— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 10, 2018
Kentucky coach John Calipari was calling for toughness from his team Tuesday night in a Southeastern Conference struggle against Texas A&M.
For awhile, the Aggies out-toughed the Wildcats, playing on even terms for most of the night and then pushing out to a six-point lead with a little less than nine minutes remaining.
In the end, you could say the Wildcats heeded their coach’s call.
But after Kentucky’s late push allowed it to escape with a 74-73 victory at rowdy Rupp Arena in Lexington, you could also argue that A&M just simply let the game get away.
The Aggies turned it over too many times down the stretch, not to mention missing three key free throws.
As a result, the Wildcats (13-3, 3-1) took another baby step toward the excellence that their fans demand, while luck-less A&M (11-5, 0-4) lost its fourth straight.
Forward Tyler Davis and the Aggies, a team once ranked fifth in the nation a few weeks ago, put up a pretty good fight.
Davis hit 8 of 10 shots from the field and led A&M with 21 points.
Guard Admon Gilder added 14 in his first game back after sitting out five straight with a knee injury.
But the Aggies made far too many mistakes at the end to win.
Hamidou Diallo led the Wildcats with 18 points, while back-court mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was everywhere and did almost everything, producing 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks.
In addition, PJ Washington scored 16 and Kenny Knox added 15.
A&M lost 69-68 to LSU on Saturday in College Station, when Tremont Waters hit a three with 1 second left to win it for the Tigers.
The end at Kentucky was almost as gruesome for the Aggies, who missed two wide-open, three-point shots in the final 23 seconds.
Trailing by the eventual final score, A&M also had a chance on the final play.
Kentucky missed two free throws and A&M kicked it out to the wing.
But when the Aggies tried to throw a long pass to the other end, it sailed out of bounds and over an A&M player tangled up with a Kentucky player in the paint.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said he thinks his team had opportunities in a hard-fought game.
“I thought when we needed to make … a big shot, we got good looks,” Kennedy said. “We just didn’t knock em down. We just didn’t make enough plays at the end and (we) put them at the free-throw line in one stretch that was critical.
“I think they shot six or eight free throws in a row. We had a hard time guarding them without fouling.”
Kennedy didn’t take issue with the non-call on the last play, but he did say his players were not happy with it.
“At the end, there, I didn’t see what happened,” he said. “That’s a tough call to make. Our guys tell me he was bear-hugged (by a Kentucky player).
“But I don’t know if the clock went out there. I don’t know what happened. It’s something I got to go watch.”
Calipari said later that his team still hasn’t reached the level of toughness it needs to play at a higher level.
“Look,” he said, “toughness doesn’t mean roughness.”
“Toughness means that you’re engaged, that you’re playing people before they catch the ball, that you’re meeting people before the ball hits the rim, that you’re sprinting the floor every time and bouncing, and you’re talking.
“We got closer but we’re still … that’s going to be a work in progress. And until we get real good at that, we’re going to be who we are.”