When I watch Aggie Basketball, I never let my guard down. Never.
It's not a conscious decision, and it's not a switch I can flip. Although I'd like to. It's just a natural coping mechanism developed over a dozen years of Aggie Hoops support. If the good guys are up fifteen with two minutes remaining, I'm the guy preaching shot selection and bemoaning cheap fouls. Again, I don't like this. But it's how I operate. Never rest until the final buzzer.
So when the Ags jumped out to a 7-0 lead, I kept it together. When they continued to press their advantage through the under eight break, I kept it together. And when they went into the half up three, I was impressed as hell, but still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Second half, same story. Even down to the end of regulation. It just never really seemed doable.
But a funny thing happened near the end of the first overtime: The students, sensing that a victory really was possible, flooded towards the court. The aisles, the rows between seats, literally every inch of available space near the Reed floor was packed.
The court rush was locked and loaded.
All at once, I was hit with a flood of memories from my first conference home game as a freshman. When a ranked Texas squad came to Aggieland and got waxed in January of '05. How we rushed the floor, then watched Aggie Basketball support spread like wildfire over the remainder of the conference slate. How, as the season went on, the 150-200 of us up at the front would have to continually turn around during big moments, completely unable to comprehend the student section filled to the top of the second deck. How, by the end of the season, we had stopped turning around because that became the norm.
That's when it hit me: This was that moment for a new generation of basketball fans. This was that Texas game. The game that launches a new wave of support. I could see the court rush, I could see the great crowds for the remainder of the conference slate, and I could see the insane momentum heading into 2015-2016. "We're going to do it," I told myself. "We're going to beat Kentucky, and Aggie Basketball is going to be back."
And that's why you never let your guard down.
There is so much to love about this game. There's a little to hate, but there are SO many more positive things to take away. It really was an amazing experience, and it warmed my heart to see Reed jumpin' again. A great college basketball environment is my favorite thing in sports, and it was a treat to be there in person on Saturday. Here are the high points
- Danuel House was finally playing his game. I had been concerned about his usage recently, as we seemed content to run him off screens or launch bombs against zones. His days at UH (and Hightower HS in Houston) paint a far different picture, as he made his hay repeatedly attacking the basket and getting to the line. This was a return to form. 8-20 from the field, 7-11 from the line, and 25 points. Here's hoping that we don't forget his strengths moving forward. (Oh, and he played all 50 minutes against the best team in the nation and grabbed nine rebounds in a sea of seven-footers. Not a bad day.)
- Kourtney Roberson was a warrior. There were times during this game where Kentucky's frontline had three players much taller than him, but he never gave an inch. He battled on defense, he played one of his best post games on offense, and he did it all in constant foul trouble. He was immense. Just a fantastic, fantastic game.
- Team rebounding was spectacular. After the Baylor debacle I was already having nightmares about this game, but we were phenomenal. We beat Kentucky on the offensive glass 18-16, and only lost the overall rebounding battle 53-52. We repeatedly put a body on the Kentucky bigs, and our guys had very active hands down low. Another lesson we would do well to remember moving forward.
- Alex Robinson grew up today. The moment seemed a bit too big for him at times early, but he looked every bit a seasoned point guard for the remainder of the game. He repeatedly broke down Kentucky's high pressure and carried the squad through a couple of slow offensive periods. We found our point guard of the future.
Kentucky fans should be concerned. For the second SEC game running, their boys walked onto the court and expected the opposition to succumb to the UK logo. And again, they got popped early.
The Ags jumped out to a 7-0 lead at the first media timeout, and extended the advantage to 16-6 by the under twelve break. The Cats were lethargic, and the Aggies were fired up. Danuel House hit two threes in the first seven minutes to pace the early offense, but those would be the only Aggie threes on the evening. Little did we know. A couple of careless plays by A&M gave Kentucky some easy baskets/momentum near the end of the half, and you could forgive Aggie fans for feeling a little hard done by their three point lead. Layups and free throws had been left on the table, and we should have been ahead by more.
Halftime score: Texas A&M 28, Kentucky 25
First half statistics
- Aggie shooting: 45% FG (13-29); 40% 3PT (2-5); 0% FT (0-3)
- Kentucky shooting: 30% FG (9-30); 46% 3PT (6-13); 25% FT (1-4)
- Danuel House: 12 points
In the second half, Kentucky woke up. Their offensive sets had more purpose, they started crashing the boards, and they started gambling up top on defense. What had been a comfortable A&M lead slowly became an advantage for Kentucky, as they raised the gap seven by the midway point of the second half. Five Aggie points in the opening eight minutes certainly didn't help matters. Approaching the stretch, the Aggies completely abandoned the three-ball (a wise move) and started forcing the action inside. The results were surprisingly effective. Kentucky insisted on picking us up 40 feet from the basket, so we gladly screened 40 feet from the basket. This got House/Robinson moving towards the bucket with space to operate, and they both consistently finished well around the rim. House, in particular, drove like a man possessed at times and continually willed his way to the free throw line.
Coming down the stretch... well, it was a good game played poorly. Neither squad really ran anything pretty on the offensive side, but both somehow put points on the board. For Kentucky, this meant free throws and putbacks. For the Ags, a continued push inside. Two late Danuel House free throws tied the score at 53, and Kentucky missed a late buzzer beating three. We were headed to overtime.
The first overtime period had one made basket. In total. Between the two teams. Like I said, a good game played poorly. Let's focus on the final two minutes, where it seemed like A&M might really have a shot.
- Tavario Miller hits 1 of 2 free throws, making him 1 of 4 on the day. More on this in a sec. (Ags down 55-54)
- Trey Lyles gets fouled and misses both free throws for Kentucky. Danuel House hits 2 of 2 from the line (Ags up 56-55)
- A Kentucky turnover is offset by a missed bucket by Robinson. Kentucky misses a three, and the Aggies bring the ball up with :56 remaining. Leading by one.
- Antwan Space misses a three, but grabs his own rebound with :32 remaining. He's falling out of bounds, so he saves the ball to House. Who immediately takes a shot with the shot clock off (whyyyyyyyyyyy)
- Billy Kennedy saves the day with a timeout, which is granted before House shoots. Whew. We have the ball with the shot clock off. Kentucky has to foul.
- In a curious move, Kennedy does not put his best five free throw shooters on the floor. Calipari chooses to foul Tavario Miller (1-for-4 on the day) and sends him to the line. Miller hits one of two. Aggies up 57-55.
- Kentucky gets an offensive rebound on the other end, gets fouled, and hits both free throws. Robinson misses a buzzer beating three.
The game continues.
Both teams finally started playing a little basketball. Roberson pounded two baskets for A&M down low, and Dakari Johnson replied with four points of his own. Kentucky moved ahead with a bucket by Lyles, and House willed his way to the line for the 5,826th time and knocked down two shots to tie it up.
The Cats really took control through a three by Tyler Ulis, and they hit their final four free throws to put the game on ice. The dream was over.
Final score: Kentucky 70, Texas A&M 64