The semis started with Kentucky knocking off #1 seed South Carolina. The Cats win added some additional incentive/pressure for the Vols, who might be able to move into a 1 seed in the NCAAs by winning.
The Ags started fast for the second game in a row. Karla Gilbert blocked Tennessee's first shot attempt to become the all-time single season blocks leader for A&M. The Ags went on a 9-0 run after Andraya Carter had given the Vols an initial 4-2 lead. The run was keyed by the CW Network with Walker and Williams; a CWill 3-pointer made the score 11-4. Unfortunately, Karla Gilbert picked up her second foul a few moments later and went to the bench for the remaining 14 minutes and 35 seconds of the half. Karla's first foul came on a defensive rebound. It was the first of what struck me as questionable calls. She had inside position on Harrison, who was initially boxed out by Jones. Jones was knocked to the ground and then Karla and Harrison fell back as their right arms got entangled. The refs called it a foul on Karla for hooking Harrison. You can see Jones pointing as she's expecting the call to go the other way. The second foul came when Karla went over the back of one of the Vols. Tennessee went right at Rachel Mitchell on the next play and drew a foul on Rachel. The Ags held on pretty well with Karla out and even extended the lead to 10 3 times. At 8:57, Rachel got her second foul; Blair left her in. But when Rachel picked up her third with 6:18 to go and the Ags leading 26-20, Blair had to sit her down and bring in Jada Terry, who promptly fouled Harrison for an and one. After 21 seconds of PT, Jada came out.
The A&M lineup at this point was Jones, Walker, Williams, Ade, and Scott-Williams, that didn't last long either, as Tennessee tied the game at 26. Rachel came back in with 3 fouls and picked up her 4th after JJ hit a 3 to retake the lead. 3:14 to go; Jada back in at the post. Tennessee retook the lead on a FT after Ade got her 2nd foul with 1:12 left in the half. A Cierra Burdick 3 ball made it 39-35 with 15 seconds to go, and it looked like that would be the halftime margin. But Jordan Jones hit a 3 pointer at the buzzer and ran to the Aggie crowd yelling "It ain't over! It ain't over!"
39-38 Vols at halftime. Harrison led Tennessee with 10. Simmons was 1-10 and was clearly playing too amped up. The Vols outrebounded the Ags 24-15. Both teams made 16 FGs, and the Ags had 3 from behind the arc to 1 for the Vols. But Tennessee was 6-10 from the FT line while A&M was only 3-3. Foul disparity was 11-5. For the Ags, both Walker and Williams had double digit points with 10 and 13, respectively.
Down 1 at half is effectively a new game, but the key stat was fouls. Gilbert and Ade both had 2. Mitchell had 4. Meanwhile, Harrison and Graves had only 1 foul each, while Russell and Burdick had none.
The Ags started the second half by getting Karla involved. A&M led by as much as 5, but Tennessee fought back by and cut the lead to 1 on a nice spin move by Jordan Reynolds. They got the lead with 12:18 left on Russell putback that drew the third foul on Karla. This was another, "yeah, probably a foul but could have been a no call" as Karla seemed to be in what Blair calls "bank robber" defensive position. Walker hit a 3 to regain the lead, but Reynolds answered on the next possession.
On the next series, Walker missed a J from the top of the key. Gilbert was underneath getting mugged by two Vols as the shot went up. Someone, possibly Tori, tipped the rebound above the scrum and Karla grabbed it facing midcourt. As she turns to face the basket, Burdick manages to get both feet out of the restricted arc. Karla knocks her down (or Burdick flops) while turning to the bucket and Felicia Griner calls it a charge. It's Gilbert's 4th foul. This was a close call in my maroon-biased view. I don't think Karla lowered her shoulder more than she had to secure the rebound but her turn did move toward the bucket. And I'm not sure Burdick's position was really set as she was moving toward Karla. When Russell turned and bumped off a set defender (who didn't flop) a few plays later, it was a no call.
In any case, Rachel returned, also playing with 4 fouls. There were 11 minutes and 9 seconds left, and I thought that Tennessee might run away with the game at that point. But Jones wouldn't let it happen as she hit another 3 pointer and then stole the ball leading to a Jones to Walker to Williams fast break bucket to give the Ags the lead. Simmons retook the lead for the Vols with a 3 pointer and a Burdick tip in made it a 3 point lead. Walker and Williams got the lead back. 69-67 Ags 8:08 to go. Harrison tied it a 69. Walker missed a reverse layup that would have given the Ags the lead, but got a rebound fast break mid range jumper to get it at 71. Carter made a strong move on the right baseline to tie the game at 71. On the next possession, the Ags got an inbounds pass to Rachel under the basket but she missed the bunny. The Vols took advantage and took a 75-71 lead at 4:39 to go.
