COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Kentucky A&M (Anxiety and Misadventure) outlasted Texas A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical) 72-68 on Saturday.
In continuing a familiar pattern, Kentucky built a double-digit lead. Then the latest of Coach John Calipari's freshman-dependent teams again showed its lack of age.
Texas A&M outscored UK 10-2 in the final three minutes-plus of regulation. After Elston Turner's jumper sent the game into overtime, Kentucky found the resolve (and eight-of-10 free-throw shooting) to prevail. Barely.
"We are what we are," Calipari said in a voice mixed with relief and resignation. "We showed signs of getting better."
But six turnovers in the final two minutes-plus of regulation and three baskets in the final 13:01 of play (counting overtime) removed any impulse to speak of triumph or metaphorical corners turned.
"We just don't have a swagger about us," Calipari said of the Cats' reaction to opponents' rallies. "None. As a matter of fact, we almost look defeated."
Bottom line, Kentucky was not defeated. The Cats improved to 15-6 overall, 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference and — despite its topsy-turvy nature — 4-1 on the road in the league.
"There were 150 games today," Calipari said. "One hundred and fifty teams lost today. We weren't one of them."
Kentucky followed that suspense-filled script that resulted in a victory at Ole Miss earlier in the week, but also led to defeat at Alabama the previous week.
This time the Cats led by as much as 13 points late in the first half. Turner, who scored 40 points when the teams played in Rupp Arena in January, sent the game into overtime with 1.4 seconds left by hitting a leaner over two defenders.
Guarded by Julius Mays and with Ryan Harrow closing in as a second defender, Turner rose near the elbow area. His shot bounced off the rim and fell in.
"It was over," Mays said of the potentially deflating need for overtime. "Behind us. Definitely not the way to go out (of the second half). We definitely wanted to win in a better fashion."
Kentucky made multiple clutch plays and blunders. Archie Goodwin's contested scoop shot eased the tension when A&M got within 47-46.
Mays, who scored a season-high 19 points, later hit a three-pointer as the shot clock buzzed. He made three free throws in the final 15.8 seconds of overtime to seal the victory.
But it wasn't easy. UK made four straight turnovers down the stretch of the second half and didn't score a basket in the final 3:46 of regulation.
"Just toughness plays," Mays said of the flash flood of turnovers. "As a team, we're not getting into bodies to get open. ... We didn't have that focus. But we've got to have that focus."
The Cats had only two baskets in the final 8:01 of the second half. That helped keep things interesting.
Nerlens Noel, who did not have a basket at Ole Miss, scored a career-high 19 points. His post-up basket began overtime and represented only the third UK basket in the final 13:01 of play. Noel also grabbed 14 rebounds.
Kentucky contained Turner. He made only seven of 23 shots (one of seven from three-point range) and scored 21 points.
Calipari saluted Mays, while lamenting Goodwin's defensive effort. The UK coach jokingly (?) said that onlookers should flee if they see Goodwin trying to guard Turner. Even in a "pickup game," the UK coach said.
Although Turner's 21 points marked his high since the memorable game in Rupp Arena, Mays voiced satisfaction.
"I thought we did well," he said. "He got lost a few times. We wanted to force him left. That was the game plan. He's a lot better going to his right."
Mays' two free throws put Kentucky ahead 71-68 with 15.8 seconds left in overtime.
Then Turner missed a makeable three-pointer with less than two seconds remaining. That miss dropped A&M to 13-8 overall and 3-5 in the SEC.
"He was real deep," Mays said of Turner's final shot. "But he's capable of making it. I'm just glad he didn't."
Turner, the face of composure as a fifth-year senior, explained the miss with poise.
"It felt good," he said. "It felt better than the shot I made to go into overtime.
"It was kind of like (on the shot at the end of regulation) I got a lucky bounce. On the shot in overtime, I didn't get a lucky bounce."
South Carolina at Kentucky
When: 9 p.m. TV: ESPNU
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com