Short-handed Cats hold off Texas A & M

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) —Kentucky didn’t have its full roster intact, but the Wildcats had enough in the tank to overcome Texas A&M Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (13-3, 3-1, Southeastern Conference) bounced back from a disappointing 76-65 loss at Tennessee last weekend with a 74-73 triumph over the Aggies. Texas A&M missed two 3-point attempts in the final minute and threw the ball away on its last possession, while the Wildcats held on despite missing four free throws in six attempts in the final 38 seconds.

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who questioned his team’s toughness following the loss to the Volunteers, said the Wildcats “got closer” to what he’s looking for, but was glad his team overcame the Aggies.

Email newsletter signup

“That’s going to be a work in progress,” he said. “Until we get really good at that, we’re going to be who we are. Every team that plays us is going to have a chance. I mean, I got to give Billy (Kennedy) and A&M credit for the end of the game. They had a chance to beat us. Had a chance.”

Kennedy was disappointed in his team’s play down the stretch, despite forcing 14 ties and 12 lead changes.

“(We) had our opportunities in a hard-fight game,” said Kennedy, whose team has lost four straight to the Wildcats. “I thought we needed to make free throws and big shots. We got good looks, we just didn’t knock them down. We had some opportunities we just didn’t make enough play down the stretch put them at the free-throw line in one stretch and that was critical.”

Kentucky was without guard Quade Green, who sat out the contest because of a strained back. Tai Wynyard (back) also didn’t play, leaving Kentucky with just seven scholarships players. Jarred Vanderbilt, nursing a leg injury, practiced with the team earlier this week, but wasn’t in uniform.

Three of Kentucky’s players — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, and PJ Washington — played more than 30 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander played al but one minute in the nip-and-tuck contest and was prepared prior to tipoff.

“I drank a lot of fluids,” he said. “I got in the steam shower this morning. I stretched before the game and it started last night. I just drank a lot of fluids last night and made sure I was ready (for the game).”

Diallo led the Wildcats with 18 points and scored 14 of those in the second half. Diallo tallied 10 straight during a four-minute stretch in the second half after the Aggies had built a 10-point lead. Calipari liked the way Diallo performed.

“I like Hami’s body language and his act today,” the Kentucky coach said. “Here what is I’m saying. If you want to be tough, you can’t try to be cool, you can’t try to be cute, you can’t try to be Hollywood. You can do those things, but you’re not a tough, focused, engaged player. What I saw today from Hami was an engaged player. He made some mistakes. He broke down a few times. But he’s getting better, he’s getting closer.”

Despite the close margin, Diallo said the Wildcats proved a point.

“We showed we can win close games,” he said. “Pretty much every league game is going to be close. Every team is going to come and battle when they play us. .. It’s all about winning. If you want to win, you’re not going to worry about getting tired. Winning is going to be the biggest factor. It was definitely a good challenge for us and we stepped up today.”

Gilgeous-Alexander and Washington followed Diallo with 16 points each, while Kevin Knox chipped in with 15. Washington sat out most the second half of last weekend’s loss in Knoxville, but played all but eight minutes against Texas A&M.

“He (Washington) has to take the leadership of this team,” Calipari said. “He has to do it now. He’s the toughest guy. If a guy is not doing what he has to, you have the ability and the right now to tell him.”

Texas A&M, considered one of the preseason favorites in the conference, dropped their fourth straight conference encounter and fell to 11-5 overall. Tyler Davis led the Aggies with 21 points.

“We won a good game,” Calipari said. “Understand, A&M lost three players. They were No. 5 in the country. They beat, I believe, West Virginia. They lost to Arizona. I watched that game. They could have beat Arizona easily. It was a touch-and-go game. They have three guys injured.

“If we have three guys injured on this team, we’re not winning. Now, me saying that, could have beaten us, could have beaten LSU. Billy is doing a heck of a job a little shorthanded. They’re going to be fine. They’ll be fine.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.