LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said his team needed to bring its “A” game to beat No. 11 Kentucky on its home floor, a mission the 15th-ranked Aggies thoroughly executed going to the basket.
In fact, Texas A&M did it so well that Blair almost did a double-take when looking at his team’s 52-32 dominance in the paint, perhaps the most glaring statistic in Thursday night’s 81-69 victory over the Wildcats. Then again, the Aggies encountered surprisingly little resistance from a Kentucky squad that fiercely defends its court any other time.
Courtney Walker scored 19 points and Courtney Williams 16 to lead five Texas A&M players in double figures. Achiri Ade and Jordan Jones each added 12 points while Khaalia Hillsman 10 for the Aggies, who led by as many as 23. Ade led the Aggies with 13 rebounds.
“We’ve played well on the road but we were never able to finish,” the Hall of Fame coach said after Texas A&M (21-6, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) earned a third-place tie with Mississippi State, which was off, and LSU, which beat Georgia. “The end of the first half I think was the biggest change of the game. We had an even ball game, even (being) behind and all of a sudden we made some plays.”
The Aggies continued making them to get a step closer toward claiming a double bye for the upcoming SEC tournament that goes to the top four teams.
Tied with the Wildcats and LSU for fourth place entering the night, Texas A&M methodically separated itself from Kentucky by owning the paint with Williams and others often finding clear paths to the basket. The Aggies’ starting frontcourt alone outscored the Wildcats 38-17, success that explains why they didn’t bother shooting from 3-point range.
Texas A&M also used its size and depth to outrebound Kentucky (19-7, 8-5) 49-37 including 21 offensive boards en route to its fifth victory in six games and first win in Lexington.
Makayla Epps had 19 points and Linnae Harper 13 for the Wildcats, who dropped their second straight game and are 3-3 in their last six.
“It was a tough night for us,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We did not play very hard and I thought Texas A&M played real hard, took it to us and they deserved to win the game.”
Texas A&M also shot 44 percent from the field for its third straight victory while holding Kentucky to 38 percent.
Kentucky led 24-16 with seven minutes left in the half before Texas A&M closed with a 22-7 run led by its front court. The Aggies then mounted an 11-0 run in the second half to break the game open and provide a cushion as the Wildcats got within 10 points late.
Texas A&M: The Aggies shot 51 percent in the first half.
Kentucky: The Wildcats outscored the Aggies’ bench 25-12 and scored 22 points off 16 turnovers.
Both teams wore pink in Kentucky’s Play4Kay game honoring late coach Kay Yow and raising awareness of women’s cancers. The host Wildcats donned all-pink uniforms with blue numbers and pink socks; the Aggies wore white uniforms with pink numbers trimmed in dark red.
Texas A&M: Hosts Florida on Sunday.
Kentucky: Visits Mississippi on Monday.
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