It's the time of year when Coach Blair experiments with his teams to see what works and what doesn't. Three games where the Ags were heavily favored provided an opportunity to tinker.
Ags 75 Northwestern State 42
The Ags opened the month of December by hosting Northwestern State at Reed Arena in the annual Elementary School day game. The Lady Demons are a small school from a one-bid league, but they're well coached and won the Southland Tournament last season to get a 16 seed in last year's tourney. That makes them the 4th tourney team the Ags faced in the OOC schedule.
The 11AM start meant that I was going to miss this game; a nasty virus that kept me at home meant that I was at least able to watch on SECN+ instead of just sneaking peeks at the box score at work. Coach Blair looked to get Taylor Cooper going as his zone buster by inserting her into the starting lineup. He also gave Rachel Mitchell the start in the post. Northwestern State was completely overmatched but scrappy, and the score was tied at 7 at the first timeout. But the Ags pulled away pretty quickly after that. The Demons were too small to stop lobs into the post, and an 11-0 run after the timeout included 6 points from Mitchell, a J from Cooper, and a trey from Jones.
The Ags ended up winning 75-42, with everyone but Shlonte Allen seeing the floor. Congrats to Allison Chu for getting her first 2 points as an Ag on a pair of FTs at the end. Jordan Jones had a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists.
Ags 82 TCU 71
On Saturday, the Ags went up to Fort Worth to play the TCU Horned Frogs. TCU is remodeling their arena so the game was played in a tiny temporary gym that made 1350 fans a sellout, and a loud environment. Despite not selling any pregame tickets through the visitors ticket office, Aggie fans did a pretty good job of showing up. I caught this one on Fox Sports.
Coach Blair adjusted the starting lineup again. Chelsea Jennings got the start in front of her hometown fans and had a mixed night. Career high in rebounds with 8 combined with 4 points and 3 steals. But she got a technical foul protesting the second offensive foul call drawn by a flopping Frog. Coach went with Jada Terry, Courtney Williams, Jennings, Courtney Walker and Jordan Jones to start the game. The Ags jumped out to a 10-0 lead and early on it looked like TCU was going to put up even less resistance than Northwestern State. But TCU adjusted and kept hanging around, using pressure D to force 23 turnovers and to cut a 17 point second half lead to as little as 8 with a minute left. Fortunately the Ags were also playing D, forcing 20 turnovers. TCU only shot 18.8% in the first half. Their shooting improved to 45% in the second half, partly due to the Ags failing to stop G Zahna Medley down the stretch. Medley went 4-4 on layups in the last 3 minutes.
Courtney Williams had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, but Coach said he had to pull her late to keep her from getting a triple-double by adding to her 8 turnovers. Courtney Walker led all scorers with 21, but it didn't seem like a great game from CWalk, as she needed 18 shots to get her 21. Jones added 13 points and 6 assists.
Ags 70 SMU 62
Coach Blair was suffering from laryngitis as the Ags played their second game in the DFW area in four days. The game against the SMU Mustangs was not on TV or SECN+, and I decided it wasn't worth paying for PonyUp video for one game. So I listened to this one on the radio (and peeked at the men on the side - sigh). SMU came into the game at 4-4 with wins against nobody good, and losses to Northern Colorado, TCU, USCw, and Arizona State. An indicator of how heavily favored the Ags were was that Coach Blair talked about Allison Chu getting into the game in the pregame interview.
SMU provided a bit more of a size challenge than the previous two opponents, with 3 starters at 6-0 or above. Freshman Australian twins Alicia and Keely Froling go 6-3 and 6-2, while RS Soph Destynee Hives-McCray is 6-0. Coach Blair stayed with Jennings starting and Williams at the 4 vs the Pretty Ponies. Jones started out hot, hitting 3 3-pointers and a FT to get to double-digit in the scoring column in the first 4 minutes of the game. But the rest of the Ags weren't giving JJ support against the SMU zone. Walker picked up two quick fouls in the first half. After trailing by 9 at 13:35 in the first, SMU scratched back and actually took the lead briefly with just under 9 minutes to go in the first half.
