Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports
The Aggie Women's Bouncy Ball team looks to bounce back from a less-than-stellar ending to regular season play as they take the court on Friday afternoon in the 2013 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament in Duluth, GA, outside of Atlanta. The Ags go into the tourney having lost 4 of their last 5, with the only win coming vs hapless Ole Miss, which isn't even in Duluth. This slump dropped A&M from being a top 10 team all the way to #19 in both the writers and coaches polls.
The SEC regular season finale was particularly frustrating for fans of the Maroon and White. After a fast start, the Ags imploded on Senior Day last Sunday vs. LSU, ultimately being blown out at home 67-52 after having a 13 point lead with 4 minutes left in the first half. A&M shot 32% vs LSU, which was disturbingly similar to the 30.9% FG% at Vanderbilt on Feb 24. Although Vandy played mostly man-to-man and LSU spent most of the game in a zone defense, the common game plan was to pack the paint and dare A&M's perimeter players to carry the offense. Another similarity between the Vandy and LSU games was that both came soon after hard-fought tough losses to Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. Is it a coincidence that both participants in the Feb 18 UK @TAMU game lost on Feb 24 and both teams from the Feb 28 TAMU @Tenn wars lost on Mar 3? Perhaps not. Fans of the Lady Vols could point to the renewed attrition to injuries after the Feb 28 contest as a factor in the spread on Mar 3 in Lexington, if not the result.
Arguably, the hangover from the loss to Kentucky at Reed Arena is part of the entire slump. It appears that the Ags spent a lot of time dissecting the many errors made in that game, beyond the usual time spend in post-mortem. This team seems to be perhaps overly introspective, to the point where overthinking how to avoid past mistakes leads to a loss of confidence, hesitation, and breakdowns.
The SEC tourney means a chance to hit reset.
With Mississippi on a self-imposed tourney ban, the SEC tourney is a 13-team affair where the top 4 seeds skip two rounds of play, while 5-9 get a first round bye. Alabama beat Coach Vic's MSU Bulldogs in the only game on Wed night. On Thursday, #9 Florida beat #8 Arkansas, but otherwise the favorites advanced. That puts the #4 seed Ags against #5 S. Carolina in game #7. Against a team like the Gamecocks it would be foolish to say that the Ags "just" need to get their confidence and swagger back. But while that may not be sufficient, it's necessary. The AP reports:
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said his message to his players after three straight losses is "There's nothing wrong with us."
"We've got to get that feel-good feeling again and convince our kids we don't need to go into the shop for total repairs. We just need some Band-Aids and attitude adjustment."
In his interview from Duluth with TexAgs' Gabe Bock, Coach Blair talked about trying to get that adjustment and put some smiles on their faces before restarting game prep on Thursday and watching South Carolina beat Alabama. But don't expect all smiles against Coach Dawn Staley's Game Hens. USCe is tough under any circumstances, and now has the extra motivation of Kelsey Bone's triumph in their house a month ago. The Ags have the extra day of rest and preparation, but it doesn't look like S. Carolina had to exert themselves much in a 77-35 blowout vs. the Crimson Tide.
As tough as it will be to get past S. Carolina, ironically, losing to LSU on Senior Day has the unintended benefit of avoiding a rubber match with Vandy or LSU. Although USCe is seeded higher, LSU is the hot team in the SEC right now and both LSU and Vandy have already made the Ags look bad, while USCe is trying to join that club. Although the game is close to their home, the popular upset pick is for the Lady Corndogs to take out Georgia. Since I've thought Georgia was overrated for months, that sounds good to me. The #2 vs #7 game has Vandy going against Kentucky. The Cats have to be favored, but the Dores are well-coached and quick. Vandy also has Christina Foggie back.
If A&M shakes off the late-season doldrums and takes care of S. Carolina, playing #1 Tenn might be a slightly easier path to the championship game than having to play UK again in the semis, simply because of injuries. Isabelle Harrison is out again, and Kamiko Williams sprained both ankles in the season finale. But it will all be moot if Coach Blair can't reenergize his youngsters.