Kentucky got a sloppy but necessary home win Tuesday, and sent Texas A&M spiraling in the process
The Wildcats had only seven scholarship players, but it was just enough to fend off a talented and desperate Aggies squad
It's Jan. 9 and nobody has any idea how good Kentucky's going to be this season. That's an abnormal assessment at this point on the calendar, but it's the truth more than halfway through the Wildcats' campaign.
UK is young and it remains to be seen if John Calipari can coax some kind of dominant streak out of a roster that's still stiff with untapped talent.
What is known: Kentucky's 74-73 home win Tuesday night over a free-falling Texas A&M club was necessary to maintain realistic hopes of winning the much improved SEC.
Also, Kentucky (12-3, 3-1) got away with one here. A non-call on the final play of regulation prevented Texas A&M center Tyler Davis from going to the foul line with a shot to tie or win the game. Davis was held by UK sophomore Wenyen Gabriel as a 60-foot pass from J.J. Caldwell cruised over Davis' head. He never got his arms up to try to catch the pass because Gabriel had him hooked in the paint and no official had an angle to see the call and blow the whistle.
Right after the game ended, John Adams, who spent years as the coordinator of NCAA Division I men's basketball officiating, sent this tweet:
Here's why the outcome was impressive for Kentucky, even amid a controversial conclusion: The Wildcats only had seven scholarship players available. This season we can't assume Kentucky's going to win home games because it's Kentucky. This was a bit sloppy but eye-opening at the same time. Texas A&M owns wins over West Virginia and USC. It arguably has more talent right now than UK -- that's why A&M was projected by many experts to finish ahead of UK in the SEC.
But that's not what we're seeing. What we're seeing with A&M is a program trying to get back to being fully healthy, with no player suspensions -- and now the Aggies are 0-4 in the league and 11-5 overall. Winning the SEC is already out of the question. Billy Kennedy's team not only is done in the SEC race, but it's on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Bubble talk doesn't usually bubble up until late January, but rest assured that A&M will be in the thick of it all.
A road win against a depleted Kentucky team was A&M's prime chance. But Robert Williams -- a projected lottery pick last season who has done little to improve his stock over the past two months -- didn't play like a next-level difference-maker against Kentucky. A&M had two really good looks from 3 in the final 20 seconds that didn't fall. Small defeats that bring on a big loss. It's fitting that A&M's win over USC is one of its best, because those two teams -- along with Northwestern -- have been the most disappointing this season.
Kentucky avoided putting together a losing streak by getting some aggressive play from Hamidou Diallo and a few opportunistic buckets from Kevin Knox. Those two freshmen are Kentucky's two best overall players. They must show up every single game and be dominating factors in order for UK to have a shot at being a high seed, a second-weekend NCAA Tournament team.
The Wildcats have road games coming up against Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Kentucky is much better than those teams, but they are road games. This group is young, but the time to grow has to be now. It says something about the state of this year's UK group that winning games over Vandy and the Gamecocks would be a big step forward, but that's the reality. Get those road wins, keep pace in the SEC and let's see if Calipari's crew can start to string together a streak of wins that can alter UK's outlook.
A&M's in a different spot altogether. The Aggies have a lot to prove and need to try to stanch the wound. It doesn't get easier. A&M's next game is on the road against Tennessee, which at this point has proven to be a better team than Texas A&M this season. A loss there, and A&M will temporarily be out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
At full strength the Aggies are dangerous, but after such a brutal losing streak, it's fair to question whether this group can regain its confidence. Considered the best in the conference just a short while ago, Texas A&M now qualifies as the most vexing team in a most vexing season of college basketball.
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