The Ags arrived in Baton Rouge on a 4 game win streak following the tough loss in NYC to St. Johns. But none of the opponents dispatched in Reed Arena over the holiday break was very strong. Meanwhile, LSU had climbed to #12 on the strength of a 12-2 record. The 2 losses were to #5 Louisville and #20 NC State. The wins included an 80-77 win over the Lady Vols in Knoxville to open conference play.
After the win against Alabama, where the Ags gave up too many driving layups, Coach Blair turned practice over to Asst. Coach Bob Starkey for defense and cancelled work on the offense. The defensive intensity was high all game on both sides. LSU held the Ags to 11-31 shooting in the first half, and forced 9 turnovers. But the Ags held the Tigers to 9-33 shooting with 10 turnovers to take a 23-20 lead at halftime. LSU had taken an early 6 point lead, but the Ags fought back when starters Jean Kenney (8 pts in the first half) and Raigyne Moncrief went to the bench with 2 fouls each. Kenny might have gone to the pine earlier but for some pretty questionable calls giving her credit for taking charges while moving. With their starting point guard watching, LSU had trouble getting the ball to their leading scorer, Sr. Forward Theresa Plaisance.
After the break, Williams attacked the paint and helped the Ags stretch the lead to 9 by the 14:04 mark. But Williams' layup at 15:46 was the last field goal for the Ags until Karla Gilbert got a layup at 2:44. In the interval, LSU caught up and took back the lead. The Lady Tigers weren't exactly lighting it up from the field, but they were able to draw fouls and use free throws to get to a 7 point lead twice, at 6:02 and 5:26, on jumpers by Plaisance, who had 10 of her 16 points in the second half. To make things worse, Williams was called for her 5th foul right before the second time LSU went up by 7.
But the Ags just increased the defensive pressure even more. With the score 45-38 LSU, A&M went on a 9-0 run to retake the lead by 2 with less than a minute to go. Some key plays were a steal and layup by Jordan Jones to tie, and a jumper from the left corner by Courtney Walker to take the lead with 42 seconds left. Danielle Ballard missed one of two free throws that would have tied the game with 29 seconds to go, forcing LSU to foul to stop the clock. JJ hit two to make it a 3 point game. Moncrief drove for a quick layup to cut it to 1 with 14 seconds left. LSU fouled Ade right after the inbounds play. Achiri hit the first, but missed the second (after getting iced by Blair calling a timeout to review strategy), giving LSU a chance to tie or win with 13 seconds left. But the Ags avoided OT when Moncrief drove into a crowd just inside the free throw line and failed to notice Ballard open on the baseline or two other teammates spotting up for jumpers. Instead, Courtney Walker stole the ball and was fouled with 0.1 seconds to go. 2 FTs made the final margin 4 points.
Courtney Williams fell 3 points short of extending her 20 points/game streak, but led all scorers with 17 on 6-12 shooting. Walker finished with 12 points on a less efficient 4-17 from the field. Walker is so good that she can score in double digits, hit the dagger, and make the game-saving steal, but we still think she's struggling. Ade, who had a big night against Bama, was held to just 1 point from the late free throw but had to defend Plaisance and grabbed some key rebounds. Achiri only took 2 shots, both the intermediate jumpers she's been hitting lately, so it's not like she was taking bad shots. Karla had 7 points on 3-5 shooting and 1-2 free throws while pulling down 7 boards and blocking a shot.
Rachel Mitchell had her best game as an Ag, playing 11 minutes over both halves. She only scored one bucket on a putback of a JJ miss, but it was a great grab and shoot up high using her 6-7 height. She grabbed 6 rebounds and played well on D, with 4 blocked shots, 3 on 6-5 Plaisance and 1 vs 6-4 Shanece McKinney.
Jordan Jones was clutch at the end, getting a key turnover and a layup, finding Walker in the corner for the lead, and calmly sinking those last two free throws. After the game, she said
"I just blocked everybody else out like it was just me at the free-throw line. Back at home in our practice gym when we work on free throws, coaches have us do 500 free throws a week so basically the crowd didn't affect me. There was nobody in the gym but me. I just stepped to the line and did what I worked on in practice."
But the individual stats don't emphasize enough what a great defensive game this was. As the game went on, both teams increased the defensive intensity so that the shooting percentages went down from the already stingy first half. The Ags shot 35.5% in the first half and 31.8% in the second. But they held LSU to 27.3% shooting in the first half and just 25% in the second. LSU missed as many shots in the second half (33) as both teams made for the game. And for the most part, these were not missing open looks. They were challenged shots that came when each team could get a look of any kind through the two swarming, ball-hawking defenses.
Up next: at Georgia
Technically, Georgia will be the middle of a series of 3 ranked opponents. But that's only because the polls won't reflect the #25 (AP) Bulldogs losing to Mizzou by 10 until after we play on Sunday. Georgia started the year 10-0 and got up to #16 in the AP and #15 in the coaches poll. But since then they've lost 4 of their last 5, including their first 3 SEC games (@Vandy, Tenn, and now @Mizzou). So I expect the Lady Dawgs to be purged from the polls by next week. Let's hope our women can it a 4 game losing streak for Georgia.
Georgia made it to the Elite 8 last year, but graduated several key players. Of the starters vs Mizzou 5-9 G Khalida Miller is the only returning senior; she started 15/35 games last year. Junior starter Krista Donald are (5-11 wing) came off the bench last season. 5-7 G Tiara Griffin and 6-2 Merritt Hempe are sophs who round out the starting 5 for the Lady Dawgs. Griffin was a star on last year's team. Hempe came off the bench. Junior Erica Ford (5-9 G), 5-10 soph wing Shacobia Barbee, and 6-2 freshman F Halle Washington also saw the floor vs Mizzou. Barbee was a major contributor last season; the others were not. It looks like Coach Andy Landers shook up his lineup vs Mizzou; Barbee started 13 games this season and Ford started 15. Georgia's scoring seems to be pretty evenly distributed. The top 6 are averaging between 8-13 points/game. Georgia is making 5.4 three pointers per game. Against Mizzou, it took them 32 attempts to make 6, but on the season their percentage is better than that. But that meant that 32 of their 71 fg attempts were from beyond the arc.
The Ags should match up well with the Dawgs, but will have to continue to work on turnovers. Georgia's opponents are averaging 18.8 turnovers per game, including an average of 9.8 steals for the Dawgs. However, Georgia's advantages in turnovers and rebounds seem to have disappeared in SEC play. The last two times we've played Georgia, we've blown them out, including a 64-46 win at their place last year.
The game will be at 1PM on Sunday. It's listed as SEC TV, but I'm not sure what channel that will be here.