NCAA WBB Tournament Round 2: Can the Ags be Cereal Killers?

Monday night at 8:30 CDT, the Women's Bouncy Ball team plays their last game in Reed for 2012-13 campaign. Win and it's on to Norfolk. Lose, and it's wait til next year. The Ags face another refugee from the B12 (base 8, for now) conference in the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Ags advanced yesterday by taking care of the other grain-harvesting team in our bracket, the Wichita State Wheat Shockers.

The Shockers normally play a combination of man-to-man D and a 1-2-1-1 press, and that's what Gary Blair said he was preparing for in his pretournament interviews. WSU Coach Jody Adams decided to cross up the Ags by playing zone, not so much for the element of surprise, but more as a concession that they would not be able to stay with A&M otherwise. The strategy worked early, as WSU sandwiched Bone with players in front and behind her. Coach Blair noted in his postgame presser that his practice of scripting the first 5 or so plays of each half was thrown off by the change in defensive scheme. The zone and a soccer-worthy flop sent Bone to the bench with two fouls and no points with a little over 10 minutes to go in the first half.

Karla Gilbert filled in until getting a second foul of her own. The Ags had stretched the lead to 5, but were only up 3 when Karla joined Kelsey on the bench. After trying Rachel Mitchell for about a minute, Coach Blair went with a rare small lineup with Kristi Bellock occupying the post. Bellock was joined by the CW Network (Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams), Peyton Little, and Adrienne Pratcher. This group promptly went on a 8-0 run to end the half. That was effectively the ball game. Bone played the second half like she wanted to make up for lost time, finishing with 10 pts. The final score was 71-45.

The player of the game was Kristi Bellock, who finished with 18. The ongoing growth of Courtney Williams was evident as CWill pitched in 11.

At the first TV timeout of the second game, it looked like those who picked 11 seed Chattanooga to upset 6 seed Nebraska were on to something. The Mocs (For Mockingbirds, formerly for Mocassins of the shoeware and snake varieties) had come out on fire in the second half and had taken a 47-38 lead with 15:19 left. The Mocs had looked like the better team for the first part of the first half as well, and Nebraska had had to rally just to tie the game at the intermission. Chattanooga's starting post, Ashlen Dewart, and her backup, Faith Dupree, are both big-boned girls with a nice touch on the turnaround jumper off the glass from about 6 feet out. When Nebraska's zone sagged on them, the Mocs Taylor Hall and Alex Black were draining three-pointers. What kept the Huskers in the game was a lack of defense on either side.

At that first media timeout it looked like NU would leave College Station like their inflatable Lil Red mascot: bouncing on their heads. The Huskers clawed back to within 2. Then two things happened: First, Coni Yori ordered the Huskers to switch to man defense. The Mocs were already wearing down. Against the man defense the Mocs couldn't get open looks and took either off-balance, challenged shots in the paint or desperate 3-point tries as the shot clock neared expiration from players who were not their main 3-point threats. Second, Jordan Hooper got hot. Hooper scored 18 of of her 21 in the second half, with a lot of her points coming on 3 pointers. The combination turned a 9 point deficit into a 73-59 win.

It seems likely that the Huskers will go back to the zone against the Ags on Monday night. Nebraska starts 4 players over 6 ft tall, and two or three of these will sandwich Bone. For the season A&M shoots a higher percentage from 3 pt land than the Mocs, but Chattanooga's guards had 208 treys on 662 attempts, while the Ags have only tried 309 3FGA for the season. A&M has also been in a 3 pt shooting slump. This means the Husker zone that looked to me like it presented opportunities for the mid-range jumpers Bellock and Walker thrive on, may not be as spread out vs the Ags.

The 5th starter is star point guard Lindsay Moore. Against Chattanooga, Moore played 39 minutes, scored 13 (below her average of 15.1) and had 7 assists (avg. 5.1) and 3 turnovers. 00 on the Big Red is a potential first or second round WNBA pick. But the Round 2 game will be a chance for Adrienne Pratcher (who also 7 assists, but scored 6 and had only 1 turnover) to make a case that the best college level point guard in building wears maroon and white. From what I saw vs. the Mocs, and what I've seen of the Ags all season, Pratcher and Jordan Jones might be able to make it a long night for the Husker star.

Win or lose, this is the last dance for Pratcher, Bellock, and Cierra Windham in Reed. It might be the last chance to see Kelsey Bone in Reed too. Round 1 drew 7,215 fans. The 12th Man Foundation deal for free student tickets applies to the Round 2 game. Let's fill Reed Arena and BTHO Nebraska.

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