After the men's nice win vs Iowa State, there was some concern about whether A&M would represent well on ESPN2 in a game between two top 10 teams. But when I arrived at Reed I knew that turnout was going to be good, just based not parking as close as I usually do, and seeing the crowds at the box office. The announced crowd was 8,511, which included former players Karla Gilbert, Danielle Adams, Kelsey Assarian, and Sydney Carter. Yes, the turnout was probably inflated by having the Corps there and from the free tix for faculty, staff, and anyone with a stub from Saturday's men's game. But it was nice to have a loud crowd for the women nonetheless.
Courtney Williams returned to the starting lineup along with Khaalia Hillsman, Anriel Howard, Courtney Walker, and Jordan Jones. S. Carolina went with A'Ja Wilson, Alaina Coates, Tiffany Mitchell, Khadija Sessions, and Asia Dozier. The first surprise came after Hillsman won the tip and S. Carolina fell back into a 2-3 zone defense. Zone D has been a problem for the Ags for years, but S. Carolina is an elite man-to-man defensive team so I expected them to stay with their bread and butter. The second shock was that the Ags also came out in a zone. The two teams were pretty even through the first 3 minutes, but then S. Carolina started to assert the advantage of having their exceptional twin posts, 6-5 A'ja Wilson and 6-4 Alaina Coates. Wilson went on a personal 7-2 run before Coates horned in on the scoring to make it 12-8 with 4:23 to go in the first. In that stretch, Wilson also came flying out of the paint to block a 3-point attempt by Jordan Jones from the right corner. It was a "wow, where did she come from?" moment.
While S. Carolina was scoring, the Ags looked like they were too amped up. CWill had two turnovers on some wild passing and committed two fouls before Blair pulled her out for Chelsea Jennings. At the same time, he brought in Jasmine Lumpkin to take her turn at trying to defend Wilson, while Khaalia was guarding Coates. But the Gamecocks continued to dominate the paint and made it a 17-10 lead with 2:29 remaining.
Then Coach Blair brought Rachel Mitchell in for Lumpkin. You could see Hillsman expecting to be subbed out, as the Aggie twin tower lineup has been a very rare sight this season with no third post backing up Khaalia and Rachel. The Ags also went back to a man defense with Rachel on Wilson. I thought Rachel made an immediate difference in defense on Wilson, who suddenly couldn't shoot over a shorter player.
17-12 end of the first.
As the second quarter began with S. Carolina up 5, it felt like either the Ags would stay close or a S. Carolina run would put the game out of reach. But instead, the Ags stepped up and played what was probably the best quarter of the year so far. The Ags were playing an all-Senior lineup with Rachel, CWill, Jennings, Walker, and Jones.
Courtney Williams was central to the Aggie run. It started with CWill making a length of the court outlet to Jones off a missed 3 point attempt. Jones was fouled and cut the lead to 2. Jennings drew a charge on Wilson. CWill tied it on a jumper. CWill scored on a series of fakes in the lane to escape Wilson, followed by a short jumper. CWill hit from the a FG from FT line. Jones forced a turnover, knocking the ball off of Sessions. After Wilson lost a rebound over the end line, CWill scored on an inbounds play from Jones. After a Gamecock miss, CWill pushed the ball up court and hit Jennings with a bounce pass for a fast break layup. Timeout S. Carolina.
Blair gave CWill, who had stayed in with two fouls, a rest after the timeout. A Jennings second chance shot made it a 10 point lead. Wilson broke the ice for S. Carolina but Walker answered after getting fouled on an offensive rebound.
That was the high point for the Ags. Wilson outscored the Ags 8-2 to finish the half.
31-25 Ags at halftime. A'Ja Wilson led all scorers with 17 of the Gamecocks 25. CWill and Walker each had 8 for the Ags. Jones had 5 assists and just 2 turnovers. The Ags were beating S. Carolina on the boards 19-15. The Ags had 7 turnovers to 6 for S. Carolina, and were ahead in blocked shots 4-1.
Blair went back to the starters to start the second half. Both teams returned to their man to man defensive roots. After turning S. Carolina over to start the quarter, the Ags turned it over on 3 straight posessions, allowing the Gamecocks to erase the halftime lead. The Ags fought back with Walker staving off the Gamecocks a couple of times and Jones retying the game at 41 with a 3 pointer after S. Carolina took the lead.
