I was boarding a bus at Biosphere 2 as the Ags tipped off at Reed against the Wildcats. With a long wait for my flight back to Texas, I found a spot outside security to listen to Mike Wright and Bret Dark on the KZNE audio stream. I had set the DVR to record the game before I left town and I'm watching the replay as I write this.
The game started with both teams in man-to-man D. Kentucky went to a 2-3 zone and built a 8 point lead before Courtney Walker got incredibly hot and gave the ags a 30-28 lead late in the first half. Walker's 17 points on 7 straight FGs forced UK back into man D. The momentum seemed to be shifting to the Ags as A&M led 32-30 at 3:27. But then at 2:48 Karla picked up her second foul. Walker was called for an offensive foul that sent her to the bench on the next possession. Against a lineup of JJ, Williams, Tavarsha, Rachel, and Tori, the Cats finished the half on a 9-2 run to lead 39-34 at the break. Kentucky dominated the boards 25-12 and outscored the Ags in the paint 16-10.
The Ags quickly cut the lead to 1 but couldn't convert several chances to take the lead before Kastine Evans hit a 3 to stretch it to a 42-38 lead. The Ags were able to score pretty well but couldn't get stops for the next several minutes as the UK lead fluctuated between 2-5 until about halfway through the second half. Karla got her 4th foul with about 12 minutes to go. Jada Terry replaced Karla. A series of fouls and free throws stretched the lead to 7, putting Achiri on the bench with her 4th foul. The Ags fought back to within 2 at 66-64 with 6:46 remaining. Kentucky then went on a 7-0 run capped by a fast break 3 pointer by O'Neill. The Ags would cut the lead to 3 twice but couldn't get closer than 75-72 on a putback by Karla with 2:38 to go. The Ags got a stop on the next possession, but Walker made a mistake by letting the ball go out of bounds when she thought it had deflected off a Kentucky player when in fact it went off Karla reaching back over the UK girl. UK only got a free throw on the extra possession, but when the Ags couldn't score or get a stop it quickly became a 6 point deficit. The Ags had to foul, leading to a final of 83-74.
The overall feeling from this game is frustration. The Ags kept fighting back, but Kentucky held them off. The refs frustrated both coaches by breaking up the flow of the game.
Courtney Walker tied career highs in points and rebounds in getting her first career double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Walker had 17 in the first half, hitting 7 straight shots after missing her first 3. Walker was less efficient in the 2nd, going 2-12 after the break. Courtney Williams had the opposite pattern in her game, going 1-5 in the first and 5-9 in the second on her way to 16 points. Karla Gilbert was hampered by fouls but was 3-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line and added 7 rebounds. Jordan Jones had 8 assists and only 3 turnovers. It was nice to see Jada Terry get some quality minutes: 5 points, 1 rebound, and a block in just 6 minutes.
In Kentucky's hockey line change substitution style, starters vs subs is not that meaningful. Three of the leading scorers on Sunday were all off the bench. Jennifer O'Neill with 17, Linnae Harper with 16, and Makayla Epps with 11, who tied starter DeNesha Stallworth. Matthew Mitchell's system makes the 53-10 bench margin somewhat misleading, but the 10 side is still not good.
The defense had some good moments, but overall was not up to A&M standards. The Ags didn't get back in transition will and gave up way too much in the paint in the halfcourt D. Kentucky shot 49.1% for the game, and scored 34 points in the paint and outscored the Ags 15-8 on fast breaks. I'd have to rewatch to figure out how UK kept getting behind the D and getting open looks, but it seemed that Kentucky's ability to play fast without turning it over sowed confusion in the Aggie D. Several times the Cats took advantage of the quickness of their bigs, drawing Karla out and then blowing by her with no help rotating.
Walker kept us in the ball game the first half. We weren't getting anything out of any other player on the court. They shot layup after layup after layup and were getting to the whole with ease against our man to man defense. Why I didn't switch to a zone? I don't know.
- Gary Blair in the post-game
It's hard to say that the Cats 2-3 zone shut down the Ags when we scored 74, which is above the season and conference averages of 67.7 and 67.8 respectively. But that reflects how we played at Kentucky's pace. The Ags only shot 37.1% in the second half, and were 1-8 in the last 4 minutes. For most of the game Kentucky did a good job of keeping Karla from getting open in down low. The Ags did better on the boards in the second half, but still got outrebounded 22-20 for the half and 36-23 for the game. Given the time both Karla and Achiri had to spend on the bench in foul trouble, it could have been worse.
I'm the head coach. Throw the errors at me. I've got to do a better job at coaching. We worked hard for this ball game. We worked hard to set ourselves up to have a chance to win this thing. Now what we've got to do is throw this game aside, learn from it, try to win our last two, get to the SEC Tournament and hopefully get hot and hopefully get smarter.
- Gary Blair in the post-game
Credit should be given to Matthew Mitchell for getting his girls back up to play the way they did after getting smoked by S. Carolina. I'm sure he pointed out that despite the disappointments of the season, UK was still in good position to finish in the top 4 and get two byes in the conference tourney. With upsets elsewhere on Sunday, Kentucky is now alone in 4th, a game ahead of Vandy, LSU, and Florida.
The loss drops the Ags into a tie for second with Tennessee where the Lady Vols have the tiebreaker. While not mathematically eliminated for the regular season title, it's now very unlikely. The Ags would need to win out while S. Carolina would have to lose to Georgia and Tennessee, and Tennesee would have to lose at LSU on Thursday. The Ags have clinched the 3 seed in the SEC tourney and will get the 2 if they win out and Tennessee loses at home on Senior Day to the Lady Gamecocks. Below that it's chaos.
Up Next: Senior Night against Arkansas
The last home game of the regular season will be Thursday night against the Razorback Women. On Sunday, Arkansas upset a reeling LSU squad that has lost 4 straight starting with their loss at Reed. Arkansas was undefeated in the nonconference while playing what Coach Blair calls a fools gold schedule. Once conference play started, they've struggled and are 5-9 so far. But as LSU can attest, they're good enough to be dangerous.
Arkansas is led by 6-3 freshman Jessica Jackson (16.6 ppg 6 rpg). Jackson was heavily recruited by the Ags but decided to stay close to home. I've seen parts of a couple of Arkansas games on TV and Jackson is very impressive. She's very athletic and can score both inside and outside; she leads the Hawgs in 3 pointers made (47) and 3FG% at .412. The Arkansas starting lineup has been unchanged through 27 games. 5-10 PG Calli Berna runs the show. 5-9 Sr Kiera Peak (9.9) is a small forward. 5-9 G McKenzie Adams (9.1 ppg) is also a freshman. 6-1 Jhasmin Bowen (8.7 ppg) plays the 4. 5-9 Kelsey Brooks and 6-0 Melissa Wolff get significant minutes off the bench.
Its Senior night. It's Coach Blair's former team. Last chance to see the Aggie Women at home before March Madness. Be there!
- Reed Arena 7PM CST
- TV: Fox Sports SW