Earlier this week, Texas A&M failed to prove worthy of the highest ranking in school history. The team has one more shot to do so.
The sixth-ranked Aggies face a tough challenge in bouncing back from their first loss of the season Saturday when they play No. 1 UCLA at the Honda Center as part of the 13th John Wooden Classic.
Texas A&M (7-1) has never been this high in the AP poll, and it certainly won’t last if the squad loses for a second time this week to a fellow Top 10 team.
After a fairly soft early season schedule played exclusively at College Station, the Aggies got their first taste of the hard work it will take for them to remain among the nation’s elite in Tuesday’s 64-52 loss at No. 9 LSU.
“They just whipped us,” Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. “They outhustled us. They got the loose balls, they were a step ahead of us in everything we did. Congratulations to them.”
Texas A&M shot 37.3 percent from the field, getting held below 49 percent for the first time all season, and was outrebounded 35-24 in its failed bid to avenge last season’s second-round NCAA tournament loss to the Tigers.
Senior guard Acie Law was held to a season-low four points on 1-for-11 shooting, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range, after entering the game averaging 15.0 points and shooting 59.4 percent from the field.
While the offense struggled and may be hard-pressed to find a rhythm against UCLA’s defense, the Aggies likely will use their defense as a focal point to regroup. They lead the nation in defensive field goal percentage (32.2) and are fourth in the country in scoring defense at 50.8 points per game.
The Bruins (7-0), meanwhile, are allowing an average of 60.4 points, forcing more than 20 turnovers per game. They are coming off a run of three consecutive victories over Big West opponents, allowing a total of 150 points.
Aaron Afflalo hit four 3-pointers and finished with 20 points as UCLA overcame an early 10-point deficit and pulled away for a 78-54 win over Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday. Josh Shipp added 16 points and Lorenzo Mata had a career-high 16 rebounds for the Bruins, who forced 28 turnovers.
“We didn’t think they were going to jump on us like that,” said Afflalo, who is averaging a team-high 17.1 points. “We just had to get some defensive stops.”
Sophomore point guard Darren Collison has 25 steals in 225 minutes, 10 shy of his total last season in 745 minutes.
Ben Howland, in his fourth season as UCLA coach, has the Bruins off to their best start since opening the 1993-94 season with 14 straight victories.
The Bruins are 6-3 all-time in the Wooden Classic, named after the legendary coach who led UCLA to seven consecutive NCAA tournament titles and 10 in a 12-year span. They beat Nevada 67-56 in last season’s event.
Texas A&M is 2-19 all-time against the Pac-10 and has not beaten a team from that conference since a 69-65 win over Washington in the second round of the 1982 NIT.
UCLA has won both meetings between the schools, and the Bruins handed the Aggies the worst loss in school history in the most recent meeting with a 117-53 rout at Pauley Pavilion in the 1971-72 season.