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Kentucky could’ve lost to Texas A&M, but didn’t

If there was ever a time to drop one in Rupp Arena, this was probably it.

Texas A&M, a top-five team only two weeks ago, was back to full health and hungry for win. Sitting at last place in the SEC as the only winless team in the conference, A&M needed a win to salvage its spot as a contender in the league.

Its chances were helped by the return of D.J. Hogg, the team’s leading scorer, who was back in the lineup after serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Robert Williams, the team’s star and projected NBA lottery pick, was back after an illness kept him out of the home loss to LSU. Admon Gilder, A&M’s third-leading scorer, was back after missing five straight games with a knee injury.

The A&M team that was ranked fifth nationally was back together; the dismantled A&M team that dropped three games to open SEC play was a thing of a past.

The Aggies were ready for a statement win.

Meanwhile, Kentucky was just the opposite. Already down two scholarship players for the year, the Cats were also without Tai Wynyard, who has been out with a back injury. But the biggest hit to the rotation came with the surprising news that Quade Green would not suit up. It was announced about a thirty minutes before tip-off that UK’s starting point guard was unable to go due to back spasms, leaving only two guards in the Kentucky backcourt.

Uh oh.

Beat a healthy, desperate, motivated A&M team with only seven scholarship players available?

As I said, if there was ever a time to drop one in Rupp Arena, this was probably it.

Kentucky held court, though; defeating A&M in a tight one, 74-73. P.J. Washington was the shining star inside for the Cats with his 16 points against one of the best frontcourt defenses in all of college basketball. Hamidou Diallo also scored the ball well on the wing, chipping in a team-high 18 points of his own with an efficient 6-of-9 night from the field. Kevin Knox got back to his old ways with 16 points on a perfect 5-for-5 night, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his third career start at point guard. You mathematicians can see those four combined for 66 of Kentucky’s 74 points. Not bad.

But where the Cats really shined was on the glass and in the paint, which was not the case the last time out in the loss at Tennessee. Texas A&M is ranked second in the entire country in rebounds, led by the duo of Davis and Williams, who are ranked first and third in the SEC in rebounds per game. Kentucky, on the other hand, has the reputation of being too soft inside. Just this past weekend, Calipari called out his team’s toughness, saying other teams watch the game tape and say, “Just throw these guys around. They will not fight you back. Just throw ’em and post ’em hard. Go right at them. Don’t fade away. If a shot goes up, bum-rush them. Go rebound a missed shot. They’re going to let you run by them.”

“We have a toughness issue,” Cal admitted. “It’s something we’ve gotta fix day-to-day. That’s all it is. It’s a day-to-day thing. It’s a process with these guys. I hate to say it, sometimes you gotta get hit in the mouth to learn.”

It’s safe to say they learned from the punch in the mouth at Tennessee because Kentucky out-rebounded A&M, and scored more points in the paint — two of A&M’s biggest strengths.

As for the rest of the game, the zone defense looked MUCH BETTER than it did in the loss to the Vols, and it was important because man-to-man wasn’t working. Cal said afterward, “Thank goodness I have Tony on the staff. He taught me some zone stuff, and I have the courage to do it.”

Kentucky also hung tight while needing quality minutes from Brad Calipari when foul trouble struck in the first half. The lineup of Gilgeous-Alexander, Calipari, Gabriel, Richards and Killeya-Jones is one you probably didn’t think you’d ever see, and probably hope to never see again.

In the second half, the teams traded jabs until the very end, when it turned to a battle of who wanted to lose more, as both teams made crucial mistakes in key moments. Missed free throws. Fumbled balls. Missed assignments. The final minutes had it all; however, Kentucky’s winning plays outweighed A&M’s in those final minutes, which was enough for the win.

(And let’s not address the final two seconds and whether or not Wenyen Gabriel fouled Tyler Davis.)

There may be a time to drop one in Rupp Arena, but this wasn’t it.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

45 Comments for Kentucky could’ve lost to Texas A&M, but didn’t

  1. Collie
    11:12 pm January 9, 2018 Permalink

    I’d say Gabriel gets called for illegal D quite often….

    • Han
      11:56 pm January 9, 2018 Permalink

      Gabriel has been on the crap end of a lot of bad calls lately, so he’s owed a good call.

    • Miller45
      11:02 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      yes it should have been called in any universe where they play basketball. TAMU was right to be upset

    • EdC
      12:21 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Not sure everybody got the illegal D reference but I see what you did there. LOL

  2. makeitstop
    11:30 pm January 9, 2018 Permalink

    We were due?

