Since joining the Southeastern Conference five years ago, Texas A&M has co-starred with Kentucky in some of the most compelling basketball the league has had to offer.
This history of competitive basketball emboldened Texas A&M going into Tuesday’s game in Rupp Arena.
“We expect to go and play well,” A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said on Monday. “We’ve played well against Kentucky. We expect to go and play well. And we expect to give ourselves a chance to win. I think our guys, I don’t think they’re afraid.
“But,” he added, “it’ll be our first ‘true’ road game for guys that are starting for us who haven’t been in that situation.”
This good thing that is Kentucky-Texas A&M came to a crashing end. Vast superiority in guard play propelled UK to a 100-58 victory.
Texas A&M committed a season-high 25 turnovers, which allowed Kentucky to feast on its signature transition game. It was the most turnovers by a UK opponent since Stephen F. Austin had 28 in the season’s opener.
UK enjoyed a 35-2 advantage in points off turnovers in rolling up its second-biggest margin of victory over a SEC opponent since 2003. Only an 86-37 rout of Missouri in 2015 was more lopsided.
“I told Billy after, that’s about as well as we can play,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “Other games, we had played well for 20 minutes, and then 10 minutes we looked like an AAU team. Today, we were grinding on defense (and) didn’t take crazy chances. So it was pretty good for us.”
The chances of Kentucky and Texas A&M extending their streak of compelling competition (the last three games in the series went into overtime) faded fast.
“They’re the fastest team in the country going from defense to offense,” Kennedy said of the Cats. “So we’ve got to get back. That’s what concerns me. Them beating us down the floor . . . They’re one of the fastest-paced teams in the country. They are the fastest-paced team in the country.”
UK looked the part. Malik Monk led the Cats with 26 points. De’Aaron Fox added 15, Isaiah Briscoe 13 and Bam Adebayo 10.
“The turnovers — we didn’t even run our (offense),” Kennedy said. “I would like to give (Kentucky) as much credit as possible, but we weren’t very good.”
The Aggies, 8-5 overall and 0-2 in the SEC, had expected their point guard would be star freshman J.J. Caldwell. He failed to gain academic eligibility.
Kentucky coaches had stressed putting pressure on A&M’s backcourt. “We knew we had to get after them,” Monk said.
Kentucky, which improved to 12-2 overall and 2-0 in the SEC, could hardly have gotten off to a better start. A&M could hardly have gotten off to a poorer start.
Turnovers played a big role in how both teams started. A&M, which had hoped to limit UK’s transition game by limiting its turnovers, did not achieve that aim.
The Aggies committed turnovers on six straight trips downcourt inside the first four minutes.
Kentucky continued to exploit such generosity. Monk’s layup off that sixth turnover put UK ahead 15-3 and prompted an A&M timeout with 16:02 left. The Aggies could not wait for the television timeout.
A&M, which ranked No. 22 in the nation with an average of only 11.8 turnovers, had 15 in the first half. The Aggies looked like a team in search of point guard play.
Meanwhile, Kentucky rolled up a 21-2 advantage in points off turnovers and a 50-27 lead on the halftime scoreboard.
Tyler Davis went to the bench with his second foul at the 11:23 mark. But with UK leading by as much as 23 points in the first half, A&M couldn’t keep its leading scorer on the bench.
Kentucky, which made 56.7 percent of its shots in the first half, kept its shooting shoes on in the second half.
Briscoe led the way. He hit his second and third three-pointers of the game inside the first five minutes.
That pointed UK toward a victory all but assured an hour earlier.
Arkansas at No. 6 Kentucky
8:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)