WBB: Ags lose a squeaker in Nashville

Karla Gilbert had a career high in a losing effort - USA TODAY Sports

While the nation was preparing munchies for the Weedeater Super Bowl, Karla Gilbert was scoring a career high 26 points as part of a double-double and fouling out two Vanderbilt posts. But it wasn't enough as the Aggie Women's Bouncy Ball team lost a tough one at Vanderbilt.

Going into this week, Gary Blair talked about how Vanderbilt was similar to Missouri: guard oriented, and dangerous from behind the arc. With the Commodores ranked 16/18 and Mizzou below .500 in conference, I was thinking of Vandy as like Mizzou but better.

The Ags game plan was clearly to go inside early and often, but Memorial Gym is a Stupid place to play and the Ags started 0-11 from the field, missing open looks and bunnies. The D was OK, so this only let the Dores get a 9-1 lead before Tavarsha Scott-Williams got A&M's first FG at 13:12 of the first half. The Ags fought back to within 1 but Vandy closed out the first half strong to go into the break up 30-23. Interestingly, Vandy and A&M were tied in points in the paint at 12, but the kinds of points in the paint were very different. Vandy was mostly getting layups from penetrating guards, while Karla Gilbert led the Ags in crashing the boards and getting putbacks. Karla was just shy of a double double in the first half with 9 points and 8 boards. SEC leading scorer Christina Foggie led the Commodores with 10.

Despite the deficit, the game felt like it was within reach, and the Ags proved that it was by continuing to feed the post and playing aggressive defense in the second half. The teams traded baskets for the first 5 minutes or so, but the Ags went on a 11-0 run from 15:05 to 11:05 to take the lead for the first time. As the teams stayed close, Karla was able to foul out starting post Marques Webb with 5:29 remaining. When Jasmine Lister got her 4th foul and Curtyce Knox gave the Ags their largest lead with two FTs to make it 60-56 with 4:27 to go, I thought the Ags would escape with a hard fought win. But Vandy came back and tied the game at 60 about a minute later. On that play, Jasmine Jenkins gave JJ a little fake to the right and drove by her on the left, while RayTe'a Long used a box out move to block Karla from coming over to help. Karla retook the lead but was only able to hit 1 of 2 FTs setting up Morgan Batey's to retake the lead on an "and one" play in the paint by driving by Achiri Ade. On this play, like the Jenkins layup, Long played pulling guard leading the blocking at the point of attack to prevent help from Gilbert. I guess it's not a moving pick if you're moving a defender out with your posterior. In the replay you can see Karla giving the ref a "really?" look. At 2:25, Jordan Jones was fouled driving to the bucket but was only able to make one of the FT. Vandy led by 1, 63-62.

Another opportunity to take the lead happened when Tori Scott blocked Foggie's jumper on the next possession. But after a timeout, the Ags ran a play to set up Courtney Williams in the left corner to try to feed Gilbert in the block. With the entry pass well defended, Williams drove toward the lane and was double teamed. As it happened, this freed up Karla, but CWill didn't see it and tried to throw a pass to the right side of the court. Watching the replay, it's not clear to me whether this was meant for Ade at the top of the key or Jones on the far right side. Either way, Lister intercepted it. The Ags got back to prevent a layup, but Williams lost Foggie on the left side, forcing chaotic switches as Foggie drove the baseline and hit Kady Schrann, who avoided Walker and hit a short jumper from the right block. Vandy by 3. Jones drove into the lane and tried to make a short handoff to Gilbert, but Long deflected the pass and picked it off to make two giveaways on consecutive crunch time possessions. Jones redeemed herself by stealing the ball from Jenkins as she crossed halfcourt. JJ missed the layup but Tori got the offensive board and putback. Vandy by 1. Morgan Batey caught Karla and Achiri in a poor switch and found an open lane on the left side of the lane for a layup, Long once again doing a great job of boxing out the help D. Vandy by 3. Long fouled Karla as the two jockeyed for position in the paint away from the ball; Karla got 2 points back from the free throw line. Vandy by 1. With only 19 seconds left, the Ags pressed the inbounds pass, but Jones fouled Batey to stop the clock. Batey hit both. With a 3 point deficit and 19 seconds to go the Ags went inside to Karla again. Curtyce drove the baseline from the left side and dished it to Karla crashing the lane. Karla got an old-fashioned 3 with a hoop and a FT. In the process, Long fouled out. Tied at 69. 10 seconds to go.

