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No. 19 Arizona holds off Texas A&M

By Steve Habel, The Sports Xchange

HOUSTON -- For Arizona, seven (players that is) was enough, but just barely, to beat upset-minded Texas A&M on Saturday in the first game of the Lone Star Shootout at the Toyota Center.

Dusan Ristic scored 18 points and Lauri Markkanen added 17 as No. 19 Arizona built a huge lead and held on to beat Texas A&M 67-63. The Wildcats, who have just seven scholarship players available because of injuries and a suspension, built a 22-point lead midway through the second half and then hit a wall, allowing Texas A&M to get within two points in the final seconds.

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Arizona (10-2) dominated the first half, forging a 9-0 run over the final 2:24 to assume a 41-28 lead at intermission. That lead ballooned to 22 points in the middle of the second half when Texas A&M got sloppy with the basketball and committed turnovers that led to four straight baskets for Arizona.

But the Aggies made a final charge, cutting the Arizona advantage to 65-60 with 36 seconds to play on a layup by Tyler Davis. Davis missed two free throws but Tonny Trocha-Morelos grabbed the offensive rebound and fed DJ Hogg for a 3-pointer that brought Texas A&M to within 65-63.

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Arizona's Rawle Alkins hit two free throws with 15 seconds to play to push the Wildcats' lead to 67-63 and secure the victory. Arizona won despite going the final 8:11 without a field goal.

"This is about the sixth straight game where we just an out of gas," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "And Texas A&M came and almost took this game from us. I'm not real happy about the way we won, but I'm happy we did and I think we deserved to win."

Kobe Simmons added 14 points for Arizona and Alkins scored 12. The Wildcats shot 54.0 percent for the game and 30.8 percent in the second half.

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Miller drew up a play to get the Wildcats' final possession into Alkins' hands and the freshman from Brooklyn came through.

"Coach told me he needed me to make a play so I did what I could against Texas A&M's tough defense," Alkins said. "I was really nervous about the first free throw but felt confident about making the second one."

Davis led all scorers with 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for Texas A&M (7-3). Robert Williams added 15 points for the Aggies, while Admon Gilder hit for 13, Hogg scored 10 points and Trocha-Morelos took 10 rebounds.

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The Wildcats held Texas A&M to 35.7 percent shooting and without a field goal for the final 5:17 of the half.

"We really didn't run our offense for the first 35 minutes of the game," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "We are an immature team and we didn't prepare as well as we should have for this game."

Ristic led Arizona with 14 points in the half, eight of which came in the first four minutes as the Wildcats roared past the Aggies, who last led 7-6 at the 17:16 mark.

Markkanen added 12 points for Arizona over the first 20 minutes, including a ringing 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the half.

Davis, reigning Southeastern Conference player of the week, paced Texas A&M with 10 points while Gilder added nine for the Aggies.

"I missed some layups and easy shots in the first half that I usually make and it hurt us by putting us in a hole," Davis said. "In the second half we did a better job of running our offense and playing to our capabilities. We just have to learn to do that for the whole game."

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The Aggies tried pick up the pace and use the 3-point shot to get back into the game in the first eight minutes of the second half, but the move backfired.

Turnovers on three straight possessions after Arizona missed shots eventually led to back-to-back dunks by Simmons and Chance Comanche that pushed the Arizona lead to 51-32 at the 14:17 mark.

Texas A&M cut into that advantage with baskets by Hogg and Robert Williams, but five straight points from Markkanen, including a 35-foot 3-pointer that beat the shot clock, and a putback hook shot by Ristic after the Wildcats again used every second of the 30-second clock to shoot, pushed the lead to 58-32.

NOTES: Texas A&M held eight of its first nine opponents to below their season average and six of the nine teams to their lowest point total of the season. ... All three of the Aggies' losses this season have been to Pac-12 teams, at home to USC (65-63), to UCLA (74-67) in the Wooden Legacy Classic in Anaheim, Calif., and Saturday's loss. ... Arizona owns a 7-1 lead in the series between the teams, with the only A&M win a 67-66 decision on Dec. 5, 2008. ... Arizona entered the game Saturday with Texas A&M with a record of 24-26 (.480) against current SEC institutions in program history. That 48.0 winning percentage is the second lowest versus all 32 conferences faced, trailing only the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), against which Arizona is 2-4 (.333). ... Arizona has suffered only 23 losses since March of 2013, only one of which has been by 10 or more points. The average margin of defeat in those games was 4.2 points with 10 of the 23 losses being by three points or fewer.

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