Aggie Women's Basketball: On to the Elite Eight vs. UConn

The Ags frustrated DePaul's guards on their way to a win in the Sweet 16 - Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Women's Bouncy Ball team is still dancing in Lincoln with a dominating win over the DePaul Blue Demons. The win puts the Ags in the Elite Eight for the third time ever. The last time was on the way to an NCAA championship.

First half

DePaul was the third team the Ags have faced in the tourney that runs a guard oriented lineup. So Tori Scott got her third start in place of Achiri Ade. DePaul came out in man defense and the Ags went inside to Karla Gilbert and scored on the first possession. The Ags emphasis on defense was to get back on transition and then switch off picks to prevent open looks from 3-point distance. The tone was set when Courtney Williams blocked the first three-point attempt by the Demons Megan Podkowa. A&M was up 13-4 before the other Megan (Rogowski) hit the first of DePaul's three pointers at 12:27 of the first half. Part of that first run was a Sportscenter highlight assist from Jordan Jones to Tori Scott. Off of a DePaul turnover, JJ took the ball for the inbounds pass on the sideline of the backcourt with DePaul setting up a press. The Ags caught Tori Scott's man peeking and Tori broke for a post pattern. Jordan threw a Manziel to Evans-like pass that hit Scott in stride for a layup without the ball having to touch the floor.

Rogowski's trey came right after Ade subbed in for Courtney Williams, who had picked up her second foul. By that time, DePaul's had 5 turnovers and their leading scorer, Jasmine Penney, was also sitting with two fouls. Starting guard Chanise Jenkins would get her second foul not that long afterward. By the end of the half, Karla and JJ would also have a pair of fouls. But Walker warmed up and scored 13 points before the break on 6-8 shooting. Fouls meant that Ade, Curtyce Knox, Chelsea Jennings, Tavarsha Scott-Williams, and Rachel Mitchell all played in the first half. Curtyce and Jennings had 6 of the Ags last 8 points in the first half and Rachel had two blocks. For DePaul, Rodowski had 9 and Penney, who played substantial minutes with 2 fouls, had 8. After starting slowly, Karla had 9 and Tori had 6 at halftime. After spending most of the half on the bench, Williams only had 1.

The 38-24 halftime score meant that the Ags had held the Demons to a tie for their worst half of the year. DePaul scored 24 in the first half of a game with St. Johns' in January, which they lost despite scoring 62 in the second half. In the postgame, Coach Doug Bruno talked about how he probably made a mistake by playing a more conservative game plan than usual:

I respected the fact that (Texas A&M) could break you off the bounce. They were a good transition team themselves and we beat a really good St. John's team playing conservatively and I thought we could play a little bit more conservative against them and still win the basketball game. That wasn't the case.
...

What I would've done differently is just come after them and let the chips fall where they may - let's go. I didn't do that, but there's a logical reason why. They are a really good open court team. Let's face the facts that we didn't guard very well in the half court conservative defense.

- Coach Bruno

The 24 points for DePaul came on 8-29 shooting (27.6%). A&M shot 15-25. The Ags outrebounded the Demons 21-13. DePaul turned it over 7 times in the half; A&M 8. DePaul played some zone in the first half, but abandoned it.

Second half

Although Jasmine Penney is an undersized post, she has a lot of great moves in the paint. DePaul went to her to start the second half and she not only scored but also sent Karla to the bench with her third foul just 12 seconds into the half. Knowing that the Demons were capable of 60 point halves, the Ags had to keep their game up with Karla on the bench. Coach Blair chose to go small with Achiri in the post, and after Ade and Rogowski traded buckets the Demons were within 11 at 40-29, and it seemed like if they could cut it to single digits they would get some momentum. Instead, led by the CW network, the Ags outscored the Demons 11-4 before the 15:54 TV timeout.

DePaul started scoring more effectively as the half went on, but A&M answered. Both teams were running and gunning. The second half was unusual in that Coach Blair gave up on calling plays on offense because the flow was going too fast and the team was scoring almost at will.

When they started pressing that opened up the court and my gosh if it is a four on three or a three on two it is hard to hold girls back. I am sitting there two three whatever and they said to hell with that coach, we are going to the rack. They were doing a pretty good job so sometimes you just have to let them feel it.

- Coach Blair

The lead stayed in the teens until the Ags got it up to 20 late in the game. DePaul shot 52% in the second half (17-33); the Ags shot 18-30 (60%). DePaul had 16 rebounds to 17 for A&M, so that was much more even. Both teams had 10 turnovers in the second half.

Final score: 84-65.

