The Ags survived their quarterfinals rematch with S. Carolina Gamecocks to advance to the semis in A&M's first ever experience of postseason play in the SEC. So many bodys were flying in this game that both the announcers and Coach Blair compared it to an SEC football game. Coach Blair's analogy comparing Dawn Staley to Steve Spurrier and himself to Kevin Sumlin was off target in one key respect, however: Sumlin's Johnny Football is better at avoiding contact than the Blair's Kelsey Bone. But there was one moment when A&M fans across the internet must have been reliving a moment from last season's football campaign: the silence in Kyle Field play when Johnny Football hyperextended his knee against Mizzou.
For the fans of Aggie WBB, the deva vu moment came at 17:54 in the second half when Kelsey Bone came down awkwardly from a made shot onto a USCe defender and bent her knee the wrong way. While Bone lay on the floor clutching the injured joint, the refs allowed play to continue until USCe All-Conference guard Ieasia Walker hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 28. At this point, followers of the Ags recent struggles were already worried about a second-half collapse like the one on Senior Day, where a similar halftime lead turned into a rout in the wrong direction. With Bone going to the locker room with trainer Mike "Radar" Ricke, the potbangers were already calculating how far the Ags would fall in the NCAA seedings.
With Bone out of action for the moment and S. Carolina feeling momentum, backup center Karla Gilbert stepped into the fray and had one of the best stretches in her career. When Karla went to the bench with her third foul at 12:17, the Ags had stopped the GameHen's momentum and led 42-33. Karla scored a quick post move and then drew several fouls to add 4 pts on free throws. She clogged the middle and added a steal in the paint. S. Carolina would hang around and cut the lead to as little as 5, but that stretch was the ball game. Bone returned with a knee brace later in the half.
The game plan for opponents has been to stop Bone first and see if the rest of the Ags can beat them. In this game, the Ags took the halftime lead despite Bone being held scoreless in the first half. For the game Kristi Bellock led the team with 17 and Gilbert added 13. Courtney Williams led the Ags in rebounding with 11. About half of those were on missed FTs by the GameHens, but it was still a good performance. Fouls and turnovers were a key to the game. The Ags shot 8 more FTs than USCe (20/28 vs 10/20) and turned them over 18 times.
Without actually watching, the scoreboards and postgame writeups suggest that the other three teams in the semis had easier matchups, as one would expect in comparing 4 vs 5 to 1 v 9, 2 v 7 and 3 v 6. If the Ags and GameHens played SEC football, Tenn and Florida played B12 (base 8) football in an 82-73 track meet. Kentucky and Georgia easily dispatched Vandy and LSU, respectively, to reach the other semi. I was among those who sold the Dawgs short and expected an LSU upset in that quarterfinal game. After all, LSU was the hot team entering the tourney and Georgia had recently lost to Vic Schaeffer's Miss State not-Georgia Bulldogs. But LSU gave up 40 points in the first half (Georgia only scored 50 in the whole game vs MSU) and it was never close. Nikki Caldwell's Tigresses now wait to see who they will host in their first round NCAA games in Baton Rouge.
The Ags continue their quest for an SEC crown in a rematch with regular season champ Tennessee today at 3PM, in the final game of the season on Standard Time. The previous game in Knoxville was closer than the 82-72 final suggests; A&M had cut the Lady Vols lead to 72-76 with under 3 min to go before fading. Factors favoring the Ags in today's game:
- Isabelle Harrison, who scored 10 in Knoxville, is out
- Not Senior Night for the Vols
- Not at their place
- Tenn is only playing 7 deep and 6 played 30+ vs Florida.
- Courtney Williams has been stepping up her game lately.
But there are plenty of causes for concern:
- Although Karla Gilbert said something about shots not falling in the first game vs the Vols, in fact the Ags shot very well in Knoxville. The final
- How nicked up is Bone? Even without the knee, Kelsey has been taking a beating all season and has had to leave with cramps or injuries in three of the last 6 games.
- How worn out is Courtney Walker? Walker has put in a lot of minutes and will be asked to defend SEC co-player of the year Meighan Simmons. CWalk is a warrior, but has shown signs of wear at the end of the season, reminiscent of the shooting slumps that Sydney Carter would have while being expected to shut down the opponents best player in every game.
- Despite our height advantage, USCe outrebounded the Ags. Tenn killed us on the boards in Knoxville, and losing the battle of the boards could be fatal vs the Vols. 47.8% overall and 45.5% from behind the arc may be too much to repeat.
- Since Pratcher's outstanding performance in Knoxville, the perimeter offense has been stagnant. The Ags were only 1-5 from behind the arc vs USCe, with AP going 1-4.
- Pratcher had no assists vs. S. Carolina.
- The Ags deeper bench should be an advantage. But outside of Karla's 13 points, the rest of the bench needs to contribute more. Aggie fans keep hoping for a breakout game from Tori Scott or Peyton Little off the bench. Both Tori and Peyton are talented players who seem to need a little more self-confidence.
- Although it's not in Knoxville, expect the crowd to be dominated by orange
How will these factors play out? I have no idea. My heart says the Ags win the rematch, but my head worries about how much gas is left in the tank. We'll see soon enough: The game will be on ESPNU at 3PM CST.