The Ags needed one more stop to force OT. Blair called his last timeout to set the D. Surprisingly the Ags fell back and let Lister bring the ball upcourt with no pressure. Lister passed to Batey with 5 seconds to go. Tori Scott was guarding Batey close. Batey swung the ball over her head and then brought it down to drive to the right side. Scott retreated with both hands in the air. Walker made a weak swipe at the ball from her spot defending the right corner, as Batey headed for the basket...

We allowed a team to shoot fifty-five percent. On the last drive, yep, we fouled. She made the two free throws. Ballgame. - Gary Blair, in the postgame

Now, I give credit to Coach for not whining about the refs, or leaping onto the court rending his clothes. But I'm just a fan and we get to whine about the refs. Also, Coach saw the play from the far end of the court, and I just rewatched it about 10 times in slo-mo on my DVR. And that was a terrible call. Scott is retreating with both hands in the air, and Batey is pushing off with an arm bar with her off hand moments before the whistle sounds. As someone on TexAgs said:

Really weak foul call. Is that a local ref that needed to get to a Super Bowl party?

OK, Tori got her on the body too. But still, that's a classic non-call.

That said, Scott should have been playing further off Batey, who had the ball at the arc and has not attempted a 3 all year. And the rotation was late. And the Ags defensive breakdowns in the last 5 minutes put them in a position where a horrible call could decide the outcome. And … and … and ...

With no timeouts, Williams inbounded the ball to Jones, who took a couple of dribbles and heaved a ball that hit the back of the rim

That last shot? Absolutely. I thought that shot was in, I was ‘like no this is not happening.' It was the same way with the calls down the stretch, off the ball calls when you're just playing defense that's a rare situation. Nothing would have surprised me at that point. I think most of the last couple minutes I kept shaking my head thinking ‘this is not happening,' but it happened, so I think it was our turn for it to go right, and it did. - Vandy Coach Melanie Balcomb in the postgame

Karla Gilbert's career high 26 points on 7/12 shooting, with 12 rebounds, a steal, a block, and no turnovers made her player of the game despite the loss. Also squandered was a great game off the bench for Tavarsha Scott-Williams who was one rebound short of a double-double in 23 minutes. Tavarsha had 14 points on perfect 7/7 shooting, she also had a block and no turnovers. Vandy's zone was not kind to the rest of the Ags. Outside of Karla, the rest of the starters were 7/33 from the field. Jones did have 8 assists, 3 steals and a block, but had 4 turnovers.

Before the game, Coach Blair talked about limiting Vandy's big two and not letting the less noted players beat you. Foggie and Lister both scored in double digits, but were not terribly efficient (combined 9-23) and held below their season averages. The other players were what killed the Ags. Batey's 17 points, with 15 in the second half while playing with 3 fouls, stand out. However, Vandy got good contributions from many players for a hard-fought team win.

The loss drops the Ags out of the SEC lead, a game behind South Carolina, who dispatched Mizzou on Sunday. Tennessee overcame a terrible first half to beat Alabama and thus have the tiebreaker with TAMU for second place. Kentucky beat LSU to drop the Bayou Bengals 2 games out with Vandy and Florida.

Up Next: LSU and BTHO Breast Cancer

The Ags get a bye on Thursday and then host the LSU Lady yet another team of Tigers on Sunday in the Kay Yow BTHO Breast Cancer game, which means a pink out. A&M beat the Lady Corndogs in a great game in Baton Rouge in January. LSU lost an ugly game in Lexington on Sunday and plays Mizzou in a Tiger vs Tiger battle in Baton Rouge on Thursday.

1:30 at Reed Arena. TV on FSN.

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