Wrap-up

This was pretty clearly one of the teams' best overall offensive performances. The Ags 60% FG% was the best ever for A&M in an NCAA tournament game. Courtney Walker's 25 points led all scorers. Williams scored 14 of her 15 in the second half. All 5 starters were in double figures as Karla and Jones finished with 11 points and Tori ended with 10. The bench contributed 10 points with Knox going 2-2 and Jennings 3-3. Jennings has struggled with her jumper and finding it in the tourney allows Blair to get her athleticism onto the court for more minutes.

In the post-game, Coach Blair was asked what the Ags did that OU and Duke weren't able to do. His answer:

Don't zone 'em

The strategy of taking away the arc worked very well; for the game, DePaul was 4-20 for 3s. The problems stopping driving moves to the basket continue, but this time that production did not come from their guards. Walker and Jones held DePaul's two point-like guards, Hyrnko and Jenkins to 3 points apiece on a combined 2-12 shooting night. Help defense is very good but could be even better.

The Ags rebounding edge for the game was 38-29.

What was especially nice was to get a dominating win when there are obviously areas where the As can do even better.Although this was a very good performance, there was room for improvement, which will be needed for UConn. Jones had a good game but on offense she had 6 assists and 6 turnover. Some of the latter were from being greedy on long passes (another way she's like JFF). Karla had 11 points, but could have had a bigger game if she had stayed out of foul trouble. Overall, the Ags turned it over 18 times. Free throw shooting was only 66.7%

Lincoln did a great job of coming out for the session even though the Huskers were knocked out. The official attendance was 9,585. The crowd shots at the end looked like much less than that, but still, good job, Corn Nation.

Up Next: UConn

As noted in the Lincoln preview, I picked BYU as a team that had the best chance outside of each other to beat UConn or Notre Dame. For about half the game, this looked like a great call. Cold shooting and adjusting to the presence of 6-7 Jennifer Hamson led to UConn having one of the worst halves for a UConn team in recent memory. But UConn still led at halftime, albeit just by a point, and in the second half they came out and dominated the way they were supposed to.

Note that despite my maroon-tinted view of the tourney, I included A&M in the group of teams with less of a shot than BYU. What can the Ags learn from watching BYU-UConn? Tactically, not much

BYU is a better three point shooting team than us, we shot two the whole night. If you don't shoot it well why try and prove it this late in the season?

- Coach Blair

Similarly, although Karla is a pretty good shot blocker, she's not Jennifer Hamson. Their games are different. The main tactical lesson is one that we knew before the tourney started: the Ags have to limit UConn's transition game to have a chance. But everyone who plays UConn knows that, and it's very hard to do for a long enough stretch of the game. The Ags might have a better shot at doing that than UConn's previous opponents. Or not.

The main cause for hope from watching BYU is the reminder that, paraphrasing Geno after their game, no basketball team wins unless they make shots, and even UConn can have an off day. Will they on monday night? Probably not, although A&M may be better overall on D than most of the Huskies previous opponents. The other problem is that UConn's D is still the best in the country and the Ags can be offensively challenged at times, because we don't stretch defenses from behind the arc.

Last season the Huskies came to Reed and won by 31. Here are the glimmers of hope from that game:

  • Walker had 20 points
  • UConn turned it over 17 times

Neither team is the same as what was on the floor for that game; it was early in the season so both of them were pretty different even by the end of the 2012-13 season. This year's versions are further from what was on the court at Reed that afternoon, but the Ags might be more different than UConn.  Last year's team was very centered on getting production from Kelsey Bone; this year's version is more balanced.  Williams game has matured a lot since last year and the biggest difference is Jones. Coach Blair called JJ the best defensive point guard he has ever had, which includes Aqua and Sydney Colson. The matchup at point will be a reunion of sorts: UConn's Moriah Jefferson, and Jordan Jones played on the same AAU team in the Dallas area, along with Baylor's Odyssey Sims and Duke's Alexis Jones.

Tomorrow is Sunday, we will probably hit church first before we watch film. We are going to do something. But folks, they counted us out in 2011 too. They counted us out when we got to the final four. Nobody besides Carolyn Peck said A&M was going to win. Everybody kept us out. Don't count Aggies out. We might be undermanned. But I have a nice team, they have a great team. The difference is it is a 40 minute game, it is not a best of seven series, if it was a series best-of-seven I would not like my chances. But it is one game of 40 minutes. It might happen. It might happen.

- Coach Blair

Gig 'Em!

  • Monday, 8:30 CDT in Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena
  • TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: WatchESPN
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