  3. jrdh13
    11:43 pm January 9, 2018 Permalink

    Already down 2 scholarship players for the year?? Do you know something we dont about vanderbilt not playing?

  4. Luether
    11:45 pm January 9, 2018 Permalink

    A better headline might read: “Kentucky should’ve lost to Texas A&M, but didn’t”. These guys have a long way to go…

    • 4everUKblue
      8:11 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Is that what your sources tell say?

    • 4everUKblue
      8:19 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Sources say

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:05 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Remember when we beat Louisville by 29? LOL. Good times….

    • ClutchCargo
      9:54 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      The good teams find a way to win when they don’t play all that well. Try to keep up, Luether.

  5. jaws2
    11:57 pm January 9, 2018 Permalink

    Amazing that we won this game considering the players available. During a stretch in the second half we only had ONE player who could handle the ball and that was Alexander. Under 4 minutes in the game we were playing 2-3 zone with Washington playing out FRONT. The guys really fought for it tonight. I sure hope this continues.

  6. Angelo
    2:05 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    One more Final Four!! The zone defense will get us there!!

  7. rockatao
    6:42 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    The zone worked because UK defended the foul line in this game. At UT, the zone allowed the ball to get to the foul line without opposition, and then UT had a 3-on-2 toward the basket. I give a shout-out to Gabriel in this game also. In the zone, he was constantly talking, directing other guys where to go and who to pick up. I’ve been harsh on this team, but they showed me something last night. Now, can they play like that away from Rupp?

  8. Beavis
    7:29 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    Rockatao,,,,,,you must not have watched the same game I did. The UK zone got shredded. A & M got any shot they wanted. Wide open threes,,bounce passes from the top of the key to wide open players under the basket,,wide open players under the basket on in bound plays. I understand why we need to play some zone. Protect players in foul trouble, which does not work, give tired players a bit of a break, which they certainly take advantage of, and force teams to shot over the zone, which does not work either. Lets not even get started on the offense. Young team and they certainly look like it. Raw talent is there but they have miles to go.

  9. Blue_Cat75
    7:32 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    Aggie fans will see the last 2 seconds an wonder where the call was. UK fans wonder where the calls were all game. Lots of no calls for the Cats in this one.

  10. meeksfor3
    8:10 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    The no call at the end washes out the BS offensive foul on Wenyen for posting up in the first half.

    • makeitstop
      11:59 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Great point… and that seed cost us! We got bounced second round bc of that. So, for every Aggie fan that said back then “man, that kid didn’t deserve a technical, that was BS, we should’ve lost” u have my admiration and sympathy. I’d say to you “You’re a keen observer of basketball and your team should’ve been shooting FT w a chance to tie or win last night. You deserved it.” For the rest, I say “that [email protected]# just happens sometimes, suck it up and good luck in the second round!”

    • makeitstop
      12:00 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      That’s actually a reply to foreverblue below…

  11. 4everUKblue
    8:14 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    I don’t feel the least bit bad about the non call at the end of the game. Remember a couple years ago at A&M Isaac Humphries got the rebound that would have sealed the game but was called for a technical for slamming the ball to the floor in his excitement? We lost that game as a result, went on to beat them in the SEC tournament but they got a higher seed than us. So I don’t feel bad at all.

    • EdC
      12:24 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Gabriel was owed a payback call in this game anyway. (Yea I know it isn’t supposed to work that way)

    • Beavis
      2:33 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      I don’t feel bad either. The point is college officials, both basketball and football are just plain awful. Not one bad call that beats you it is the consistently bad officiating. I do owe some of the SEC officials an apology. I have complained all year about some of the calls/no calls in the games. And then there is Higgins. Watching the Oklahoma/Georgia and Northwestern/UK football games made me beg for some SEC officiating.

    • 4everUKblue
      6:54 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      That call on Gabriel posted above is totally inexcusable, you can’t come up with a rationalization for that call that doesn’t leave you scratching your head.

