WBB: Ags survive Eye of the Tigers

Courtney Walker is playing well enough to deserve more recent photos - Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou is averaging 10.1 3-pointers per game. It looked like they might blow by that as Morgan Eye accounted for 5 of the Tigers' 7 treys in the first half. But after some defensive adjustments, the Ags kept Mizzou at 7 makes from behind the arc for the rest of the game and got a tough road win in Columbia.

With no TV, I listened to the game on the Aggie Radio Network and reconstructed what I could from the box scores and play by play (things I do even when I attend home games or watch on TV).

Thursday night's road game presented a couple of challenges in addition to the usual ones associated with conference road games

  • The Ags ran away with last year's game at Reed. I'm sure the coaches warned them to not look past Mizzou and pointed out that the Mutigers were much improved in Coach Robin Pingeton's 4th season. But the coaches said the same thing before Vic Schaeffer brought his Lady Bulldogs to Reed last Sunday.
  • Mizzou's philosophy is different from most SEC teams. The Mutigers run a motion offense designed to set up 3-pointers. They have 7 players whose 3FG% is .400 or higher. A&M leads the conference in 3 pt defense, but this would be the toughest test of that aspect of the game yet.
  • Tennessee on Sunday. Everyone talked about not looking ahead. Does anyone believe there was no looking ahead?

Mizzou didn't play on Sunday, so they had a whole week to get ready for hosting the Ags for their We Back Pat game. The Tigers came out fast, using 4 3s to take a 16-9 lead. Mizzou's success from the arc, combined with a packed in 2-3 zone forced the Ags out of our base lineup. After briefly trying a twin towers group with Karla Gilbert, Rachel Mitchell, and Achiri Ade all in at the same time, Coach Blair went small, using Ade at the 5. With the score 19-16 Mizzou, the Ags went on a run to take a 29-23 lead. But that lead was not safe from Morgan Eye's long range attack. Eye had two treys as part of a 10-0 run to retake the lead. A late bucket by Courtney Walker made it 33-31 Mizzou at half.

The radio guys described Eye's shot as being both quick in its release, and as a fadeaway, making it very hard to defend. At halftime, the adjustment made was to play "no-catch" on Eye. While Courtney Walker had primary defensive duty on SEC leading scorer Bri Kulas, backup point Curtyce Knox had responsibility in the second half for keeping Eye from touching the ball. The Ags overall 3-point D stepped up in the second half and the Tigers were shut out behind the arc after making 7 in the first half. Eye was limited to 4 free throws after the intermission.

The Ags also increased their aggressiveness on offense. A&M raced past Mizzou to open an 8 point lead by the middle of the second half. But the Tigers didn't fold. The Ags were able to keep Mizzou from getting it to a one possession game, but there were anxious moments as both teams went through alternating empty possessions. As the lead fluctuated around 4-6 points as the game wound down, there was a nagging fear that a couple of 3s could steal the game or send it to OT. Mizzou cut the lead to 4 at the 8:02 mark. A key offensive board by Tavarsha Scott-Williams kept the possession, leading to Karla Gilbert's only points of the night on two free throws. The lead was down to 4 at 2:42 when Courtney Williams turned the ball over on a traveling call. But Jordan Jones got a steal to keep the Tigers from making it a one possession game. The Tigers cut it to 4 with 1:15 to go. But the Ags held on. Final score: 62-57.

Courtney Walker continued the play that earned her SEC player of the week for her performances vs USCe and Miss State. Walker played all 40 minutes and led all scorers with 21 points. She was 1 rebound short of making it a double-double, and threw in 3 assists, a steal and a block while only having 1 turnover. Walker also spent most of the night defending Kulas. Courtney Williams added 14 points. Achiri Ade added 8 while playing the 5 for long parts of the game. The small lineup meant that Karla Gilbert only played 14 minutes. Afterward, Coach Blair said

I could not play my bigs against y'all. It's like guarding a five-guard offense and we got hurt a couple of times when I had to put Williams or somebody on 22 (Jordan Frericks) and she stung us a couple of times but I had to go to what it took to win the game. As a result, we lose the rebounding battle that way.

