GAME NOTES: The 14th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will continue their three-game homestand at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night when they tangle with the Texas A&M Aggies in an SEC showdown.
After opening up its SEC slate of games with three consecutive wins, Texas A&M finally found the loss column on Saturday afternoon with a tough 81-72 overtime defeat at Mississippi State. That setback aside, the Aggies have still impressed this season, going 12-5 overall.
Kentucky suffered its first league loss of the season on Jan. 14 in a heartbreaking overtime decision at Arkansas (87-85) but got back on the winning track on Saturday, tipping off its homestand with a 74-66 triumph over Tennessee to improve to 3-1 in the SEC. The Wildcats are 13-4 overall, have won five of their last six games and have yet to lose at Rupp Arena in 11 tries.
The teams split the season series in 2012-13, with each team winning on the road. Kentucky holds a 3-2 advantage over Texas A&M all time.
The Aggies held a lead for nearly all of regulation against Mississippi State over the weekend but fell victim to a game-tying bucket in the final minute to force overtime, then MSU pulled away in the extra session thanks to an 8-0 run late in the frame. Despite shooting a respectable 44.6 percent from the field, the Aggies were ultimately done in by losing both the turnover (15-14) and rebounding (38-33) battles. Jamal Jones was outstanding in defeat, posting 24 points before being ejected in overtime following two technical fouls. Davonte Fitzgerald came off the bench to score 20, while Fabyon Harris registered 12 points and six rebounds.
On the season, Texas A&M is far from an explosive offensive squad, scoring 69.3 ppg, but it makes up for its with its stellar scoring defense (61.5 ppg). Jones has asserted himself as the go-to scoring option with 12.3 ppg, shooting 37-of-95 from 3-point range (.389). Kourtney Roberson (9.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) acts as an anchor down low, while Alex Caruso brings 9.1 ppg to the table.
After trailing Tennessee by nine early in the first half, Kentucky bounced back to take a two-point lead at intermission and held on in the second stanza to capture the eight-point victory. Andrew Harrison spearheaded the attack, scoring a career-high 26 points on 7-of-13 from the field and a perfect 10- of-10 from the foul line, chipping in to an outstanding team afternoon from the charity stripe (23-of-24). Julius Randle wasn't his usual self on the glass, as he collected just two rebounds, but he made up for it with 18 points, and Aaron Harrison was also stellar with 14 points.
The Wildcats have displayed excellence all over the floor this season, outshooting their opponents from the field, 47.4 percent to 39 percent, while boasting positive margins in terms of scoring (+13.3) and rebounding (+11.4). The team is not without its weaknesses however, as it shoots just 67.2 percent from the free-throw line and owns a -1.5 turnover margin. Randle has established himself as one of the nation's top forwards in his freshman season with 16.9 ppg (on 54.1 percent from the field) and 10.5 rpg. Fellow first-year players James Young (14.2 ppg), Aaron Harrison (14.1 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) also play crucial roles, while Willie Cauley-Stein (8.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) ranks ninth in the country in blocks (3.4 bpg).
The Aggies' defensive pressure will likely keep the Wildcats under their season average, but even if that's the case, Texas A&M still doesn't present enough offensive firepower to keep pace with Kentucky on the road.
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