In his midweek presser, Coach Blair warned that DePaul would be a dangerous opponent. The Blue Demons had 3 losses, but those came vs #1 UConn, #3/4 Baylor and #4/3 Notre Dame. That last game was on Wednesday night. DePaul fell behind by giving up 65 points in the first half to the Irish, going into halftime down 65-29. But then they scared the heck out of ND by outscoring them 51-30, falling short at the end by 5. But Blair sounded reasonably confident that with the Ags last game being on Monday morning the film study of DePaul meant his team would be ready.
The Ags weren't ready.
Blair's starting lineups have been varying only in who is the fifth starter to go with the usual combo of Hillsman, CWill, Walker, and Jones. On Saturday it was Chelsea Jennings, who Blair also called the closest thing we have to a defensive stopper so far this season. DePaul Coach Bruno went with the starters he used vs Notre Dame, which included 6-3 Jr F Jacqui Grant in place of 6-2 So F Mart'e Grays, who had started 7 earlier games.
Grant payed off right away, winning the opening tip and scoring the first 5 points of the game while drawing a very early foul on CWill. The foul came on an inbounds play on the first possession of the game. Grant drew Hillsman out to the FT line and then faked her out to take the pass on the right side of the lane. CWill fouled her trying to help. Hillsman lost Grant again in the right corner for a three pointer.
This led Blair to sub in Rachel Mitchell for Hillsman after Khaalia was called for a foul trying to grab a defensive rebound. But Grant scored in transition to make it 7-0 before the Ags could score.
Meanwhile, DePaul did not come out with the expected full court trap. Instead, Bruno, following the best practice of anyone who has watched the Ags recently, played zone and conceded long jumpers. Jones short baseline jumper broke the ice for the Ags, but the play was costly as CWill committed a second foul after the shot less than 3 minutes into the contest.
It was 12-4 after Podkowa hit a three at the 5:32 mark. The Ags got the lead down to 12-10 with 2:25 left in the quarter on a baseline jumper by Walker after Blair went with a small lineup where Jasmine Lumpkin and Anriel Howard were both on the floor with Walker, Jones, and Jennings. But DePaul answered on the next possession, when it looked like Jones and Howard miscommunicated on a pretty basic give and go between Jenkins and Grays, As Jenkins feeds Grays at the left end of the FT line, Jones drops off Jenkins to swipe at the ball. But Howard doesn't switch - it's almost like she fakes the switch - and Jenkins ends up wide open under the bucket. Jones almost recovers, but is rushing to get back allowing Jenkins to fake and make a nice move for the basket.
Walker scored to make it 14-12, but Grays hit a 3 pointer to stretch it to 17-12. This was another one that led to a "how did she get so open" feeling at Reed. Watching the replay, DePaul goes after Jones and Howard again. And I had to watch the replay a couple of times to figure out who was (probably) supposed to be guarding Grays. DePaul attacks JJ and Howard again, running Jenkins off a screen by Grays. This time Anriel switches and stays with the PG, who heads to the left side. Meanwhile Grays floats off to the right while Jones is hanging out on the right side of the lane. Walker is the one who rushes out to challenge the shot, but it's not clear to me whether JJ was supposed to stay with Grays or if there was another switch with CWalk... or if Howard was supposed to switch back.
The Ags played some good D at the end of the quarter, but couldn't score either.
17-12 DePaul at the end of the first.
Blair stayed small to start the quarter. Hillsman returned but turned it over when the Ags tried to get the ball inside. DePaul stretched teh lead back to 7. Blair went to a different lineup at 7:39, going with Jones, Waker, Danni Williams, Taylor Cooper, and Hillsman. The Ags got it to 22-21 when Danni stole the ball and got it back from JJ for a fast break layup forcing a timeout from Doug Bruno. After the timeout the Ags got a stop and took the lead on a nice feed from JJ to Khaalia for an and one opportunity.
