Texas A&M has made amazing strides under coach Billy Gillispie, but there is one Big 12 team it has yet to beat—perennial power Kansas.
The 10th-ranked Aggies begin a stretch that will go a long way toward determining their conference title hopes when they visit the sixth-ranked Jayhawks on Saturday night.
Texas A&M (18-3, 6-1) has lost all 11 matchups to Kansas (19-3, 6-1), the only team in the conference it has never defeated. Gillispie has only been around for two of those meetings since taking over at College Station before the 2004-05 season.
The coach led the Aggies to their first NCAA tournament since 1987 last season. He’s done it with a defensive-minded approach, evidenced by Texas A&M’s Division-I leading 34.9 opponents’ field-goal percentage.
“They went from 0-16 to 8-8 in the league to the NCAA tournament to having a top 10 ranking,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They have a great shot at getting a high seed and have a legitimate chance to make a serious run. Nobody has done a better job than what their staff has done.”
Gillispie was an assistant under Self for a total of five seasons at Tulsa and Illinois.
Texas A&M is beginning its most important stretch of the season, which includes Monday’s home game against No. 22 Texas. The Aggies, Jayhawks and Longhorns are all tied for the conference lead.
While Kansas has dominated the series between the teams, Gillispie served notice that his program was on the rise in his first Big 12 game—a 65-60 road loss at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 5, 2005.
The Aggies are returning with possibly their best team in school history.
“Allen Fieldhouse is a great place to play,” Gillispie said. “And I say this all the time, as good as their fans are and as good as their fieldhouse is and as good as their basketball tradition is, that’s not going to make a basket. The team that awaits you there is what really is the most difficult thing to deal with.”
While both teams feature plenty of talent, the matchup between point guards Acie Law of Texas A&M and Mario Chalmers could be crucial Saturday.
Law is the Aggies’ leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, although he was held to 13 points Wednesday—his lowest total in a Big 12 game this season—in a 73-49 win over Iowa State.
The senior guard is looking forward to his final trip to Kansas.
“It’s everything you want,” Law said. “When you’re a college basketball player, these are the kind of games you live for. We took care of our business up to this point so hopefully we can go up there and just lay it out on the line and hopefully come out with a victory.”
Chalmers averages 11.8 points—second on the team—but is known as one of the Jayhawks’ best defensive players with a team-high 60 steals. He had 15 points and eight assists in last season’s 83-73 victory at College Station.
Brandon Rush had 22 points in that game and is leading a balanced Kansas attack this season. Rush and swingman Julian Wright, the co-Big 12 preseason players of the year, combine to average more than 25 points and 13 rebounds per game.
The Jayhawks also have received a boost from freshman Sherron Collins, who is averaging 13.2 points over his last five games off the bench.
“I still think Sherron is capable of continuing his play,” Self said. “That doesn’t mean he will every game, but he’s playing like we envisioned he would all along. It is not coming as a surprise that he is playing so well.”
While the Jayhawks use a three-guard lineup, the Aggies employ a more conventional style. They are hoping to exploit the smaller Kansas frontcourt with bruising big men Antanas Kavaliauskas and Joseph Jones.
“Certainly, this will be a much bigger test of their toughness level in rebounding the basketball,” Self said of his post players. “I think we have shown we can do it and we’ll rise to the occasion. We have to play tough on Saturday.”
Kansas, which has won its last three games by an average of 23.0 points, has won 10 consecutive Big 12 home games.
“We’re going in to face a team that could definitely win a national championship,” Gillispie said.