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Rewind: Cats become escape artists

KENTUCKY 72, TEXAS A&M 68 (OT)
Feb. 2, 2013
Reed Arena; College Station, Texas

Nerlens Noel had 16 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 41 minutes (Darrell Bird/TCP)

SUMMARY
Kentucky did not trail for a second but still had to sweat out a tense ending before escaping with its second road victory of the week.

The Cats gave away and eight-point lead in the final 3:11 of regulation but held onto an early advantage in overtime for a 72-68 win over Texas A&M at Reed Arena. The win was a measure of revenge for the Aggies' win in Rupp Arena three weeks earlier, but wasn't without it's drama.

UK (15-6, 6-2 SEC) led 60-52 with just over three minutes remaining but turned the basketball over on five of its final six possessions in regulation, allowing the Aggies to send the game to overtime when Elston Turner got a friendly bounce on his pull-up jumper with 1.4 seconds left. The senior guard missed an NBA-length three-pointer that would have tied the game inside the final six seconds of overtime.

Julius Mays scored a UK career-high 19 points to help the Cats escape, while Nerlens Noel added 19 points and 14 rebounds. Turner, who scored 40 points in the first meeting, had 21 points but made just 7-of-23 field goals, including 1-of-7 threes.

GAME BALL
Julius Mays has taken a back seat to his more high-profile teammates for much of this season but the senior transfer came up with his best performance when Kentucky needed it most, scoring a season-high 19 points to help the Cats escape College Station with a victory. Mays had a rough start, turning the ball over several times in the opening minutes, but rebounded to make 4-of-6 three-pointers in regulation before hitting 5-of-6 free throws in overtime as UK held on for dear life. Mays has now made 47.4 percent of his threes in SEC play (18-of-38) after connecting on just 30.8 percent from beyond the arc in non-league play.

TURNING POINT
Kentucky never trailed and was tied for just 108 seconds but could never shake Texas A&M, the product of the Aggies' relentlessness and the Cats' continued mistakes when they had opportunities to put the game on ice. The Cats had a chance to take a 13-point lead just before halftime but watched their edge sliced to nine at the break. They led by 10 early in the second half only to see A&M claw within one. Finally, UK led 60-52 and had two free throws to extend the lead with 3:31 remaining only to miss both and then turn the ball over on five of its final six possessions, allowing the Aggies to tie the game and send it into overtime.

UNSUNG HERO
Archie Goodwin did not have one of his better offensive games, scoring just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, but he was instrumental in slowing Texas A&M guard Elston Turner on the defensive end of the floor. Turner took a match to the Cats in Rupp Arena, scoring 40 points while hitting 14-of-19 field goals and 6-of-10 three-pointers, but was nowhere near as effective with the 21 points he scored in this one. Turner did not score until 6:30 remained in the first half, a time stamp at which he already had 20 in the first meeting. He ultimately made just 7-of-23 shots and missed six of seven three-pointers as Goodwin chased him all over the floor.

KEY NUMBER
10 – Kentucky has been a poor free throw shooting team this season, no two ways about it. It made 6-of-11 in a four-point loss to Alabama, 11-of-23 in a three-point loss to Louisville, and 9-of-18 in a nine-point home loss to Baylor. The Cats then made must 13 of their first 22 free throws against A&M, a major reason the Aggies were close enough to send the game to overtime. But give credit where it's due, the Cats made 8-of-10 charity tosses in overtime, including 7-of-8 while the outcome was still in doubt.

FINAL THOUGHT
Winning is better than losing, but this performance won't exactly inspire the confidence UK fans were seeking coming off the victory at Ole Miss. The Cats probably should have defeated Texas A&M by double figures but found ways to keep the Aggies in the game and nearly paid a dear price for doing so. Ultimately, the Cats should be riding a five-game winning streak by the time they travel to Florida on Feb. 12 but it's clear they've got a long way to go to ascend into the stratosphere currently occupied by the Gators at the top of the league standings.

NEXT
Kentucky (15-6, 6-2) has a chance to get on a little bit of a roll with SEC bottom feeders South Carolina and Auburn coming to Rupp Arena next week. The Cats host the Gamecocks at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

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