Sidelines with John Clay

Texas A&M was blitzed by Kentucky in January. Have the Aggies improved?

Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy watches from the sideline in the second half of the Aggies’ 72-67 loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.
Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy watches from the sideline in the second half of the Aggies’ 72-67 loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press

Back on Jan. 3, in Kentucky’s SEC home opener, the Cats rolled to a 23-point halftime lead over Texas A&M and buried the poor Aggies in an avalanche of points on the way to an easy 100-58 victory.

Two months later, the two teams meet again, this time in the regular season finale at College Station for a noon ET/11 a.m. CT matchup at Reed Arena.

So are the Aggies any better now than they were back then?

Billy Kennedy’s club is 116-13 overall and 8-9 in the SEC has gone 8-8 since being smashed by the Cats, including 8-7 in league play. The other loss came in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge when A&M lost 81-77 at West Virginia.

On the plus side, Texas A&M has won two in a row and three of its last four games, beating Auburn and Alabama at home then Missouri 60-43 in Columbia on Tuesday. Tonny Trocha-Morales, a 6-foot-10 junior from Columbia, hit six of eight shots and scored a career-high 18 points in the victory over the Tigers.

The Aggies have picked it up on defense. They led Missouri 28-18 at the half on Tuesday and by game’s end a dreadful Mizzou had shot just 24.6 percent from the floor, its lowest percentage of the season. The 43 points was Missouri’s lowest point production of the season, as well.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that set the game of basketball back a long time,” said Missouri coach Kim Anderson after his team dropped to 2-15 in league play by averaging just 0.683 points per possession.

As of Thursday, Ken Pomeroy had the Aggies 56th nationally in overall efficiency. A&M was 89th in offensive efficiency but 50th in defensive efficiency. The Aggies were 42nd in field goal percentage defense at 47.1, 16th in two-point field goal defense at 43.4 percent and sixth nationally in blocked shot percentage at 15.5.

The latter stat is where big men Tyler Davis and Robert Williams enter the picture. Davis is a 6-10 sophomore from Plano. Williams is a 6-9 freshman from Oil City, La.

Davis leads the Aggies in scoring at 14.1 points per game. He’s averaging 6.9 rebounds per game and is shooting a heady 62.8 percent from the floor. He’s also blocked 28 shots. He scored 13 points, but managed just two rebounds in the game at Rupp.

Texas A&M basketball statistics

Williams didn’t even start in Lexington and finished with eight points and two boards. He did block four shots, however, and the player ranked as the 46th-best prospect in the Class of 2016 by Scout has improved greatly since that first game.

Williams is averaging 11.7 points and is second in the SEC in rebounding at 7.9 per game. (Ole Miss’ Sebastian Siaz is first at 10.8 per game.) Williams has blocked 74 shots, second in the conference to Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley who has blocked 78.

Rob -- that’s what his old AAU teammate De’Aaron Fox, the UK point guard, called him Thursday -- went from 216 pounds when he arrived in College Station to 242 now. As a result, the freshman produced a streak of six straight games in which he grabbed at least nine rebounds. In five of those six games, Williams posted a double-double.

He scored 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a win over visiting Missouri; had 18 and 12 in the 71-62 loss at now 12th-ranked Florida; had 13 and 13 in a loss at Vanderbilt; had 16 and 11 in a loss at Arkansas, then 17 and 10 in a 57-53 win over Alabama on Feb. 25.

Williams has 10 double-doubles on the season. Davis has four.

In fact, in its latest NBA 2017 mock draft, Draft Express has Williams at No. 12, four spots behind Fox, three behind UK’s Malik Monk and nine spots in front of UK’s Bam Adebayo.

“This will be a big game for our big guys,” said UK assistant coach Joel Justus on Thursday.

If only the Aggies could get it into their big guys all the time. Turnovers have been A&M’s undoing. Kennedy was basically left without a point guard when freshman J.J. Caldwell was ruled ineligible. Caldwell is sitting out the season and should be eligible for 2017-18. The Aggies committed 25 turnovers while being routed by the Cats in Rupp. Davis and fellow sophomore D.J. Hogg each turned it over seven times.

The problem hasn’t been solved since then. Pomeroy’s numbers say the Aggies turn the ball over 21.4 percent of the time, which ranks 321st in the nation. A&M shoots well enough at 46.4 percent and they rebound their misses. The Aggies are 10th nationally in offensive rebound percentage at 37.9 percent.

They have been to the foul line 69 more times than their opponents, but it doesn’t do the Aggies much good. A&M is shooting just 65.3 percent from the line. Too many missed free throws and too many turnovers is a bad combination.

The good news for A&M is (a) the Aggies are holding opponents to 40.3 percent field goal shooting and (b) the Aggies are 5-3 at home, where they’ve given UK fits. All three Kentucky visits have gone to overtime. John Calipari’s 2012-13 team won 70-64 in OT. In 2014-15, the season UK finished 38-1, the Cats were forced to two overtimes before winning 70-64 in College Station. Last year, UK and A&M went another five extra minutes before the Aggies won 79-77 thanks in large part to a controversial technical foul call on UK’s Isaac Humphries.

It was a much different story this January in Rupp when the Cats put on an offensive show, scoring 50 points in each half while sinking 13 of 25 three-point shots. It was the fifth (and last) time this season UK reached the century mark.

Kentucky should win Saturday, but don’t expect it to be that easy.

Texas A&M men’s basketball 2016-17

Date

Opponent

A&M

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/11

Northwestern St

72

44

W

1-0

11/14

American

76

53

W

2-0

11/18

USC

63

65

L

2-1

11/24

vsCS-Northridge

95

73

W

3-1

11/25

vsVirginia Tech

68

65

W

4-1

11/27

vsUCLA

67

74

L

4-2

12/5

vsTexas A&M-CC

86

69

W

5-2

12/7

Denver

80

58

W

6-2

12/10

S Carolina St

83

76

W

7-2

12/17

vsArizona St

63

67

L

7-3

12/21

St. Francis (PA)

81

58

W

8-3

12/29

Tennesee

63

73

L

8-4

0-1

1/3

@Kentucky

58

100

L

8-5

0-2

1/7

@S Carolina

68

79

L

8-6

0-3

1/11

LSU

92

62

W

9-6

1-3

1/14

@Miss State

59

67

L

9-7

1-4

1/17

Arkansas

60

62

L

9-8

1-5

1/21

Georgia

63

62

W

10-8

2-5

1/25

@Ole Miss

80

76

W

11-8

3-5

1/28

@West Virginia

77

81

L

11-9

1/31

Vanderbilt

54

68

L

11-10

3-6

2/4

@LSU

85

73

W

12-10

4-6

2/8

Missouri

76

73

W

13-10

5-6

2/11

@Florida

62

71

L

13-11

5-7

2/16

@Vanderbilt

67

72

L

13-12

5-8

2/18

Auburn

81

62

W

14-12

6-8

2/22

@Arkansas

77

86

L

14-13

6-9

2/25

Alabama

56

53

W

15-13

7-9

2/28

@Missouri

60

43

W

16-13

8-9

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