The Ags went to a smaller lineup as the post triumvirate of Terry, Hillsman, and Mitchell wasn't getting it done. The net result was a 7 point halftime lead while being outrebounded. In the second half the Ags stretched the lead to 15, but allowed SMU to cut the lead to 6 with 1:36 to go before icing the game from the FT line. Chu did make it onto the court at the end.
Based on the stats and the radio, it was an ugly game. There were lots of stoppages to deal with clock problems and it was hard to tell without video if the numerous foul whistles were bad play or bad refs, or both. Mike Wright and Steve Miller seemed to think that SMU got away with lots of traveling. The Ags only shot 38.5% from the field for the game, and that was with a late spurt. Courtney Walker had a poor scoring game by her high standards: 3-12 from the field for just 9 points. Courtney Williams stepped up to lead all scorers with 21. Jones added 16 and Tori Scott came off the bench to contribute 12. Tori got special praise afterward from Associate HC Kelly Bond for being ready to play after spending practice on the scout team.
"We might be the most overrated No. 4 team in the nation. But we're going to go back to work, and we will get it right." - Gary Blair
I know what Coach means, but there are only 2 #4 teams in the nation right now, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are #4 in the USA Today poll while the Ags are #4 in the AP. We're inconsistent, especially on the offensive end. The D has been pretty good all year. Opponents are shooting .305 and we're getting 16.5 turnovers per game. But it could be better.
On offense, Coach has expressed frustration when his charges settle for long jumpers instead of attacking the zones we will see all year. But while he has emphasized getting into the creases in the zone for years, he also knows that finding those creases is easier when the other team has to come out and defend the arc (or at least the FT line). I think the lineup tinkering is a combination of keeping players happy and looking for another scoring threat after the CW Network and JJ. The mid-range shot we heard that Ade had worked on in the off-season hasn't shown up yet, so we're seeing lineup experiments at the 4, moving Williams over and trying various combinations of Jennings, Scott, and Cooper.
The experiment with the three post players is ongoing. Each has had flashes of what might be by the end of the year, but at the same time Coach isn't confident enough in them to have them play through stretches of struggling.
The Ags become the second team to get to 10 wins (Georgia is the other). The last time A&M started 10-0 was in the 2008-9 season, when they were undefeated for 2008 and went 12-0 before losing to Florida State in January. Of the remaining undefeateds, four are from the SEC: #1 S. Carolina, the #4 Ags, #16 Georgia, and #22 Miss State.
- Reed Arena
- Sat Dec 13 at 1:30 PM
- Streaming video: SECN+
- Radio: KZNE 1150
The Cougars come to Reed with a 3-4 record, having just lost at home to Prairie View, a team the Ags beat by 18. Coach Ron Hughey is in his first season with the Cougars after being an assistant at Florida State. Before that he got some experience with Reed Arena and the Ags as an assistant with Gail Goestenkoers at Texas. Likely starters:
- #00 Alexia Sanders, 5-8 So G 6.1 ppg
- #15 Alecia Smith 5-7 Jr G 9.3 ppg
- #21 Jessieka Palmer 6-1 Jr W 13 ppg
- #22 Marche Amerson 6-1 Jr F 96 ppg
- #34 Terran Alford 6-1 Sr F 3.1 ppg
Three Cougars get significant minutes off the bench, including 6-2 F Tyler Gilbert, who leads the team in rebounding average. UH is averaging 57.7 points/game while giving up 62. They're getting outrebounded by 7 boards/game. The stats and W/L suggest that this is a game that is more about how the Ags execute than any particular problem presented by the opponent. It's also a bit of a trap game, between final exams and a looming game vs #3 tu on Dec 21 in Little Rock.
The game against UH is part of a double header, so you get to watch both the Men's and Women's Bouncy Ballers for the cost of one ticket.