Another quick turnaround game for the ‘Cats after surviving at Vanderbilt just two nights ago. SEC newcomer Texas A&M comes into Rupp Arena playing their first road game in their new conference. Seems a little unfair to introduce them to the rigors of the SEC by sending them to Rupp. However, the Aggies felt right at home.
If the Kentucky coaching staff viewed any scouting report at all, I would imagine they would need to cover a guy by the name of Elston Turner. If the ‘Cats didn’t know who he was, they certainly learned quick. Before the first media timeout at 15:17 to go, the ‘Cats were down 10-7, and Turner had 7 points. Before the 2nd media timeout with 11:07 to go, the score was 20-16 and Turner had 13 points. The guy was on total video game mode the entire half. Poythress tried to check him, he got buckets. Willie Cauley-Stein tried to check him, Turner stepped back and nailed a 3 in his face. It was like watching Jodie Meeks against Tennessee, except nobody in blue was cheering. Turner scored 25 points the entire half, and the ‘Cats were down 36-31.
The big story for any positive feelings coming from the Big Blue side was the play of Nerlens Noel. Noel had 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals and he wasn’t even the story at halftime. While Kentucky got a few opportunities to run out and get transition buckets, they were very limited against a stifling Aggies defense. With a tough defense, a lot of fouls usually follow. With the ‘Cats only committing 4 fouls in the half, the Aggies had 10. Kentucky was winning the battle at the free-throw line, making 7-8 while A&M went 4-4. Kentucky was out-rebounded 17-13 and held to only 4 fast break points in the whole half, while the A&M bench outscored UK 8-0. Not much to brag about if you’re a ‘Cats fan coming into the second stanza.
The opening of the 2nd half started off with A&M getting an easy bucket right under the basket, and no that was not Elston Turner. With 18:29 left, John Calipari was livid and the referee turned around and gave him a technical. Calipari responded with a remark I’m not allowed to type. Elston Turner makes a couple of free-throws from the technical and it’s 40-31 Aggies. A little sign of life for the ‘Cats came from Archie Goodwin with his drives to the basket and continuing to pile the fouls up on Texas A&M. Kentucky goes on a 10-2 run behind Goodwin, a Julius Mays 3, and Nerlens Noel. With Elston Turner finally cooling off, the ‘Cats climbed back to take the lead after a Ryan Harrow steal and layup.
The lead lasted a grand total of :32 secs. before the Aggies take it back. While the teams seeming traded baskets for a few minutes, the lead went back and forth. Who steps up to take charge? None other than Elston Turner. Seemingly killing the ‘Cats with jumpers, floaters and NBA range 3-pointers, nobody had an answer for him on this day. With the score at 65-63, Turner rose up from near the UK mid-court logo and nailed another dagger 3-pointer with less than 4 minutes to play. Ryan Harrow tries to answer at the other end for the ‘Cats but misses from 3. A&M grabs the rebound and pushes the ball ahead to Elston Turner. He looks up and fires a pass to Fabyon Harris for another dagger three point shot to bury the ‘Cats. With the game in hand, the Aggies continued to pick off UK passes and gather rebounds to add to their lead. Clearly frustrated, the ‘Cats could do nothing but sit back and watch as Elston Turner sinks 2 free-throws for his 39th & 40th point.
When Elston Turner was finally called to the bench, Rupp Arena gave him a nice round of applause as he torched the ‘Cats all game long and lead his Aggies to a 83-71 win. While Nerlens Noel was clearly the best player on the UK side of things, he was no match for Elston Turner and the Aggies defense. Texas A&M shot 53% from the field, hit 9 3-pointers, and won the rebounding battle by 5. Hardly any of those stats matter. Elston Turner and his 4o points was the story of the game. Only David Robinson (45 points) has scored more as a visitor to Rupp Arena.
With Tennessee coming to town on Tuesday, it’s only another three days before the ‘Cats will have to host another SEC opponent. Today, the young ‘Cats started 4 freshman and a transfer sophomore point guard and were completely scorched for 40 by a 5th year senior. Kyle Wilter was another virtual no-show, Poythress played okay in spurts, and Cauley-Stein played with foul trouble most of the game. Harrow was solid with 14 points, Goodwin scored 17, and Noel with 15 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 blocks. This year’s Kentucky squad just isn’t coming together as a unit like past teams have. Individuals playing well and showing spurts of greatness will not win a conference game, even in a down SEC. With a restless and frustrated fan-base, how much patience is left?