First half: slow start, good finish
The Aggies had a week to work on recovering from last week's close loss at Vanderbilt, but got off to a slow start against LSU's 2-3 matchup zone. LSU got the first 5 points of the game before Courtney Walker put in the first bucket for the home team after 3 early misses. Jordan Jones got two early fouls and had to go to the bench less than 5 minutes into the game. Karla Gilbert followed her to the bench with her second foul at 7:55 with the visitors up 7 at 20-13. Using a lineup with Rachel Mitchell Courtney Williams, Courtney Walker, Tori Scott, and Jones playing with 2 fouls, the Ags fought back. The LSU lead stayed between 5-7 before a really nice lob assist from Jones to Mitchell for a layup started and A&M run at 5:23 to go in the half. That bucket started an 8-0 run to end the half with the Ags taking a 25-24 lead into the locker room. Jones almost made it to halftime with just two fouls, but drew her third on a questionable offensive foul as Rina Hill drew a chargel high above the key as JJ was trying to move across the court to her right. That foul on Jones was only one of a bunch of odd calls and non-calls by a crew of Mark Zentz, Felicia Grinter, and Charlie Hurst. Ags will remember Zentz as one of the refs in the Vandy game. I believe he's the one who whistled the game-winning foul on Tori Scott. I'm not sure if Zentz or Hurst was worse, as I'm not sure which was which while watching at Reed. But let's just say I don't think either coach was particularly happy with how the game was called.
BTHO Breast Cancer
Normally, I don't split the halves with separate section headings, but since this is Good Bull Hunting, we need to note some Good Bull* about this game, celebrated at the intermission. At halftime, breast cancer survivors and patients currently undergoing treatment were honored on the court with roses. The pink BTHO Breast Cancer T-shirts sold out; each one included a contribution to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund in honor of the former NC State Coach who lost her life to breast cancer in 2009. A group of women were given roses at half-court, including some whose head scarves suggested that they are in mid-treatment with chemo. The good news is that early detection and new treatments are helping some women. 5-year survival trends are up. The bad news is that some of this improved survival is from early detection that does not mean slowing or curing the actual course of the disease. And it's an oversimplification to call it a disease; it's a bunch of related diseases. My research is very distant from cancer research, but I've learned enough about it over the years to somewhat appreciate how hard it is. The biology is fascinating, but there are people who suffer and fight and die behind the intellectual interest of tumor progression and metastasis. I'm glad I can even contribute a little by buying a t-shirt for a women's basketball game. And I hope those women and the others in the crowd whose lives have been touched by breast cancer enjoyed the game.
Second Half: Fight to the finish
With Jones in foul trouble, the Ags opened the second half with Gilbert, Ade, Williams, Walker and Knox. LSU went with their starters: McKinney, Plaisance, Kenney, Ballard, and Moncrief. If the Ags came out slow to start the game, LSU had a slow start to the second half. Karla scored on a lob from Walker over the D on the first A&M possession, and LSU turned it over when the refs ruled that Theresa Plaisance had one foot inbounds as she was making the subsequent inbounds pass. It seemed like Coach Blair must have emphasized pounding it inside and putting pressure on the D, because the Ags went into the paint early and often. Less than 4 minutes had elapsed before LSU had committed their 7th foul, putting the Ags into the bonus very early. One of those was the third foul on Jeanne Kenney, who spent a lot of the game on the bench. The Ags stretched the lead to 6 by the first media timeout. But Karla got her third foul shortly afterward and Blair called on Rachel to hold the post again. LSU cut the lead to 1 at 37-36 with 13:15 to go, but the Ags bench players didn't let them take the lead and opened the gap again. A Tori Scott 3 gave A&M the lead by 7 at 49-41 with 9:45 to go; it was the only 3-pointer A&M would hit all game. But every time it seemed like the Ags could pull away, LSU fought back. A jumper by Plaisance after the 7:38 media timeout made it a 1 point game again at 54-53. A&M answered to keep LSU at bay. Karla hit a pair of FTs to get the Ags first to 60 at 60-55 with 6:12 left. But at 4:06, Karla was called for her 4th foul as she knocked Plaisance down while trying to put in a layup in the paint. This allowed a pair of FTs to cut the lead to 2 again, and brought Rachel back in to the game. Williams followed her own shot for a putback to stretch it to 4 with 3:30 left. Ballard and Moncrief cut it back to 1 at 2:41.
Back and forth it went: Walker hit a jumper to make it a 3 point game. Ballard answered with a quick drive down the middle. With just under a minute left, Williams took a jumper that missed. The rebound came to Walker on the left side. CWalk drove the baseline and put up a reverse layup that hung on the rim… and fell in for a 3 point lead. Afterward she told Mike Wright that she needed it to fall or Coach Blair would have been telling her "Walker, don't you know you're supposed to bring it back out and run the clock?" That was the play of the game.
