UTEP: Ags escape a Minefield
UTEP came to Reed Arena with 11 wins against only one loss, to a pretty good Georgia Tech in Puerto Rico. Their wins were against a SOS in the 300s, according to Sagarin, so it was hard to know what to expect. UTEP took the lead by scoring the opening bucket on a nice sweeping move to the right by 6-4 Kristine Vitola. That would be their only lead of the night, as A&M used smothering D and a much-improved zone offense to take an 18 point lead into halftime at 42-24. Courtney Williams continued her hot streak from the previous two games, scoring 16 of her game-leading 21 points in the first half, despite going to the bench with 2 fouls with 6:27 to go. The Ags shot 15-30 with 11 assists and while holding UTEP to 10-30 from the field. A&M outrebounded the Miners 23-14 before the intermission.
The second half started strong for the Ags despite UTEP visibly trying to increase their defensive pressure. A&M stretched the lead to 26 while Coach Blair played with different lineups. Rachel Mitchell, who had a DNP vs Arkansas State, had some quality minutes in both halves, and we saw a lineup with both Rachel and Karla playing twin towers for a while. The lead was 25 when Rachel swatted a jumper from Agata Dobrowolska at 8:10 to go. At that point, the Ags were doing a pretty good job of protecting the rock with just 7 turnovers in the first half and 7 in the second. Curtyce Knox grabbed the rebound, but turned it over 5 seconds later. UTEP started playing a 1-2-1 half-court trap with more aggressiveness and the Ags got complacent with the big lead, per Assistant Coach Amy Wright in the postgame. Willams turned it over. Then Walker had the ball stolen. and so on. Overall, in the last 8 minutes, UTEP outscored the Ags 15-8 and A&M turned it over 9 times to bring the game total to 25. Fortunately, UTEP ran out of time and never got closer than 13. Final Score: 74-58.
The Ags were led by Williams 21. Coach Blair said she almost had a double-double of points and turnovers (6), but overall it was another strong game from CWill. Courtney Walker got back in the double-digit scoring by adding 18 before fouling out near the end. Karla Gilbert added 12 points and blocked 8 shots. This put Karla 4th all-time in career blocks for A&M, which is pretty impressive given how she was a backup for 3 years. Ade led the team in boards with 8. Jones was only 1-6 shooting, but had 9 assists. Curtyce had 8 points, all in the first half, but had 6 turnovers.
UTEP was led by guard Jenzel Nash who scored 20 off the bench, too many of which were layups. The Miners best player is forward Kayla Thornton, who added a double-double: 18 points and 13 rebounds. Although the Ags got the convincing win, I was impressed with UTEP, who are picked to contend in C-USA. UTEP was cold from the floor overall, but was still able to get some impressive buckets and didn't lay down when down big. In the second half overall, the Miners outscored the Ags 34-32, with a 22-14 edge in the paint, largely due to 18 points off turnovers.
Sweet at Home vs Alabama
Conference play started Sunday afternoon in Reed against Alabama. The Crimson Tide came in off a loss at home from #6 Kentucky, prior to their football team's Sugar Bowl loss. Bama arrived at 7-7 on the season, but had already played 3 ranked opponents. The Tide also brought a coach who is more familiar with Reed Arena's visitors locker room than most: Kristy Curry, who left Texas Tech to take over in Tuscaloosa this season. Alabama has some good players, but is not deep and lacks size. The Ags have been improving against the 2-3 zone ( we see so much of it, we should be getting better) and led by as many as 13 in the first half before taking a 41-31 lead into the break. Courtney Williams came out hot again, scoring 14 of her game-high 23 in the first half. Overall A&M shot 62.1% in the half. But Bama shot 44%, and it felt like we let them get too many driving layups in our half-court D, especially to guard Daisha Simmons. Bama post Nikki Hegstetter added some intermediate jumpers to get all 4 of her FGs in the first half.
The second half started similarly, with the Ags stretching the lead to 15 with 16:47 to go. But then there was a lapse where the lead was cut to just 3 in the space of 5 minutes as the Tide outscored the Ags 14-2. After the media timeout at 11:34, a couple of things let the Ags pull away:
- The Ags stepped it up on D, pressing the inbound pass and then dropping back into a 2-3 zone. This reduced the penetration.
- Hegstetter got her 4th foul. Even though she hadn't scored much in the second half, it seemed like a lot of Bama's offense ran through her, and as mentioned earlier, they don't have much size or depth.
- Achiri Ade took over on the offensive glass.
Final Score: A&M 73, Alabama 58. Williams led all scorers with 23, which gives her 4 20+ games in a row. No other Ag has done that since Danielle Adams. Ade had her best game of the year, with a 21 pt, 12 board double-double. Ade was 8-8 from the field, with a mix of a couple of jumpers from the free throw line and many putbacks of offensive boards. Karla Gilbert added 8 points, 10 boards, and 4 assists. Overall, the Ags had 19 assists on 29 buckets. Jordan Jones had her usual high-energy game, but was in foul trouble for much of the second half. Curtyce Knox played a lot at the point and scored 7 while dishing 4 assists. Courtney Walker was held to 6 points on 3-10 shooting with 3 turnovers.
Alabama was led by Simmons with 20.
Up Next: Ags at LSU
The degree of difficulty goes up a lot on Thursday when the Ags travel to Baton Rouge to play the #16 LSU Tigers. Although Penn State was ranked higher at the time, I think LSU will be the toughest opponent so far. That #16 ranking should go up, as the Lady Corndogs knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville (on the night they retired Candace Parker's jersey no less*) since the last polls were released. LSU is led by 6-5 Senior F/C Theresa Plaisance, who led the SEC in scoring last year, edging our own Kelsey Bone. The Ags and Tigers split last year, with the visitors winning both games. But A&M is in much more of a rebuilding mode than LSU; in addition to knocking off the Ags in the last regular season game last year, LSU upset Penn State in the NCAAs. Most of that team is back with the exception of guards Bianca Lutley and Adrienne Webb, both of whom scored in double figures in our loss at Reed. But 6-4 Sr. C Shanice McKinney is starting, allowing Plaisance to play the 4. G Danielle Ballard, who scored a double-double at Reed, was just a freshman last year. She scored 25 against the Lady Vols. Coach Nikki Caldwell has also added two freshmen and some JCs and a transfer who have contributed. 5-10 Fr G Raigyne Moncrief was a top recruit and has started every game. 5-9 Jr JC transfer G DaShawn Harden came off the bench to score 17 against Tennessee.
It will be interesting to see what we do and how Coach Blair game plans for the matchup problems presented by this game. Broadcast will be 6PM Thursday on Cox Sports TV, which is 119 on Suddenlink in College Station.
*Interesting week for Parker. The Vols lose on the night they hang up her jersey, and then her team, the LA Sparks, told the WNBA their owners were walking away.