At this point I thought the Ags had turned the corner. Khaalia was posting up strong and JJ was finding her. Even when Khaalia picked up her second foul and went to the bench, Rachel Mitchell scored on a strong post move. The Ags led by 4 with 2:46 to go in the half, and by 2 with 1:35 left in the half on a strong bucket by Rachel while Jones was on the bench getting some rest. DePaul retook the lead on a 3 pointer by Jessica January and made it a 3 point lead when January beat Knox down the lane. Jones came back in and hit a buzzer beating shot.
Halftime score: 34-33.
Down 1 at home having the momentum from the second quarter seemed like reason for optimism.
But it was the Demons who came out hot out of the intermission. A&M put the starters back in but went to a zone D. This is not normally how one defends a 3 point shooting team, but it seemed worth trying given how DePaul's bigs were able to shoot 3s. The problem is that the zone exacerbates the problem of long rebounds. Meanwhile the Aggie offense was misfiring. After a made free throw on by Hillsman to start the quarter, the Ags turned it over on 3 straight possessions, with one turnover for each of our senior All-SEC and All-American candidates.
DePaul led by 11 after Jones gambled on a steal on an inbounds pass. The rest of the team was slow to rotate and Podkowa had a wide open layup. JJ hit a jumper to get it back to 9, but it only got worse from there. At 4:42, the Ags tried to trap coming out of a timeout. DePaul broke it easily and got a fast break 3 from Ashton Millender. The Ags couldn't get the lead below 10. Chanise Jenkins hit another long 3 with just under a minute left.
61-48 after 3. DePaul shot 62% in the quarter. Yikes!
Jones cut the lead to 10 with a 3 pointer on the Ags first possession. But Jenkins answered again and a few minutes later the lead was up to 15. There was a slight glimmer of optimism when Jennings blocked a shot and Hillsman cut the lead to11. But it seems that Blair didn't share that glimmer; he subbed out the starters with about 4 minutes to go.
Final score: DePaul wins 80-66.
Overall and Misc.
Coach Blair called the performance an embarrassment and apologized to the fans. He called it worse than the home loss to Nebraska in the NCAA tourney and compared it to some of the blowout losses to Baylor that happened early in his time at A&M. The stats confirm the tale of the eyeball test.
- The Ags were outrebounded 52-36, giving up 21 second chance points off of 27 offensive rebounds.
- DePaul had 29 assists on their 32 field goals. They were 11-30 from behind the 3-point line, while getting 34 points in the paint (21 on fast breaks).
- DePaul had 4 players in double figures for scoring, led by Megan Podkowa's double-double (20 points, 18 rebounds, 10 on the offensive glass).
- The Ags were led by Walker with 14 points and Jennings with 13. It was not a good day for Courtney Williams. In 22 minutes limited by early foul trouble, she ended up with just 4 points and 2 boards. She did have 4 assists. Jones and Hillsman each finished with 9 points, but were below their usual standards in key areas: Jones had 5 assists but coupled those with 5 turnovers. She was also visibly frustrated at her own 3 point defense at one point. Hillsman only played 18 minutes and had only 4 rebounds.
- In the post-game, Jones talked about how Coach Starkey tried to get the girls to concede the threes in order to not let the long jumpers lead to the kind of offensive rebounding and breakdowns in the paint that we saw.
- Earlier in the week, Walker and C. Williams were both named to the 2016 Naismith Trophy Watch List.
Right now we're a stand around team. We're waiting for someone to shoot a jump shot early. The goal was early to drive; to get it inside. What did we do? Our first three shots were jump shots. Cause we were open for a reason.
But if they don't adjust, it's all on the head coach. It means I haven't taught them well enough be able to take coaching and take adjustments during the ball game. So, it starts with me
We've had problems vs. zones for a long time. While Blair is correct that settling for jumpers at the expense of going inside is a problem, we fans have been saying for years that the threat of the three pointer spreads the zone and creates room to operate inside. But while the several of the seniors have dramatically improved their long game, most of them were recruited for their other talents. We don't see many attempts from 6 feet beyond the arc like the ones DePaul was taking. If anything, we see Walker making a lot of shots where the fans are frustrated by how she shoots 2s with her feet on or just inside the 3 point line. I don't see that changing until perhaps Danni gets more comfortable with the rest of the game and the coaches get more comfortable playing her more. Maybe it's random, but the best run happened in the second quarter when both Danni and Taylor Cooper were on the floor, even though neither of them hit a 3.
