In their non-conference schedule, things started off shaky for the Aggies, with just an 8-5 record. However, things have started to click as of late. Five games into conference play, and Texas A&M is 5-0 and only the second undefeated team in the conference alongside Alabama.
Looking at the wins, they haven’t played the SEC’s toughest teams (i.e. Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn) but have swept Florida and beat a top-25 Missouri team by 18.
That being said, if the Cats want to extend their winning streak and end Texas A&M’s, they are going to have to put up another good performance.
Let’s look at the keys to the game.
Make Free Throws
The Aggies play with a lot of physicality on defense, and in turn, foul a lot. This will slow the game down, but should also give Kentucky ample opportunities for points at the free throw line, but they must make them.
While free-throw shooting has not been a strength for the Wildcats for much of the season, things have started to look up. In their last two games, the Wildcats have hit 45 of their 55 attempts for an impressive 82%.
That has to continue for Kentucky to win Saturday.
Play Disciplined Defense
While the Aggies foul a lot, they also get themselves to the free-throw line, ranking top five in free throws attempted and free throws made. This comes from their style of offense, which likes to find driving lanes and concentrate in the paint with With that said, Kentucky is going to have to play disciplined defense.
Against Tennessee, Kentucky held the Volunteers to their lowest point total of the season (56). However, they followed that up with a poor defensive performance in the first half of the Georgia game, allowing a Bulldog season-high of 42 points.
In that game, they did refocus and pull away in the second half, but Kentucky will need to put together a full forty-minute performance on the defensive end against Texas A&M.
The Aggies like to run a lot of screening action, both on and off ball, making communication critical. In their defensive efforts, Kentucky must also stay out of foul trouble, specifically Cason Wallace and Oscar Tshiebwe.
Beat the Zone Press
Buzz Williams is noted for his three-quarter court zone press, dropping back into a man-to-man defense. At times this season, Kentucky has struggled against similar schemes.
Over the last two games, Kentucky has found their best five: Wallace, Reeves, Fredrick, Toppin, and Tshiebwe. However, Sahvir Wheeler could come in and prove valuable in press situations with his ability to get it up the floor.
To do so, the Wildcats must get the ball to the middle of the floor. If Kentucky is successful in this against an extended defense, they could find open driving lanes, three-point opportunities on the wings, and even dump-ins to Tshiebwe.
Kentucky Basketball (12-6) vs. Texas A&M (13-5)
Time/Date: 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, January 21st, 2023
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
TV Channel: ESPN
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Cats have 5-point favorites. This is a matchup where computer models differ greatly. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Wildcats a 75.9% chance to win. Bart Torvik virtually picks a toss-up but gives the edge to the Cats at just 53%, while KenPom is at 66%.