After only one day off, another big test

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After taming the fast-paced Tigers, No. 7 Texas (18-3, 6-0 Big 12) faces a change of pace tonight at Texas A&M, which has the ninth-best scoring offense in the Big 12.

It’s the backside of the one-and-one series this season with A&M and the second leg of an ages-old state rivalry that, until recently, hasn’t carried much national significance. But with Texas 6-0 in conference play for the first time in school history, the 13th-ranked Aggies (17-2, 4-2) will play spoiler to the Longhorns’ hopes of a high seed in March’s NCAA tournament.

Texas A&M also has the added motivation of defending its home arena against a team it lost to by 21 points earlier this month.

“A&M will definitely be coming out for revenge, but we can’t get caught up in the emotion,” said Texas’ Jordan Hamilton.

Texas hasn’t won at Reed Arena since January 2004, and the Aggies have lost just one of their last 30 home games.

“A&M is arguably the best team in the country at home,” said Texas forward Gary Johnson.

When the teams last met, A&M owned the best rebounding margin in the Big 12. Now, after out-rebounding all six of its conference opponents, Texas is top in that category in league play.

Texas also beat Missouri 41-31 on the glass. The Tigers average the most rebounds per Big 12 game but lost the battle of the boards Saturday.

The Longhorns’ tough, defense-first mentality has allowed them to limit conference opponents to just 54 points per game.

“They are a physical team, fast to the ball and big, strong guys,” said Missouri’s Kim English about Texas.

Texas’ offensive strategy Saturday was to score in the paint, whether pushing it down low or finding space near the elbow. Hamilton, Johnson and 6-foot-8 freshman Tristan Thompson combined for 40 points and 35 rebounds.

“They are much improved from last year, both defensively and offensively,” English said.

Texas also played well inside last time against A&M, with Thompson posting 18 points and blocking four shots.

“We have to get the ball inside,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes after that Jan. 19 win. “We want to do that, obviously.”

The Aggies come into Monday’s contest after losing their second conference game of the season, 57-48, to Nebraska on Saturday. They scored just 17 second-half points and converted only two field goals in the final 10 minutes.

“We never responded,” said Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. “We just weren’t tough enough. It was physical. It was real physical, and we didn’t respond.”

After one day of rest each, both teams now head to College Station for a game that could define either of their seasons.