Once again it seemed like the Ags might fade. But once again the Ags fought back. Two jumpers by Walker around a steal by Jones tied it at 75 with 4:10 to go. A turnover gave the Ags the ball coming out of the 3:32 media timeout, but Walkers jumper was short. Harrison scored to make it 77-75. Karla couldn't convert a chance or get a foul call - the ESPNU announcers agreed that she and Blair had a case - and the Vols got the ball with 2:49 and the lead. The Ags forced a miss by Harrison but couldn't keep Graves off the boards. The putback made it 79-75 with 2:22 left. Williams 3 fro the left corner rimmed out and the Vols got the ball.
Now the Ags were finally out of answers. With 1:13 left, down 82-77, the Ags had to press. Jones tried to draw a charge on Carter. It initially looked like she was trying to flop, but it looked to me on the replay like Carter lowered her shoulder and hooked just enough to cause Jordan's fall to be more of a header than intended. Jones had to be helped off the floor. Ronnie Woodard at TexAgs is reporting that Jones seemed to be OK after the game.
We've got nothing to hold our hats about. We played a damn good ball game; they played a better four minutes than we did at the end....
There's no crying in basketball unless you're a coach.
- Gary Blair
- Walker had 26 points. This matched her career high, which unfortunately was also in a loss.
- Williams had 22.
- Jones had a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
- Only 7 turnovers
- Won points off turnovers 14-6
- Did not give up a single point on fast breaks
- Despite the result, that was a heck of a game to watch.
- Today's post has a picture from the actual game, not one from 2013! It turns out there was at least one pic from Auburn-TAMU, but it either wasn't up last night or I didn't do the right query.
- Outrebounded 48-26. The leading rebounder for the Ags was our point guard. Tennessee dominated the boards completely.
- 26-4 in second chance points, related to the above.
- Outscored in the paint 50-34
- Fouls 21-11 disparity meant a 22-7 disparity in FT attempts. Some of this was end-of-game intentional fouls, but as noted above, the disparity was already 11-5 in the first half.
Foul trouble meant that Karla only played 18 minutes. It was good that Tennessee was not able to blow the Ags out when Rachel was in the game, but I found myself wishing Rachel had reached this stage of her player development a couple of months ago. Since Blair talked in the post-game about his players being gassed, I will second-guess the Hall of Famer a tiny bit: I wish he'd rest Walker and Jones a bit during games like this. Walker played all 40 minutes and Jones played the whole game prior to her injury. Tori got 9 minutes but it was not in relief of didn't take a single shot. Knox only played at the end. Jennings had a DNP.
The foul disparity leads to a favorite gripe of all basketball fanbases everywhere: the refs suck and they hate our favorite players. The Aggie Men's Bouncy Ball team has had many legitimate gripes about officials this season. There's been discussion of how to assess refs on Swish Appeal, and Rocky Top Talk even has a Lisa Mattingly threat level. In their gracious allowing me to hang out on their game thread, I was asked if I thought the foul disparity reflected bias or was fair. I said I couldn't be objective. Unfortunately (because it's more fun to rant at the refs), when I go back and watch plays repeatedly in slo-mo, I can usually see that the call I was screaming about in real time is at least defensible at some level. But its hard to tell without putting in more time than I'm willing to whether there are significant bias issues.
I also added this section because in his post-game remarks, Coach Blair, who is no Kim Mulkey, talked about the Ags being in trouble after "touch fouls" on Karla. He was asked about this by one of the reporters. In his answer he talked about how he rules changes are especially confusing to the fans, who see different standards being used by the men and the women, and to the medium or worse officials. He also talked about how whatever the changes were, the same factors affect who wins: smart guard play, posts who can finish, and backups. He cited that the coaches aren't going ballistic and getting techs in the SEC tourney indicates that the officiating has been fine.
You can watch Coach Blair's post-game presser here. The recap from the Vols POV is here
Up Next: March Madness
Now we wait for the Selection Show. March Madness at Reed starts March 23rd. I'll probably do a preview after we know the bracket.