COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Kentucky, the No. 1 ranked team all season, had inspired comparisons to John Wooden's dynasty at UCLA. That Kentucky did not play at Texas A&M on Saturday.
This new — and definitely not improved — Kentucky needed two overtimes to win 70-64 against an A&M team playing without its best player, Jalen Jones.
The echo of Kentucky's surprising need of an overtime to subdue Ole Miss on Tuesday was in the air.
"We're just not a very good team, right now," UK Coach John Calipari said. "... We kind of got lucky and walked out with a 'W.'"
The idea of Kentucky, old or new, not being a good team made A&M Coach Billy Kennedy smile a knowing smile.
"Man, they're really good," he said. "He knows they're really good.
"They're not playing, maybe, night in and night out, day in and day out, like a veteran, No. 1-ranked team. But how many veteran No. 1-ranked teams are there in college basketball anymore? Not very many."
Kennedy, a man not given to hyperbole, suggested Kentucky was not immune to the ebbs and flows of many other teams.
"They're young," he said. "They're going to have moments like that. They're going to be challenged. They're going to second-guess things. They're going to throw the ball away. ... They're going to get upset when the coach gets on them."
That said, Kennedy added, "They're the best team in the country. And that's why they're No. 1."
Still, Kentucky's play was wildly out of character. The Cats got crushed in the paint — outscored in the paint (38-14) for only the second time this season. Yes, the first time came against Ole Miss.
UK was also strangely passive with its signature offensive weapon: offensive rebounding. The Cats grabbed only two in the game's first 17 minutes.
Calipari credited A&M's physical play. "They just said, this guy's not getting it, and push you into the cheerleaders," he said. "... We didn't fight it. We just accepted it."
A&M glue guy Alex Caruso cited the team's meek surrender in a 65-44 loss at Alabama on Tuesday. "Kind of an a-ha moment," he said. "Because we realized that was really embarrassing. That's not our team, and that's not what we're about."
Bottom line: Though the first Kentucky team extended to more than one extra period since Billy Gillispie's first season as coach (a 79-73 victory over Vanderbilt on Jan. 13, 2008), the Cats won.
Tyler Ulis' only basket of the game — a three-pointer — put Kentucky ahead 66-63 with 1:25 left in the second overtime.
"That's a pretty strong weapon when you have a freshman point guard who can come in and hit a big three in overtime to separate the game," Kennedy said.
Dakari Johnson, a 57.1-percent free throw shooter this season, clinched it with two foul shots with 14.7 seconds left. That completed his 6-for-8 game from the foul line.
To explain the pleasant surprise, Calipari referenced a key moment in the Ole Miss game. "If one of mine cramps, and (the opponent) picks (the foul shooter), they'd pick Dakari," he said.
Kentucky led 53-49 with barely two minutes left in the second half. But UK made only one basket in the final 9:06 of regulation.
One-for-nine shooting in that span enabled Texas A&M to get the game into overtime. The Aggies tied it at 53 on two Danuel House free throws with 18.4 seconds left. House finished with a career-high 25 points.
The first overtime came down on Trey Lyles' shoulders. Again.
Lyles missed two potentially clinching free throws with 15.4 seconds left in overtime against Ole Miss on Tuesday. This time, he made two with 6.1 seconds left to send it into a second overtime. "I just had to step up," he said.
As in the Ole Miss game, Kentucky trailed at halftime. A&M led at the break 28-25, which marked something of a victory for Kentucky. The Cats trailed by as much as 11 points in the first half.
For the first time in a long time (ever?), Kentucky got buried in the paint.
Unbelievably, A&M outscored Kentucky 20-4 in points from the paint at the half.
"We were the more aggressive team," House said. "That kind of knocked them off track a little bit. And that's just what we wanted them to be: off track."
Even with its much-ballyhooed NBA-sized front line, Kentucky had only six offensive rebounds in the first half. Four came inside the final three minutes, perhaps because of a sense of growing alarm. UK grabbed 12 offensive rebounds after halftime.
Calipari used the word "stale" in describing last week's two games. He noted how a team can get its "mojo" back and roll.
"I don't want us to be great right now, anyway," he said. "We need to be great at the end of February and March."