  12. RC
    8:26 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    I was able to attend in person, which I hadn’t been able to do past couple of years. Couple of things really stood out to me seeing this team up close as opposed to on TV:
    1. Richards and Knox are lazy. They simply don’t hustle. Knox makes up for it by being a gifted athlete with true basketball skills. Richards is mostly worthless. If Knox played with Gabriel’s or SKJ’s energy level he could be special.
    2. Washington is 100% better than he was to start the year. The light has come on for him and he can be special. He picked up a couple of cheap fouls covering up for other guys’ mistakes. He’s got the whole package.
    3. This team can’t guard anyone. It’s disheartening because a lot of it is low BBall IQ, not skill related. Not sure if they ever figure it out.
    4. Free throw shooting. It comes in spurts for this team, which is odd. More mental than most years. It almost cost us last night.
    5. The refs were AWFUL. They hosed UK all night so the no-call (which happened 20 rows in front of me) was a gift. The pass was “un-catchable” but this ain’t football. We got lucky.

    This team has potential to make a long run in the tourney if they just play hard and smart. Very gifted offensively. Defense needs major help. Effort can fix a lot of it.

    • 4everUKblue
      8:29 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Sounds about right.

    • Yoda
      8:48 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      My perspective, partially in reponse to RC’s points above, partially new observations:
      1) Richards and Knox are good kids; that is not in debate. That said, I 100% agree with RC here. Knox is able to cover his sins by actually being able to shoot/score on occasion, but he plays with no emotion or grit. Richards is a good FT shooting big man, and that’s about it. I was told by a friends Richards would go to the NBA because they always want “athletic big men”. My response: “Richards is athletic?!? Fooled me.”
      2) Shai, PJ, and Wenyen are the heart and soul of this team. Love their efforts, but the disconcerting part is on any other recent UK team, not one of them would have been a feature and would have been a 5th, 6th, or 7th option. Speaks to the relative “drop off” in terms of in-game talent this year.
      3) I like that Cal is throwing in the zone this year, but I’d like to see more switching to man and then back to zone to keep the opponents guessing and adjusting. Wenyen comes out WAY too far on guys who are not 3pt threats, totally exposing the back line. SKJ is trying, but he gets caught looking the other way too often on the zone back line. Richards is an absolute nightmare on the back line and on defensive switches, totally loses his assignments and containment. The zone is not our silver bullet.
      4) This was the WORST officiated game I have ever witnessed in person. It’s bad with Doug Shows is the best and most consistent official on the court, which was the case last night. The officiating crew missed far too many calls and seemed confused at times. There was once with about 2:00 to go that PJ was shooting FT’s and the ref inexplicably held the ball for a noticeably long time AFTER PJ’s first FT, totally throwing off his rhythm and receiving the ire of the fans.
      5) Cal is still having to try to get this team to compete; they (collectively) haven’t figured out how to motivate themselves yet. Who is the leader? PJ? Shai? Quade? Wenyen? I know Cal seems to want PJ to be “the guy” but he’s still growing into that role. They better figure it out soon, because SEC road wins are going to be hard to come by this year.

      Right now, it’s hard to see anything past the Sweet 16 for this team. They can grow, but they have to get Knox to assert himself and get something – ANYTHING – from Richards.

    • Rabbi Li
      9:09 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Great points RC… spot on in every point.

  13. Ken Grizzle
    8:37 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    If they called every illegal screen set by Davis He wouldn’t last ten minutes. Throw in his pushes, on the back rebound and offensive fouls he wouldn’t last 5 minutes! He’s a great player but dirty.

    • ClutchCargo
      11:17 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      I don’t think it’s fair to call Davis dirty. Hard nosed? Absolutely. We could use a guy like that on this team.

  14. chrisg18
    8:49 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    Almost right Drew. A&M was still missing Duane Wilson, a starter and their 4th leading scorer. And Williams didn’t even start, so I don’t think they were really that close to being 100%. Obviously we were far from 100%, but let’s not act like it was the A&M team we all expected to see all season. That is a mighty big spin job there.

    I saw the game live and it was a fun one to be at. The crowd was into it. The game was entertaining and a nail biter at the end. Two things really stood out for me though. Knox is even softer in person than on tv. It amazes me Cal plays him as much as he does because he hates soft players so much, but Knox is definitely the softest player on the team. At least the other guys seem to put in effort, although Richards is borderline. And Diallo is just so lost on defense. He’s actually a big liability. Cal seemed to be most upset with him during our defensive breakdowns. And leaving his man at the 3 point line to defend a layup when we are up by 3 at the end was just so dumb. He struggles mentally on the defensive end. The zone seems too complicated for him. Much better from him offensively though.

  15. Rabbi Li
    9:14 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    Can’t believe Calipari put Brad in this game.

    What about the other guards Jonny David (Junior) & Dillon Pulliam (RS Junior) who are not only upperclassmen but could mop the floor with Brad in anything that has to do with basketball fundamentals?

