Perhaps Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks were looking forward to this Sunday’s trip to Lexington where they’ll do battle with Kentucky. Perhaps Self’s charges were still basking in the afterglow of a thrilling come from behind victory against Georgia Tech or perhaps the entire Kansas nation -- players and fans -- underestimated just how tough Texas A&M would be on Wednesday night.
Whether it was pretty or not, the Jayhawks -- who are now 10-0 -- accomplished their goal when they opened up the 2005 Big 12 campaign with a 65-60 victory over the Aggies that wasn’t sealed until the finals seconds of the game.
For the second game in a row, the Jayhawks relied on a big shot from freshman forward Alex Galindo. The six-foot-seven inch native of Puerto Rico hit the most important shot of the game when he drained a three from the top of the key breaking a 58-58 tie giving Kansas a 61-58 with just 40 seconds to go.
“I know that if I have the shot in clutch time, I will take it,” said Galindo of his second straight big shot. “I won’t be scared to try and win the game.”
Led by senior guard Aaron Miles’ seven first half points, Kansas was able to crawl out to a 29-25 halftime advantage. While an optimist would point to the fact that the Jayhawks forced 10 turnovers and held the previously undefeated Aggies to 40.9% shooting from the field, a pessimist would quickly counter that the Jayhawks 37% shooting from the field and inability to get their offense in sync was cause for great worry.
Without being inside the locker room, it is probably safe to say that Self was taking a more pessimistic view of the Jayhawks cold start. However, Self was careful not to take any credit away from how improved the Aggies are under his former assistant Billy Gillespie.
“They’re good defensively and they play extremely hard and are scrappy, they beat us to loose balls and certainly whipped us in the second half on the glass,” said Self of A&M. “They’re going to win some games in our league and there’s no doubt about that.”
In fact after each team grabbed 15 boards in the first half, A&M enjoyed an 18-12 (8-3 on the offensive glass) advantage on the boards in the second half. On a night when sophomore guard J.R. Giddens couldn’t find his stroke, the Jayhawks really struggled with the Aggies six-foot-nine inch freshman Joseph Jones who picked up four offensive rebounds and scored eight of his 16 points in just 13 minutes of play.
“Joseph Jones was the best player in the game hands down, I’m sure Billy (Gillespie) would say the same thing, and he’s a freshman,” said Self of Jones. “Our freshman didn’t challenge him at all tonight as far as competitive spirit or battling him on the glass or wanting loose balls, he was really good.”
That isn’t to say that the second half, or game for that matter, was devoid of any positives. Despite a sluggish offense and the slow pace of the game, Kansas was able to shoot 47.9% on field goals and 76.2% from the free throw line during the decisive second half.
There was also the play of senior guard Mike Lee who provided a huge lift for the Jayhawks by scoring 10 points during 28 minutes of play after struggling for much of the year.
“I’m really proud of Mike. Mike’s pressed and he hasn’t had anything good happen to him for two or three weeks, maybe longer,” said Self of the Portland, OR native. “Good things will happen if you have a great attitude and keep plugging and he certainly did that tonight. We wouldn’t have won the game without Mike.”
While it wasn’t what they had hoped for, Kansas will gladly take the victory and move on to face Kentucky on Sunday afternoon in a much anticipated matchup.
“It’s great, I’m excited to go to Kentucky,” said Miles. “I don’t know much about (Rupp Arena) but Kentucky is a storied and traditioned program much like Kansas is and that’s why it’s going to be a great game.”