shooting in the second half.
Jennifer O'Neill contributed 15 points with three from beyond the arc to help Kentucky (15-1, 3-0) finish nine of 17 from long range, with her and Mathies combining to hit 7 of 14. The Wildcats' outside shooting was a bright spot on a night they finished just 39 percent (24 of 62) from the field and eight of 19 from the foul line.
Texas A&M had a chance to force overtime at the end as a result but Peyton Little's 3-point attempt at the horn bounced off the rim, allowing Kentucky to extend school-record winning streaks of 14 games overall and 31 in a row at home.
The Aggies (12-5, 2-1) lost for the fifth time to a top-10 team this season.
''I knew conditioning would be a factor in this game,'' Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ''Our kids are in great shape. They are tough, and they had to be to win this one tonight.''
Bone's game-highs of 27 points and 15 rebounds led Texas A&M, which lost for just the second time in 14 games. Bellock added 16 points and 10 rebounds and Adrienne Pratcher had 10.
DeNesha Stallworth added 12 points and six rebounds, Samarie Walker grabbed 11 rebounds to offset a quiet shooting night and Bria Goss added seven points for Kentucky, facing its toughest and tallest opponent since losing 85-51 to No. 1 Baylor in November.
The Aggies entered the game having won 12 of their last 13 and in search of their second win against a ranked team in a week after beating then-No. 23 Arkansas last Saturday. Texas A&M also came in leading the SEC in several offensive categories including 46 percent shooting and 17.8 assists per game.
Bone stood out as the SEC's top rebounder (10.0) and shooter (61 percent) and its second-best scorer (17.8), comprising a solid post tandem with Bellock.
Kentucky countered with one of the nation's best defenses, boasting the best turnover margin (plus-10.5) while holding opponents to 36 percent shooting. Stallworth and Walker meanwhile had formed a formidable post presence as well, combining for averages of 23 points and seven rebounds.
For the first 20 minutes, the Aggies' inside duo had the advantage.
Bone scored two quick layups over Walker while Bellock added two more baskets in helping Texas A&M take an 11-7 lead. Kentucky couldn't get its trademark pressure defense going consistently and the Aggies widened their lead to nine points with Bone and Bellock setting the tempo: the pair combined for 24 points and 11 rebounds and got help from Pratcher (nine) and Courtney Walker (four) as Texas A&M shot 59 percent to lead 37-31 at the break.
Three-pointers by Stallworth and Mathies started the Wildcats on a 10-3 run for its first lead at 41-40, and the defense picked up the pace as well. Stallworth and Walker took turns defending the 6-foot-4 Bone but were better at it in the second half, closing easy paths to the basket for her and Bellock, who had two points after halftime.
''It's hard to simulate the pressure when you play Kentucky,'' Aggies coach Gary Blair said. ''We walked through Alabama's pressure, but until you experience Kentucky's, it's tough to play against.''
Kentucky built the lead to 63-57 on Walker's tip-in with three minutes remaining but gave Texas A&M many openings in the final minutes with missed free throws. The Aggies failed to take advantage behind their own struggles near the basket, including one stretch with a minute left where they missed at least three layups.
While the ending says a lot about Kentucky's inside defense, the Wildcats' guards were the difference in beating a tough Aggies squad. Especially Mathies, who's expected to be their clutch player.
''I wanted A'dia to take the most shots,'' Mitchell said. ''She's really hard to guard the way she's shooting the ball right now. She was huge in the finish of this game and I'm really proud of her.''