BOZICH No flag! Kentucky "holds" on, toughens up, beats Texas A&M
John Calipari told his team it had to toughen up -- and the Wildcats responded by "holding" on to beat Texas A&M, 74-73, Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Two weeks ago Texas A&M was ranked the fifth best team in the nation. That’s right Number 5, ahead of West Virginia, Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma and everybody in the Southeastern Conference.
The Aggies came to Rupp Arena Tuesday night as the 14th best team in the SEC, the only team without a league victory. Suspensions. Injuries. Buzzer beaters. The Aggies have had worse luck than Johnny Manziel in a nightclub.
Guess which A&M team lined up to play Kentucky?
How did you know?
The one that began the season by defeating West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Penn State as well as 11 of its first 12 games.
Down six to A&M with less than nine minutes to play, Kentucky held on for a 74-73 victory.
Saying the Wildcats held on for the victory was not lapsing into a tired cliché.
The Wildcats did hold on. In fact, Wenyen Gabriel did the holding, wrapping his left arm around A&M’s Tyler Davis as teammate JJ Caldwell tried to find Davis with a 55-foot pass in the final seconds for a game-winning layup.
No flag. Play on.
Gabriel did his work well. The ball sailed out of bounds. The officials missed Gabriel’s trickery. There was no whistle. Just a horn that signaled Kentucky had won for third time in four SEC games while improving to 13-3 overall.
In March, it’s a victory likely to score points with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, and nobody (except A&M coach Billy Kennedy) will be talking about what ESPN analyst Jay Bilas was talking about when the game ended.
Bilas saw the hold, but Bilas had neither a striped shirt nor a whistle.
“That would have drawn a (football penalty) flag,” Bilas said. “There’s no question he was held. The referees just missed it.”
Texas A&M also missed a pair of three-pointers in the final 30 seconds and 10 of 24 free throw attempts.
Credit Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and P.J. Washington with making winning plays for Kentucky.
Diallo scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half while playing all 20 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander continued his recent stretch of determined and effective play, contributing 16 points with five assists and seven rebounds. He logged a game-high 39 minutes.
Washington made a tough contested left-handed layup that pushed the Wildcats ahead, 72-67, with 58 seconds to play. Credit Washington with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Bilas called him the toughest player on the court.
Those were the three guys who appeared to respond when John Calipari challenged his team during a second-half timeout. Calipari tried to force his team to grow up. He directed them to play through foul trouble and Texas A&M spurts.
Guard Quade Green was sidelined with a back injury. He did not play. Kevin Knox and Diallo had their first-half minutes limited by foul trouble.
Listen to what Calipari said to his team during a timeout during the second half. (We know what the coach said because he agreed to wear a microphone and have a stretch of his comments aired during each half.)
“You gotta grow up,” Calipari yelled. “You gotta be a man. You gotta accept coaching. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We’re trying to help you.”
If you were looking for the surest sign of how much Calipari had to scramble, this example works. With 4:21 to play in the first half he waved his son, Brad, into the game.
He left Brad in for nearly three minutes, rested him briefly and sent him back into the game less than a minute later after Nick Richards became the fourth Wildcat to earn two fouls in the first half.
After disregarding the pleas of fans to launch a shot during his first stretch on the floor, Calipari took – and missed – a three-pointer with 43 seconds left in the half.
Dad could not complain. His team survived the foul situation and more than seven minutes without a field goal to build a 37-35 halftime lead when Kevin Knox made a shot from distance in the final eight seconds.
Kentucky’s foul issues continued in the second half. Washington went to the bench after earned two more fouls in the first two minutes. Toss in a pair of A&M three-pointers and Calipari asked for a timeout at 17:20 with his team trailing, 44-39.
He benched Knox, replacing him with Washington, despite his three fouls. Knox eventually rallied to score nine of his 15 points in the second half.
The Wildcats return to the road for their next two games – Saturday at Vanderbilt and Tuesday at South Carolina. Those will be the Wildcats’ third and fourth games away from Rupp in a five-game stretch, but the Commodores and Gamecocks project as second-division SEC teams.
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