Winning its first true road game of the season has been tough for Texas A&M to accomplish in recent years.
The ninth-ranked Aggies look to avoid losing their third straight road opener while trying to remain undefeated when they face Arizona for the first time in 12 years Sunday afternoon as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
Texas A&M (7-0) won 49 games over the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, but lost its first game on an opponent’s home floor each time. The Aggies were 7-0 before losing 64-52 at then-No. 9 LSU on Dec. 5 last season, and 10-0 prior to falling 63-56 at Pacific on Jan. 3, 2006.
They also lost their road openers in 2003 at Tennessee and in 2002 at Miami.
While the Aggies try to avoid a similar fate this year, they look to beat Arizona for the first time. The Wildcats are 5-0 versus Texas A&M, including an 88-44 win on Dec. 28, 1995 in the teams’ most recent meeting.
None of those losses or any of the Aggies’ defeats in road openers, however, came under coach Mark Turgeon. In his first season with Texas A&M, Turgeon brings his team into this matchup following three double-digit victories over major conference schools.
Arizona (4-2), meanwhile, continues to search for an identity while Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson remains on a leave of absence that started Nov. 4. The Wildcats already have more losses than they did through 13 games last season.
Now they host an Aggies team coming off a 76-63 home win over Alabama on Wednesday in their first contest since beating Ohio State 70-47 on Nov. 23 to win the preseason NIT in New York.
Texas A&M was able to get by Alabama despite committing a season-high 18 turnovers and being plagued by foul trouble. The Aggies also allowed the opposition to shoot better than 40 percent from the field for the second time this season.
“Our guys learned that things can not be going well, we were in foul trouble, we were turning the ball over and the other team was just balling, and we can still survive and win handily,” Turgeon said. “We had guys step up. We’re building depth each and every game. We’re getting better.”
Sophomore guard Donald Sloan had a team-high 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds for the Aggies, who shot 52.8 percent, one game after shooting 52.7 versus Ohio State.
It was just the second time Sloan, one of the school’s top recruits two years ago who has underachieved so far, topped his 8.3 scoring average this season.
“(Turgeon) got on me and said everybody is saying, ‘You’re this, you’re that’ but you’ve got to show me,” Sloan said. “If somebody says that … you’ve just got to show them.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 91-65 home win over Cal-State Fullerton on Wednesday in what may have been their most complete effort. Arizona hit 62.1 percent from the field, scored its most points of the season and held the Titans to 33.8 percent shooting - the lowest by any of its opponents.
Star freshman and Phoenix native Jerryd Bayless had 21 points and sophomore Chase Budinger added 17 for the Wildcats, who bounced back from a 76-72 overtime loss at then-No. 4 Kansas last Sunday.
“A lot of people doubt this team, but we can play with anybody in the country,” Budinger said. “Our team has been getting better each game and we are continuing to improve.”
Bayless averages a team-leading 18.8 points and scored 19 versus Kansas. Budinger is averaging 18.3 points after averaging 15.6 last season.
Though Olson appeared at Arizona’s practice Monday night, it remains uncertain when he will coach in a game. Assistant Kevin O’Neill is guiding the team in Olson’s absence.
Arizona, which was ranked 17th in the first two AP polls before falling out after a 75-72 home loss to Virginia on Nov. 17, looks to avoid a fifth straight defeat to a Top 25 team and sixth in a row at home to a ranked opponent.