---

It was a mix-and-match. We ran in-bounds plays we screwed them up every time because I had so many guards in there that they didn't know what to do.

Mizzou was led by Morgan Eye's 19 points, with all of her FGs being 3s in the first half. Bri Kulas had a double double with 14 points and 11 boards. Missouri won the rebounds 38-33. Credit Missouri for forcing the Ags out of our game plan, which was to take advantage of size inside. Fortunately the Ags are flexible enough to win with different lineups.

Misc WBB notes

After Sunday's game, I mentioned that the Ags would be moving up in the polls after the big win vs S. Carolina. It was a big jump with help from some upsets for the teams that were just above us, putting A&M at 17 in the AP and 15 in the USA Today polls. Going into tonight we were 15th in Sagarin's computer rankings.

The Ags are on a 9 game winning streak. Thursday night's result keeps A&M undefeated in SEC play, a game ahead of S. Carolina and Vandy. Tennessee and LSU are two games back. Despite leading the league, the Ags trail Kentucky, S. Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, and Vandy in the AP poll. Kentucky should drop out of the top 10 after getting upset by Alabama in Lexington. That makes the Cats 3-3 in SEC play, 3 games behind A&M, and wondering what's gone wrong. Coach Blair has been saying all season that the bottom of the SEC is much improved, and new coach Kristi Curry now has a nice win for the Tide.

Individual recognition for the Aggie women comes in the form of the SEC POTW mentioned above for Walker, plus a very nice profile at aggieathletics.com (a piece that was from 12th man magazine). Meanwhile, Karla Gilbert has been recognized for her off the court activities (hat tip to cuppy for pointing me to this)

INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and Allstate Insurance Company today announced the 201 nominees for the 2014 Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams(R) . The award recognizes a select group of college basketball student-athletes who have made significant contributions to the greater good of their communities through volunteerism and civic service.

Karla has been working as a student teacher for Special Ed as part of her long term career goals. Good Bull, Karla!

Up Next: Tennessee

Sunday afternoon at 3PM, Reed arena will see the legendary Lady Vols first visit to Aggieland. It's an honor for us to be the team that hosts the Vols for the We Back Pat week to support Alzheimer's research. It should also be a great game.

The Lady Vols won the SEC regular season last year and made it to the Elite 8. The Ags and Vols split last year's contests, with Tenn. winning in Knoxville and the Ags taking the rematch in the SEC tourney. A&M lost 3 starters; Tenn returned enough to be picked by the prognosticators to take the SEC title, plus they added the top recruit in the country. Tenn was #4 in both preseason polls. The current SEC standings are a pleasant surprise in College Station, but they are cause for consternation in VolNation. I mean, Tenn is 15-4 and ranked #11. The 4 losses are to #4 Stanford, #15 LSU, @ #16 Vandy, and #2 Notre Dame… so there's an 8 page thread on VolNation about firing Holly Warlick. Wow.

See Rocky Top Talk's preseason preview for a rundown of the personnel. See their Notre Dame preview/game thread for their take on what ails the Vols. Tennessee is still talented, tall, fast, strong, deep, and dangerous as hell if they get their act together. The star matchup is Simmons vs Walker, but my key to the game is how well we contain Harrison and Graves, who are quicker than Karla and bigger than Achiri. Containing the Tenn forwards may be more about the perimeter keeping the UT guards from making good entries. In the second half against Notre Dame, most focused on how Tenn was unable to stop the backup guards from scoring threes; but to me, what was striking was Tenn repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot on the offensive end.

I have no idea how this one will go. For both teams, the most recent outings against ranked opponents were tales of very good first halves and not so good second halves. We struggled more against Mizzou than the Vols did with Florida, but they were at home and we were on the road, and since Florida's Christin Mercer was suspended for a robbery charge, the Gators have been undermanned and have lost 3 in a row.

A good and loud crowd at Reed would help. The game will be on ESPN2 for those who can't make it, or those of us who will both attend and record the game.

BTHO the Lady Vols!

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