Kentucky, which needed overtime to dispatch Ole Miss earlier this week, was taken to double-overtime on Saturday by Texas A&M before pulling away for a surprisingly hard-fought 70-64 win at College Station, Texas.
Sophomore center Dakari Johnson scored six points in the second overtime period, including a 4-for-4 effort at the line for the 59-percent free throw shooter. The Cats also got clutch plays from freshmen Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, each of whom came up with key baskets down the stretch.
“Big. Big,” UK coach John Calipari said of the play of his young players under pressure. “… We have a will to win.”
That was the good news.
“We’re just not a very good team right now,” Calipari said. “Texas A&M, Billy (Kennedy) did everything he was supposed to to give them a chance to win. We were lucky to get out with a W. Think about this: Texas A&M was without their best player.”
The Aggies got a career-high 25 points from junior swingman Danuel House to help compensate for the absence of their leading scorer, junior guard Jalen Jones, who was sidelined by an ankle injury. But A&M (9-5, 0-2 SEC) hurt its upset chances with a 16-for-30 showing at the free throw line, including five costly misses in the two overtime periods. The Aggies also went 2-for-15 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Booker finished with 18 points to lead Kentucky (15-0, 2-0 SEC). Johnson added eight points and nine rebounds. The Wildcats won despite shooting 28 percent (18 of 64) from the field, being outscored 38-14 in the paint and seeing three of their stars – Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and Aaron Harrison – foul out along the way.
“We need to take a day off (Sunday), get away from each other, and self-reflect, including me,” Calipari said. “Let’s just figure out where we go with this because right now, we’re not very good.”
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Johnson’s clutch free-throw shooting was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the day, but the poise of the freshmen down the stretch was also eye-opening. Lyles confidently drained a 16-foot jumper, Ulis scored his only points of the day on a 3 with 1:25 to go that flipped the pressure to A&M’s side, and Booker drained two free throws to seal the victory with :08 remaining.
KEY MOMENT: Kentucky looked like its undefeated dream was done when Aaron Harrison forced a contested jump shot with :08 left in the first overtime, but Lyles grabbed the biggest offensive rebound of the day and converted two free throws to tie the game and force a second overtime.
STAT OF THE DAY: The Harrison Twins, Andrew and Aaron, went a combined 6-for-30 from the field and 3-for-17 from behind the arc in their return home to Texas.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - UK double-overtime game since 2008 against Vanderbilt.
6:57 - Time UK held A&M without a basket from 5:35 mark of first half to 18:38 mark of second half.
10 - Blocked shots by the Cats, the seventh time this season UK has rejected double-figure shots by the opponent.
13 - UK opponents held under 40 percent from the field this season.
QUOTABLE: “You've got to play like you're going to the electric chair because that's how people are playing against us.” – UK coach John Calipari.