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March 3, 2007
No. 7 Texas A&M wins with Lithuanian flavor
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -Antanas Kavaliauskas' mother traveled more than 5,000 miles from Lithuania to see him play college basketball for the first time.
So it was only natural that he'd be nervous about Saturday's game. Turns out there was no need for concern.
Kavaliauskas scored a career-high 26 points and No. 7 Texas A&M (25-5, 13-3) beat Missouri 94-78 to earn the second seed in next week's Big 12 tournament.
"I was worried before, but it was a great game. My mom being here made it even more special," Kavaliauskas said, choking back tears. "I haven't seen her since last May so it was emotional for both of us."
Kavaliauskas scored nine of the Aggies first 12 points in the second half to erase a two-point deficit and give A&M a 54-46 lead with 13:54 remaining. He capped that spurt when he was fouled making a nifty reverse layup and then sunk the free throw.
His mother, Birute Kavaliauskiene, beamed as she watched the play from her fourth-row seat. The big man also made A&M's first seven points of the game.
Kavaliauskas made 11 of his 12 shots. In his typical perfectionist fashion, Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie got on Kavaliauskas for the one shot he didn't make.
"Antanas should have been 12 of 12. I thought he should have made the one that got blocked. He shouldn't have missed that one," Gillispie said only half-jokingly. "We'll get it corrected in practice on Monday."
After the early second half scoring burst, the Aggies went on a 15-4 run to stretch their lead to 67-50 midway through the half and Missouri didn't threaten again.
The Aggies' six seniors were honored on Saturday before their last regular-season home game. It was an emotional ceremony, in which Law and his father, also named Acie, wept throughout.
"It was tough for me, coming out and knowing that this is the last time I'll be able to put this uniform on and play in front of the people who have supported us," Law said.
"Acie was crying at the shootaround and I've never seen him crying before," Gillispie said. "I know it was going to be an emotional day when I saw him crying this morning."
Kavaliauskas and his mother, who have only seen each other a couple of times since he moved to the United States to play basketball four years ago, held hands when he was honored.
She wore a corsage with a yellow rose and happily snapped pictures of her son throughout the game.
He scored his last points on a two-handed dunk with less than two minutes remaining, sending the crowd into a frenzy and causing his mother to clutch her chest and break into a huge smile.
"She said she'd never seen a game like that before," Kavaliauskas said. "She said 'wow.' She'd never seen at atmosphere like that. We don't have that in Lithuania. It's just different. She loved it."
After the game, each senior took the microphone and thanked the fans and their families. When it was Kavaliauskas' turn, he called for his mother and then told her he loved her in Lithuanian.
Both he and Law left late in the game to standing ovations from the record crowd of 13,203 and fans chanted "Acie, Acie" when he sat down.
"Acie Law is a dynamite player and I think he showed why he's one of the top players in the country," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.
Texas A&M led by as many as nine points in the first half, but with Law, Joseph Jones and Dominique Kirk all on the bench in foul trouble, the Tigers overcame the deficit to take a 32-31 lead about five minutes before halftime. The lead changed several times after that and Hannah made a layup at the buzzer to tie it at 42-42 at the break.
Former Texas A&M coach Melvin Watkins was back in College Station on Saturday as an assistant coach for Missouri. Watkins resigned in 2004 after the Aggies went 0-16 in Big 12 play.