    As the coach John can do what he wants… but let’s not act like that wasn’t absurd (*but he’s a really good shooter at Chuck E. Cheese Pop-A-Shot).

    • EdC
      12:27 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      So when you’ve seen them in practice or in some other pickup games how did they mop the floor with them exactly? Better defenders, beat him one on one?

  16. Rabbi Li
    9:20 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    And while I’m on the subject of spare guards… RECRUIT SOME KENTUCKY BOYS JOHN.

    Should have 2 on the bench at all times (walk-on or scholarship). They will teach the rest of your team what desire means when no one can seem to find it in practice or when the game is on the line and someone has to dive into a buzzsaw to value a single possession.

    This has been a special report during ‘call out’ week on the BBN Network.

    • Smyrna_Cat
      10:52 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      What are you blathering about????

  17. Jiminy Crickets
    9:38 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

    Listen, I’m say Texas A&M was 100 percent, it’s quite a stretch. They had four guys back from different reasons, and two of them were out of breath by halftime. Texas A&M two weeks from now is a totally different thing than what we saw last night that being said, this team found a way to win. I will give them that. If you watch the game, I can’t remember how many times Jay Bills said Texas A&M got to the rim “way too easy”, “Kentucky got lucky there” when A&M missed a wide-open shot. He also spoke several times about the lack of hustle this team shows. Four players on this team care. PJ, Gabriel, shai and green. I’ve said it several times, Knox does not care, and is borderline lazy. Richards is a waste of talent. If knox or Richards showed half of the fight, that PJ or Gabriel did, this team could be elite

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:42 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Do you think Richards will be better next year? Or would you rather he just transfer?

    • Jiminy Crickets
      9:44 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      I love your sarcasm, it makes my day. I have no doubt that Richard’s could be good. So to answer your question legitimately I think Richards could be a fantastic two, three, four year player.

    • Jiminy Crickets
      9:44 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      I say Richards is a waste of talent, because he does not put in the effort. I also said very clearly, that if he did put in the effort, this team could be elite.

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:50 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Some kids develop at a different rate than Anthony Davis and KAT.

      Speaking of KAT, I’m old enough to remember when “fans” were giving him shit because he didn’t “put in the effort” and was “overrated”…..

      I trust Cal.

    • Rabbi Li
      10:00 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Jiminy Crickets – Richards has shown that he gets it. It’s just he isn’t consistent.

      He also doesn’t understand how much other people want what he thinks will be given to him. He’s wrong and it will cost him A LOT OF MONEY.

      Enjoy the ride and know Nick Richards will awaken… hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.

    • BluKudzu
      10:50 am January 10, 2018 Permalink

      I am curious. As of right now, it appears that only one of the players may become a first round draft pick, and I know there is a lot of season left and plenty of time for their basketball IQ to grow. However, the comment made by UK Big Board Update concerning the transfer of Richards, might be something to think about. Not specifically Richards, I hope for the best and wish him the best, as I do all of the kids on the team. But how likely would it be, for those whose season does not work out as well as we all had hoped, and instead of coming back next year to a loaded roster, choose to transfer to get more playing time and exposure?

    • EdC
      12:32 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

      Richards has a lot more potential than Jorts and it took him a full 4 to be a big help which he ultimately was.

      I don’t get the attitude that they have to be amazing their first year. The vast majority of freshmen in the NCAA aren’t put under this same microscope and Richards might not have been if we had more players return like most teams do. Cal seems to recruit much like the NBA does, on physical skills. Not everybody’s basketball IQ matches their raw physical talent and not all get there at the same rate.

      There isn’t anything whatsoever wrong with having freshmen that still play like freshmen for awhile. Most NCAA champions aren’t like the 2012 squad.

  18. markusofmayhem
    9:52 pm January 10, 2018 Permalink

    Thanks EdC. Good point about expectations of Freshmen.
    I love the caliber of talent Cal and team is able to recruit each year, but it should not cause the fans to berate the players just because they need a season or even two too understand the college level game.

    I’ll admit it is sometime frustrating watching “the process,” but that is just what it is, the process.

    Looking forward to seeing the growth of this years team.
    GO CATS and GO BBN.
    Bleeding Blue

  19. Bluebloodtoo
    1:42 am January 11, 2018 Permalink

    Yup, all freshman. Most play like freshman, at least right now. Why is that surprising? We are acting like a bunch spoiled brats by complaining that these freshman are playing like freshman.