I also think that with the personnel we have we're also not moving the ball enough. The jumper we are standing around waiting for is coming off the dribble by Walker or Williams. The passes are too infrequent and often too hesitant/late. The result is that when the ball did get inside, our players were trying to make shots vs multiple defenders and balls were getting tipped on entry passes or intercepted when the kick out was too late. Despite the statements that we need to stay aggressive, It has seemed to me that our senior stars are too often trying too hard to make highlight plays instead of letting the offense come to them. This happens, of course, when the standing around problem leads to nothing coming before the shot clock runs down.
Then there's the D. Blair has talked about not having a Sydney Carter on this team. As noted above, he called Jennings the closest thing to a designated stopper. Some of this can be attributed to Jones, the two-time SEC defensive POY, continuing to recover from and adjust to her knee injury. But there are other issues. Some of it I attribute to our youth/lack of experience at the 4 and the 5. Some of the transition comes from the problems on offense. But there are also some areas where I'm thinking that the problems are similar to what happens on offense: players trying to do too much. One thing that struck me in the postgame was something Jones said about defending the DePaul 3 pointers. Her wording made it sound like Starkey was telling them to concede the 3s, but I suspect it was more about recovering and being ready to rebound when going from that Blair calls "make them miss" D to "hope they miss D". Running out at the shooter with your arm up when it's too late is only making it harder to rebound.
Coach Blair wants a tough OOC schedule in order to test his team, and as Gail Goestenkoers said on the broadcast, there will be plenty of teaching tape from this game. Blair's record gives me plenty of faith that he will fix what is fixable.
- 4 PM CST December 20, 2015
- Oklahoma City, OK
- Fox Sports 1; KZNE 1150 AM/102.7 FM
This game is part of the B12/SEC challenge that had us play Texas last year in Little Rock, while Arkansas played OU. The start time is approximate, since Texas and Arkansas play the opener this year with a 1:30 PM scheduled time for the tip. Next year additional teams will be added to the mix, but the Ags and LSU will sit out the challenge due to the B12 not having 12 teams.
The Ags and Sooners have a history of some very good games going back to our days in the B12.
After a puzzling upset loss to North Texas, Oklahoma has reeled off 7 straight wins to climb back into the top 20. As I write this, they are playing UTSA. Along the way, they crushed the BYU team that beat the Ags in Hawai'i. It will be a good test of whether the Ags 3 point D has been improved, as the Sooners are hitting 7.3 treys/game. Probable starters:
- #10 5-11 Rs Jr G Peyton Little (13.8 ppg/2.6 rpg). Additional interest comes from OU starter Little getting what may be her only chance to face the Ags since her transfer from A&M after her freshman season. Peyton is leading the Sooners in minutes and is a close second to Kaylon Williams in scoring. Peyton also leads OU ins steals. Peyton came to A&M with the reputation as being one of the best 3 point shooters to come out of West Texas. She's shooting .364 for OU this year and leads the team in 3 point attempts. She was a bit of a surprise late commit to the Ags but found herself in the guard-rich recruiting class that included Walker, Williams, and Jones. With the coaches clearly committed to developing CWill at the 3, Peyton chose to transfer after her freshman year. I think most long term Aggie WBB fans have been wishing the best for Peyton except in this game; I was struck by how despite the likelihood that she already knew she was leaving, Peyton hung around late after the Selection Show Party to interact with the kids who wanted to be with her.
- #42 6-3 Rs Sr Kaylon Williams (14.1 ppg/8.6 rpg). Williams leads OU in both scoring and rebounding. She's the only starter who does not have a 3 point attempt on the season.
- #23 6-2 Rs Jr Maddie Manning (9.7 ppg/4.0 rpg)
- #11 5-10 Jr Derica Wyatt (7.2 ppg)
- #21 5-9 So G Gabbi Ortiz (7.0 ppg). Ortiz was B12 freshman of the year last season and was on the USA U19 team that won the Gold last summer.