Five things you need to know from the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats’ 64-58 win over the Texas A&M Aggies in SEC men’s basketball at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas:
1. Cats prove they can win a grinder. Through its first 17 games, Kentucky had not proven it could win the close ones.
Nor had UK shown it could win in games when teams took the Cats out of their preferred, uptempo style of play.
On Wednesday night, the Wildcats answered both questions.
For the first time this season, the Cats came out on top in a game decided by single digits.
Before the victory over Texas A&M, UK’s only three contests decided by fewer than 10 points this season had all been losses — by eight to Duke; by four at Notre Dame; by five at LSU.
Even more than at last winning a tight one, the Cats prevailed at A&M on a night when much went wrong.
Harried by a trapping Texas A&M defense, UK point guard Sahvir Wheeler had eight turnovers.
As cold shooting vs. A&M as they had been scalding in pasting Tennessee on Saturday, Kentucky perimeter shooters went 4-of-18 on three-pointers — Kellan Grady was 1-of-9 on treys; Davion Mintz 1-of-5.
Yet carried by its defense and some clutch baskets from Mintz and freshman guard TyTy Washington down the stretch, UK found a way.
And that was a step the Cats really needed to take — especially with games at No. 2 Auburn and No. 7 Kansas coming the next two Saturdays.
2. Unsung heroes. On a night when some of Kentucky’s primary players were struggling, UK got a big lift off its bench from super-senior Mintz and junior forward Jacob Toppin.
The 6-foot-9, 200-pound Toppin, a transfer from Rhode Island, went for nine points, six rebounds, two assists a block and a steal.
Mintz, the Creighton transfer, had 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
3. A&M’s errant shooting. Entering the game, Texas A&M was leading the Southeastern Conference in three-point shooting, making 37.4 percent.
With an upset victory over No. 12 Kentucky on the Aggies home court right there for the taking, A&M shot a horrid 1-of-22 on treys.
The Aggies also went 5-of-13 on free throws.
On a night when Texas A&M’s defense discombobulated Kentucky, the Aggies let a win that would have put it into the Top 25 get away with horrible marksmanship.
4. A history of close ones. It should not have been a surprise that a Kentucky-Texas A&M game in College Station went to the final minute.
Since Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference in the 2012-13 school year, the Aggies and Kentucky have a history of playing games that go to the wire at Reed Arena.
As fellow SEC members, Kentucky is now 5-2 vs. the Aggies in Texas. Three of those games have gone to at least one overtime, with the Wildcats 2-1 in those games.
5. Kentucky fighting Kansas to a draw. With the victory, Kentucky (2,342 wins) is again four victories ahead of Kansas (2,338) in the all-time men’s college hoops wins race.
That is the same margin the Wildcats entered the 2021-22 season holding over the Jayhawks.
Next up for Kentucky is a trip to No. 2 Auburn on Saturday at 1 p.m. (EST). No. 7 Kansas will visit intrastate rival Kansas State at 4 p.m. (EST).
UK and KU will play each other Jan. 29 in Allen Fieldhouse.