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Texas A&M WBB ends 2-game skid with win over TCU

The women’s bouncy ball team lost to USC and SMU before bouncing back against TCU

Danni Williams
Danni Williams vs USC
Kevin Chou for the Battalion

Since GBH last checked in on them, the previously unbeaten ladies lost to USC at home last Wednesday and SMU on the road on Monday night. I caught parts of the USC game via streaming, but it was the Elementary School Day game, so it was during working hours and I wasn’t able to take time off this year. The SMU game was only on the radio. Both games went down to the wire with chances to pull out the win.

USC 66 A&M 62

The Ags took advantage of first half foul trouble for USC’s best player, Kristen Simon to take a 34-27 halftime lead. But Simon’s return and a pressing USC defense allowed the Women of Troy to make up the deficit in the third quarter by outscoring the Ags 22-14. A&M seemed to rally to start the final period, and went up by 6 with 7:43 remaining. But A&M went without scoring until 4:28 to go, when a jumper by Danni Williams broke a 57-all tie. It was tied again at 61 with under a minute to go, but USC went up by 3 on a pair of FTs by Simon with 21 seconds left. The Ags got a look to tie it but Danni couldn’t hit the 3 pointer and USC added a late FT for the final margin.

As early as the first half, observers worried that the athletic Trojans were substituting a lot and might wear the Ags down. Coach Blair would later say that the Ags showed fear vs the USC pressure on D at the end of the first half; A&M committed 22 turnovers in the loss.

A&M 53 SMU 54

The Ags were lucky to be only down 29-13 at halftime, after shooting 17.9% from the floor and committing 9 turnovers. It sounded like an abysmal offensive display. The Ags scored more in the third quarter than they had in the whole first half, but were only able to close the gap to 12 starting the final period.

But the team showed a lot of heart by continuing to play hard and put pressure on the Ponies. SMU still led by 12 with 6:33 to go, but a layup by Jasmine Lumpkin cut it to 10, followed by a steal by Anriel and a three pointer from Danni to cut the lead to 7. The Ags got all the way back to trailing by 2 with 2:28 remaining, and I was thinking “plenty of time”. A 3 pointer by McKenzie Adams for SMU with 1:58 gave them a 5 point lead, but Curtyce used a pair of possessions to cut the lead to 1 with 38 seconds left. The Ags got a stop to set up a winning shot, but Danni missed a 3 pointer and time ran out after Jaz got an offensive board and tried to pass instead of taking a putback shot.

Fatigue was a concern, although the Ags played much worse early when they shouldn’t have been tired. Still, all 5 starters played 34 minutes or more, with Hillsman and Knox playing the whole game. A&M was without Taylor Cooper, who missed the game with a knee injury that fortunately wasn’t the ACL that the staff had feared.

A&M 75 TCU 67

Thursday’s game was on Fox Sports 1, so I got to finally watch the Ags in real time. The game was an opportunity for both teams to adjust after a loss, as the Horned Frogs were coming off a loss to LSU on Sunday where they gave up an early lead. The Ags shook off their early scoring woes from the SMU game right away with Anriel Howard showing off the mid-range game she has been working on. TCU answered right away with a 3 pointer and the teams stayed close into the second quarter when the Ags stepped up their defense and took an 8 point lead into the intermission.

A&M got the lead to 11 in the third quarter, but TCU cut it to 7 going into the final period. The lead fluctuated in the final 10 minutes with followers of @AggieWBB worrying about whether we could hang on, given TCU’s ability to hit 3 pointers, the fatigue factor, and foul trouble. By the end, Taylor Cooper, Jazmine Lumpkin, and Anriel Howard would all foul out. But some key stops and solid free throw shooting preserved the win.

Danni Williams led the Ags in scoring with 19, and Khaalia Hillsman overcame a turnover prone first half to get a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Howard had yet another double digit night on the boards with 11 while scoring 8. Curtyce was clearly looking to provide a much needed alternative scoring threat and had 16 points to go with 8 assists and only one turnover. Cooper’s return was important. Although she only had 6 points and 2 boards, every one of her 19 minutes was needed as all three of our players at the 4 ended up fouling out.

Out of our Depth?

These three games have highlighted the issue of depth for the team. Coach Blair himself has talked about not being able to put in his bench enough with the games being close. Fans wonder why he doesn’t just put them in early anyway. In any case, the starters are having to play a lot:

Player USC SMU TCU Season avg
Danni 40 36 40 37.4
Khaalia 37 40 37 33.1
Anriel 37 30 28 31.0
Jaz 25 34 31 27.6
Curtyce 39 40 40 36.3

Historically, fans have been concerned about Blair not pacing his starters. It goes back to the days of Danielle Gant getting sick during the Elite 8 game vs Tennessee and was heard when Courtney Walker didn’t get much rest during her career. But even Walker was only averaging 35.5 min/game last year.

It’s been especially remarkable to see Khaalia logging so many minutes. She played 21.5 min/game last season and fans were concerned about her conditioning allowing her to do this much more. Blair has talked about how it’s hard for the bigs to play lots of minutes without taking plays off, and that may be the case with Hillsman. But she’s been a trouper so far. The immediate problem for Blair is that the bench is dominated by guards. Transfer Walnatia Wright has come in occasionally in the post, but while she’s shown some good energy, she’s kind of willowy and has trouble keeping stronger posts out of the paint. When Blair went to a smaller lineup last year, it was often with Lumpkin moving to the 5; that doesn’t buy him any relief for the starters this year.

The lack of depth is likely to be a problem all year, especially when we get to SEC play, where physical play in the post could lead to foul trouble as well as fatigue. Head trainer Jen Jones will be really earning her pay this season.

The reason for the lack of depth comes back to recruiting, of course. Fans often point to losing Vic Shaefer as a problem for recruiting, but you want your assistants to move up in the field. Vic took an excellent recruiter in Johnny Harris with him to Miss State. But the losses on the coaching staff, combined with the time needed for the newer assistants to network in our area is only part of the story. To some extent the move to the SEC may have affected our in-state recruiting. Unlike the case in football, the B12 is a first-rate conference for Women’s Basketball. Karen Alston rebuilding Texas into a top team, combined with Mulkey at Baylor and Sherrie Coale at OU as established programs mean that Texas girls who want to stay close to home have plenty of options. And Texas girls who want to get further away are being recruited by UConn, Stanford, and others.

And another question hanging over the program is whether our Hall of Fame coach will be around for the careers of the next recruits. On TV last night, Brenda Van Lengen talked about people predicting Blair would retire after graduating last year’s stellar seniors. But he told her that he didn’t want to go out with a bad taste in his mouth from how that season ended, and he wanted to prove that he can still build the program back up. And maybe that news is reflected in next year’s highly ranked recruiting class.

Up Next

In a way, this season reminds me of watching Coach Blair’s early teams with Danni and Anriel in the Takia Starks/Danielle Gant roles. It’s a very imperfect analogy, of course; each team has it’s own unique character. Saturday offers a chance to come out and watch this group while it’s still relatively early in their careers.

  • Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders
  • 2PM Saturday Dec 10, 2016
  • Reed Arena
  • SECN+ 1150AM/102.7 FM

This is the start of the Holiday Hoops discounts. Tickets as low as $4 for adults and $2 for kids.

The Islanders are 4-3 so far. This will be the furthest they’ve ventured from Corpus, as there only other road game was a 50-57 loss to Texas State in San Marcos. They’re pretty balanced, averaging 65.9 ppg with five players averaging between 8.0 and 9.1 ppg.