COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Kentucky coach John Calipari would certainly prefer his team shoot better than the 36.2% the Wildcats shot Wednesday night against Texas A&M.
But the fact that 12th-ranked Kentucky won despite tying a season low with that shooting percentage actually pleased the veteran coach.
”I love those games, absolutely love them,” he said. ”That means you know you had to fight, and you had to guard, and you had to rebound or you had no chance of winning.”
Sahvir Wheeler scored 12 points to lead a balanced scoring attack and Kentucky used a strong second half to outlast Texas A&M 64-58.
The victory extends Kentucky’s winning streak to four games and snaps an eight-game winning streak for Texas A&M (15-3, 4-1 SEC).
”Our guys played with tremendous fight, tremendous togetherness from start to finish,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said. ”We came up short but not (because) of how hard we competed.”
The Aggies were dominant early and led by as many as 13 in front of a record crowd of 14,036, but the Kentucky (15-3, 5-1) chipped away at the lead before going on top midway through the second half and holding on for the win.
Calipari enjoyed the atmosphere of the rowdy crowd that was mostly dressed in white T-shirts handed out at the arena, that was loud from start to finish.
”I want to be roundly booed,” he said. ”I want guys to almost have aneurysm booing, screaming so loud. Then I think: `OK I’m doing my job.”’
Williams, who is in his third season at A&M, was thrilled to see such a huge crowd cheering his team on Wednesday night.
”The environment is special for everyone,” he said. ”That’s what you want college basketball to be about. I thought it was a good game regardless of who you were cheering for.”
The win was No. 799 for Calipari.
Tyrece Radford made a layup for the Aggies to cut the lead to 2 with less than three minutes remaining. Both teams committed turnovers before Jacob Toppin made 1 of 2 free throws to push Kentucky’s lead to 61-58 with about 90 seconds to go.
The Aggies had two chances to tie it after that, but Radford and Hassan Diarra both missed 3-pointers and Texas A&M was forced to intentionally foul with 10 seconds to go.
Davion Mintz made 1 of 2 free throws to extend it to 62-58 and Oscar Tshiebwe made two free throws after another Aggie 3-point miss to secure the victory.
Kentucky’s 13-point deficit was the largest the team had faced since trailing by 15 points in a season-opening 79-71 loss to Duke. The Wildcats had a season-high 17 turnovers on a night the Aggies had 12.
”You’ve got to give A&M credit for how they played us,” Calipari said. ”They came in with a game plan, and it affected us.”
Tshiebwe added eight points and 14 rebounds for Kentucky and Mintz had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Toppin scored the first four points of an 8-1 run that gave Kentucky its first lead of the game with nine minutes left. Kellan Grady missed a 3-pointer but got the rebound and finished with a layup to put the Wildcats on top 49-48.
A dunk by Henry Coleman tied it later in the second half, but Kentucky scored the next four points to make it 58-54 with five minutes to play.
Coleman led A&M with 17 points and was the only Aggie who scored in double figures.
Kentucky scored the first five points of the second half, with a 3 from Wheeler, to tie it. But the Aggies used a 6-1 run aided by three turnovers by the Wildcats to make it 41-36 with about 16 minutes to go.
Texas A&M was up 35-30 at halftime.
Kentucky: The Wildcats were able to escape with a win in this one but will need to play better in their next game if they hope to beat No. 2 Auburn on the road Saturday night.
Texas A&M: The Aggies will be unhappy that they let this one get away, but should be pleased with their progress this season after going 2-8 in conference play last season.
Kentucky: Visits Auburn Saturday.
Texas A&M: Visits Arkansas Saturday night.
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