Texas A&M presents a big problem for Kentucky. More precisely, Texas A&M’s “bigs” present a problem for UK.
And Texas A&M’s “littles” present a problem for Texas A&M.
That’s one way to view Kentucky’s game at Texas A&M on Saturday.
Tyler Davis, Robert Williams, DJ Hogg and Tonny Trocha-Morelos give the Aggies four players 6-foot-9 or taller. In particular, Davis and Williams command the attention of Texas A&M opponents.
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“Both ‘bigs’ are extremely gifted,” UK assistant coach Joel Justus said Thursday. “They both can score. They both can pass. They both require a lot of attention on the defensive end.
“And it’s a big game for our big guys to come and be ready to compete, to be ready to battle.”
Isaac Humphries welcomed the challenge.
“Usually the good players are the guards,” he said, “and the scout is specific to the good players being the guards. We like to be challenged. It’s going to be fun.”
No one says that the guards are Texas A&M’s good players. That was evident when Kentucky beat the Aggies 100-58 in Rupp Arena on Jan. 3. Texas A&M’s 28 turnovers in that game remain the second most by a UK opponent this season. The Aggies had 25 more turnovers in their next game, two reasons why Texas A&M ranked last in turnover margin in Southeastern Conference play going into this week.
“We didn’t even run our offense,” A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said after the game at Kentucky. “I would like to give (UK) as much credit as possible, but we weren’t very good.”
Two weeks ago, Kennedy cited improved ball-handling.
“We’re still turning it over more than I’d like,” he said. “But not as much as we were earlier in the year.”
Kentucky used pressure defense to good effect in beating Vanderbilt on Tuesday. More could come at Texas A&M.
“That is something we’ve kind of had in our pocket to use,” Justus said, “and, obviously, it gave us a bit of a boost (against Vandy).”
Kennedy linked guard play to how Davis and Williams have performed.
Going into this final week of the regular season, Williams led the SEC in blocks. But there’s a downside to the many scoring opportunities he must contest.
“This is one of my least athletic teams, especially the perimeter,” Kennedy said. “We’re not great perimeter defenders.”
As for Davis, Kennedy cited the big man’s turnovers (2.9 per SEC game).
“That goes back to the ball in his hands more than it needs to be because of our lack of point guard play,” the A&M coach said.
Signs reading “one more year” have been seen in Texas A&M home games. This is a reference to Williams, who’s looking more and more like a one-and-done player.
“If he has a chance to be a first-round pick — which he is, no question in my mind — and that’s what his family decides to do, we’re going to support it,” Kennedy said late last month. “ ... From what I see, I wouldn’t be shocked with him being a lottery pick, because he has that kind of ability.”
Williams is averaging nearly a double-double in SEC play (12.5 points, 9.4 rebounds). He had nearly half of the Aggies’ blocks in league play (44 of 89).
“He’s made himself someone that has tremendous potential, and you can just see it,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s oozing with it, and just getting better and better.”
Williams, who is from Vivian, La., played with UK point guard De’Aaron Fox on the AAU circuit last year. After Williams blocked four UK shots in the Jan. 3 game, Fox said he told his teammates to be wary of Williams around the basket.
Florida Coach Mike White, who previously coached at Louisiana Tech, was aware of Williams’ potential.
“So disruptive defensively, and he does it gracefully,” White said. “He’s really, really progressed with his motor. He’s come a long way.”
The game is something of a homecoming for UK point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is from Houston.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said.
When asked how many family and friends would attend the game, Fox said, “Man, I don’t have a number. There is no number.”
According to a news release, here’s how CBS’s bracketologist, Jerry Palm, assessed Kentucky:
“Kentucky played a pretty good schedule outside the league. But they didn’t get the wins this year they normally do, and in particular losing at home to Kansas and UCLA. They did beat North Carolina, but they also lost to Louisville.
“But they’ve done well again in the SEC ... If they win the conference tournament and beat Florida again, they have an outside shot at a 1-seed. But, they probably would need an unrealistic amount of help. A 2-seed is more likely for the Wildcats.”
Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel will call the game for CBS.
No. 9 Kentucky at Texas A&M
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: UK 24-5 (14-2 SEC); Texas A&M 16-13 (8-9)
Series: UK leads 7-3
Last meeting: UK won 100-58 on Jan. 3 in Rupp Arena