It came right to me. I was just in the right place in the right time. I was kind of spontaneous. Coach likes us to pull the ball out, especially because they are big inside. But when I got it and saw the open court on the other side, I just laid it in. - Courtney Walker in the postgame
With 53 seconds left, Blair called a 30 second timeout to allow the D to get set after Ballard had beaten the Ags down the floor and scored on several previous possessions. The Aggie D tightened and forced the Tigers to use a lot of the clock. Jeanne Kenney missed at 0:34 to go and Karla grabbed her 7th rebound as Blair used another timeout. LSU now had to foul. The Ags were able to get the ball into the frontcourt to Achiri Ade before Kenney fouled her, fouling out in the process. Achiri only hit one of 2, but that made it a 2 possession game. After Ade rebounded Raigyne Moncrief's miss on a 3, the Ags used their last timeout to get FT shooters in. Courtney Williams was fouled on the inbounds and provided the final points in the 72-67 win.
LSU dominated the boards early, but A&M closed the gap in rebounds and the two teams finished even in rebounds. Walker had 10 of A&M's 25 at the break and finished with 22 points on 10-20 shooting to lead the Ags. My writeup doesn't do justice to the game she had or to LSU's Danielle Ballard, who also had 22 points (16 in the second half). Ballard had 7 layups to account for 14 of LSU's 38 points in the paint. A&M only scored 22 in the paint, but 2 of those were on Walker's key putback. CWalk got the majority of her points on 8 intermediate jumpers. Courtney Williams, who avoided the early fouls that plagued her recently, added 16 points. Williams' ability to knife through gaps in the zone helped get the Ags into the bonus early. Karla Gilbert and Tori Scott also scored in double digits, along with Plaisance and Moncrief for the Tigresses. Although her line in the box score doesn't show it, Rachel Mitchell and Curtyce Knox made important contributions to the win when JJ and Karla got in foul trouble.
Nobody on either team hit the double-double, but Plaisance, Ballard, and Moncrief all came close with 9 boards. Moncrief is blazing fast and had 4 steals to go with her 15 and 9. Despite having to sit more than usual, Jordan Jones had 9 assists in just 22 minutes.
Interestingly, although the Ags outscored the Tigers off of turnovers 20-10, A&M had only 2 fast break points for the game to 17 for LSU. The largest lead for either team was 7.
Both teams, in the second half, were just throwing haymakers at each other and delivered. We'd make a shot; they'd make a shot. We couldn't stop Ballard and Moncrief from getting to the lane. They were doing an excellent job. They couldn't stop Walker and Williams. And then we finally got the ball into Karla enough times. It was just a great basketball game.
-- Gary Blair
For future reference: Ballard is a soph and Moncrief is a freshman.
The win puts the Ags at 8-2 in the SEC, tied with Tennessee and 1.5 games back of conference leader S. Carolina. With just 6 more regular season games left, the Ags have only one more game vs a ranked opponent. That's Kentucky at Reed on Feb 23, and the Cats have not been playing like they belong in the top 25 since SEC play began. A&M should be ranked ahead of UK on Monday, as the UK women lost to Florida on Sunday, giving the Gators a season sweep. UK is the unexpected upset win for 3 of our remaining opponents: Alabama, Georgia, and Florida (2X). The Ags will have to make sure we don't take any of these teams lightly to avoid being added to any upset victim lists. But it means A&M should be favored for the rest of the regular season.
Up Next: Georgia at Reed
Gary Blair has a losing head to head record vs Georgia's Andy Landers, but most of that came when Blair was at Arkansas. A&M is 3-0 vs Georgia with all of the games being post-2011 and none of them were close. Which, of course, makes next Thursday at Reed a trap game. After starting the SEC schedule 0-4, capped by the blowout win in for the Ags in Athens, the Lady Dawgs have gone 4-2, beating Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, and Ole Miss, while losing to Bama and Vic Schaeffer's Mississippi State Lady other Bulldogs.
When we last saw the Dawgs in Athens, leading scorer Shacobia Barbee (5-10 Soph wing) wasn't in the starting lineup. She still played 30 minutes and led Georgia in scoring, but she didn't start. She leads the team in scoring and rebounding and steals. I have no idea why she didn't start in Athens. Khaalida Miller (5-9 Sr G) is second in scoring and leads in assists. 6-2 Merritt Hempe has started 22 games and is the tallest starter. A&M has been getting better at getting the ball inside since we last played, so this could be a big game for Karla, and Achiri will be happy to not be so undersized for once (she had 16 boards in Athens). Oh, and expect zone on D.
A note about today's photo
One of the cool things about being a contributor to GBH is being able to use news photos from the Presswire/Getty libraries of pics without violating copyright, thanks to the agreements between SBN and the image libraries. This is great for the big sports; there are a bunch of photos available for the Saturday's MBB game, and football pics are always up pretty fast. For Fighting Texas Aggie Women's Bouncy Ball, not so much. The most recent images are from the St. Johns game or Penn State. I've used pictures from last season. Bad enough that I post home game recaps with the girls in their road unis. The pics aren't even from this calendar year!! So, not having a serious camera, I took some pics from the stands with my outdated iPhone 4 (I need a new phone) and enhanced it in iPhoto. This poor image is the best one… so that's what you get. The alternative is something like this fine rendition of Walker's reverse layup dagger:
or yet another pic from St. Johns or Penn State.
*Good Bull, for visitors who are wondering why this is not a Univ of Central Florida site, is defined as something that promotes the traditions of Texas A&M. I use it to mean promoting the positive traditions, which made Bob Gates describe this place as "unique American Institution". Although I was not a student here, I think applying BTHO to Breast Cancer qualifies.