COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn't too upset that his team squandered an eight-point lead down the stretch before putting Texas A&M away 72-68 in overtime on Saturday.
Calipari believes that learning to deal with that kind of adversity is the only way his young team is going to get better.
"We need teams to make runs at us and we need teams to try to physically come at us so we can learn how we have to play," he said. "This happened a year ago the same way, and when our guys found out we could negate that kind of play we became the team to beat. If we had not gone through that, there's no way we would have won the national title — wouldn't have happened."
Freshman Nerlens Noel had a season-high 19 points and Julius Mays scored 19, including five in overtime, to lead Kentucky to its third straight win.
The Wildcats (15-6, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) led by one point before Mays made two free throws with 15 seconds left in the extra period. Texas A&M (13-8, 3-5) had a chance to tie it after that, but Elston Turner's 3-pointer bounced off the rim with 5 seconds left. Mays added another free throw with a second left to secure the win.
"We've got to build on it," Noel said of the win. "This is the part of the season where we really want to break through and establish who we want to be in March."
The Wildcats opened overtime with a 7-1 run thanks to a jump shot by Noel and five free throws to take a 69-63 lead.
Turner's 3-pointer with about 2 minutes left in overtime got A&M within 69-66. Kourtney Roberson's layup made it 69-68 with 16 seconds left before the free throws by Mays.
Turner's 21 points led the Aggies, who played to overtime for the second straight game. Turner scored a career-high 40 points in an 83-71 win over Kentucky last month. Fabyon Harris added 14 points and Ray Turner had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Texas A&M.
"We had some key turnovers and we had some layups we missed," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "You've got to score them. When you get that chance against Nerlens Noel, who is changing the game down there, you have to make them."
Noel, who had a school-record 12 blocks in Kentucky's last game, also had 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks on Saturday. The 19 points by Mays were also a season high.
Noel took 10 shots on Saturday, after attempting just one in his last game.
"It was just a different type of game," he said. "I needed to step up offensively to keep us in the game a little bit. I was more effective offensively."
Kentucky was ahead by eight points before A&M used a 6-0 run to get within 60-58 in the second half. Alex Poythress made a pair of free throws for the Wildcats, but the Aggies cut it to two points again with a layup by Harris with 19 seconds left in regulation.
Turner got a steal and after a timeout tied it with a jump shot. He shook a defender with a double pump fake, and the ball clanged off the rim and into the air before falling back in with less than 2 seconds left in regulation.
Texas A&M stole a long pass by Kentucky to send it to overtime.
"That's what we are right now. It's that press they were — oh, they weren't pressing, we were just throwing it away," Calipari said jokingly when asked about his team's play at the end of regulation.
The Wildcats led by eight points with about 4 minutes remaining. Texas A&M started a run on a goaltending call on a layup by Roberson. Kentucky's Kyle Wiltjer got an offensive foul and Turner hit a floater in the lane to make it 60-56.
A turnover by Wiltjer gave A&M the ball again, and Ray Turner took advantage of it with a layup to cut the lead to two with about a minute remaining.
Texas A&M cut the lead to four points with a layup by Roberson with 8 minutes remaining. A pair of turnovers by the Aggies and three free throws by Kentucky pushed the lead to 57-50 about 2½ minutes later.
Ray Turner added two free throws for the Aggies, but Kentucky answered when Mays connected on a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 60-52 with less than four minutes to play.
The Wildcats led by 10 points early in the second half when the Aggies went on a 7-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Harris, to get within 35-30 with about 17 minutes left.
Kentucky was up by eight points a short time later before Texas A&M scored six straight points to make to 40-38 with about 13 minutes remaining. Alex Caruso grabbed a steal and took it down the court for a dunk to end the run and bring the rowdy crowd to its feet.
Ryan Harrow quieted the A&M fans when he responded with a 3-pointer a few seconds later.
The game was tied at 13 about 6½ minutes before halftime. The Wildcats then scored five straight points.
Kentucky was up by four points about a minute later before using a 9-0 run to extend their advantage to 30-17 with about 1½ minutes left in the first half. Mays started off that run with a 3-pointer, and Noel added a dunk in that span.
The Aggies scored the last four points of the half to cut the lead to 30-21 at halftime.