Kentucky basketball: Despite shooting mostly blanks Cats connect for late win

Kentucky Wildcats guard Davion Mintz ( Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky Wildcats guard Davion Mintz ( Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Kentucky basketball team went into College Station knowing Texas A&M was ready for a shootout, but despite misfiring much of the game the No. 12 ranked Wildcats had just enough ammo to notch a 64-58 win.

The Wildcats were never in sync for most if not all the 40 minutes of action that at times felt like the team was in the Twilight Zone going from playing a near-perfect game throttling Tennessee on Saturday to a frightening and sloppy performance on Wednesday.

As I said you will never duplicate that kind of W against the Vols, but the Cats didn’t need to make it so hard on themselves against an A&M Cinderella team that had won eight straight games and was picked to finish in the bottom of the Southeastern Conference at the start of the season.

Sahvir Wheeler, who hails from Houston just 93 miles away had lots of family and friends inside a record crown at Reed Arena and unfortunately picked the worst time to have his worst game as a Wildcat.

Kentucky basketball offense rattled into misfires and turnovers

The junior guard was rattled all game by the Aggie swarming defense and despite leading the team in scoring with 12 points along with a team-high 4 assists, he also turned it over a career-high 8 times.

Big Blue needed a tough road test because they will be playing away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena four of the next six games. I think they got a wake-up call as to what life on the road in the SEC is all about.

None will be bigger than when they go to No. 2 Auburn for a Noon tip on Saturday.

But for now, coach John Calipari will take the win and move on. That is all you can do when you traverse through the brutal SEC schedule along with a game against Kansas next Saturday thrown in for good measure.

After the game on the SEC Network, he was asked about the takeaway.

"“To get out of here with a win against a team that had won eight in a row, and we were 1 for 11 again on three’s and how are we only down by five at halftime? I said lets just play we are in a two bucket game. We fought and some guys stepped back and some guys stepped up. That’s what a team is all about. Those who stepped back learn from it and move on. We got another game coming up so move on.”"

They will need to reload and come out firing much, much better on Saturday than they did against A&M.

Kentucky hit a frigid 21 of 58 field goals (36.2 percent) and a bone-chilling 4 of 18 from 3-point land. Many shots were so far off the mark it looked like a carnival game.

But credit the Aggie defense for contesting shots all night and frustrating nearly every Wildcat.

The first half was something to forget yet Cats only trailed by 5 at the break

As good as Kentucky played, shot, fought, and did just about everything right in routing Tennessee on Saturday the first 20 minutes against the Aggies was something to forget.

Kentucky opened the game hitting just 4 of its first 18 shots and 0 for 5 on 3-pointers at the halfway point of the first half trailing 16-12 despite only turning it over twice.

We thought well they will kick things into gear any minute and get things going.

We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited until we nearly ran out of patience wondering how we were only down by around six points most of the time.


Kentucky never led in the half despite matching the Aggies on their first 3 made buckets. They fell behind as much as many as 13 points as  TyTy Washington sat on the bench with two early fouls. As good as he had been the past month earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors four straight weeks it was not his night either.

Calipari, in uncharacteristic fashion though was forced to bring the super freshman back in the game as it slipped further and further out of hand. He only played six minutes in the half managing six points, two fouls, and just a single assist.

But they needed him as Wheeler picked up his dribble near midcourt multiple times and got trapped.

Somehow though Kentucky hung around and hit 4 of its last 5 shots while A&M missed four of its final five and allowed Big Blue to stay within striking distance.

The second half was not much better poor shooting, ugly turnovers

If there was a Calipari fire and brimstone speech at halftime that didn’t work either as Kentucky started just as misguided.

Wheeler however knocked down a 3-pointer off an assist from Tshiebwe just a 1:26 into the second half and tied it at 35-35 for the fist time since it was 6-6. That didn’t last as A&M rebounded with a 6-1 run and four straight UK turnovers forced Calipari to call a timeout.

After missing his first five 3 pointers, Kellan Grady finally knocked one down at the 14:14 mark pulling the Cats within 43-41. Still it wasn’t enough and we were still waiting for a UK run.

Kentucky finally got its first lead at 49-48 when Grady misfired on a 3-pointer, his eighth miss, with a rebound put-back with 9:00 to play.

As the game slipped under the 7-minute mark to play Texas A&M clung to a  52-51 lead and we sat wondering why either team was launching threes. Kentucky was just 3 for 16 and the Aggies 1 for 16 at that point and UK had turned it over 16 times.

Calipari was asked about this after the game and what he told his team.

"“They smoothened Sahvir and I did a poor job of trying to explain to them no more ball screens because A&M took us completely out of our game.  The second thing we needed to see TyTy in a big pressure packed game and he had two turnovers back to back and I took him out. I told him I want to see who you are and he makes big baskets.”"

They headed his instructions and took the lead for good with 6:19 to play on a Jacob Toppin slam. Kentucky fended off each Aggie attack from there but their largest lead was the final margin on a pair of Oscar Tshiebwe free throws.

Tshiebwe finished with 8 points and 14 rebounds for Kentucky and Davion Mintz had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Let’s just take the W and sleep and move on.