But the Ags were giving up easy buckets while working hard to score. It was 47-43 with 2:12 to go in the quarter when Asia Dozier had to leave after jamming a finger on her shooting hand. The 5-9 Jennings was guarding taller players through much of the quarter.
Still, a late pull up J by Chelsea kept the Ags within 3 going into the final quarter.
50-47 S. Carolina after 3 quarters. The Ags were outscored 25-16 in the quarter. Tiffany Mitchell by herself accounted for the difference, scoring 9, including 5 in transition..
Despite losing the 3rd quarter, the Ags weren't done. Walker hit a second chance basket on the Ags first possession to cut the lead to 1. Jones hit a 3 pointer to retake the lead at 52-50. Williams hit JJ on a fast break and Jones threw a two handed overhead bounce pass to Walker for a layup and a 54-50 lead.
Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell tied it at 54. Blair decided to give Jones some rest and put Curtyce Knox in with 7:42 remaining. The Ags had a couple of chances to take the lead, but CWill got stuffed by Wilson on one drive and couldn't convert a tough move on the next. T. Mitchell retook the lead with a jumper and then Curtyce's 3 point attempt to answer rimmed out. After Coates scored in the paint, Wilson blocked CWill again. This time it turned into a fast break score to make it 60-54 with 5:23 left.
Walker cut the lead before the media timeout. Jones returned after the commercial pause and it the Ags had a chance to cut the lead to 1 or 2 after Jennings drew an offensive foul on Wilson. But CWill's 3 was off the mark and then T Mitchell hit her 3 pointer to make it a 7 point lead with 3:38 left.
The Ags were able to get within 5 a couple of times, and CWill's 3 pointer with 36.2 seconds left cut the lead to 4. But it was too late by then, as S. Carolina made their FTs at the end.
S. Carolina 70 Ags 63
On the one hand, this feels like one that got away. On the other hand, its not like this was a game where I ever felt that S. Carolina was overrated. Afterwards, the coaches would talk about how turnovers in the first 3 minutes of the second half were critical in allowing S. Carolina to carry over the momentum from the end of the second quarter. Nevertheless, the Ags were able to retake the lead in the 4th quarter, leading to a bunch of "if only" hypotheticals (like if my section had all inhaled or exhaled just enough to steer Curtyce's 3-pointer through the hoop).
- A'ja Wilson is just really, really good. It speaks volumes that her game (27 points, 10 boards) makes it easy to forget that her frontcourt teammate Alaina Coates had a double double with 12 points and 10 boards. Coates also had 6 assists. After holding Tiffany Mitchell in check at their place and through the first half, the reigning SEC POY finished with 20 points and 3 steals.
- Courtney Walker led the Ags with 23 points and played all 40 minutes. Walker also led the Ags with 7 rebounds. CWill added 13 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Jones had 11 points and 9 assists. The bad news was that the big 3 combined for 14 of the Ags 17 turnovers.
- S. Carolina outrebounded the Ags by just 34-30. But it was a 19-11 edge in the second half. The Gamecocks dominated points in the paint (40-24) and won points off turnovers (22-15).
- The loss drops the Ags into 4th place in the SEC at 5-3, a half a game behind Miss State and Florida at 5-3.
- Florida Gators
- 6PM CST Feb 4, 2016
- Gainesville, FL
- Streaming SECN+ Radio KZNE 1150AM/102.7FM
Coach Amanda Butler's Gators are perhaps the biggest surprise in this year's SEC WBB race (they're certainly the positive surprise; Tennessee is the other contender for least expected performance). The Gators were picked 12th in the preseason SEC media poll (Ags were picked for 4th), and started the year by losing to Temple. But then they went on a 12 game nonconference winning streak that included a win vs cross-state rival Florida State, which was in the top 10 at the time. The Noles have since recovered to the #11 spot in both polls. The Gators opened SEC play with a loss to Miss State, but have a winning record in conference with road wins against Tennessee and Arkansas. But they've also lost to Georgia along with more understandable losses to the Miss State and Missouri.
On Sunday I caught most of their game vs Kentucky. Former Georgia Coach and Hall of Famer Andy Landers spent most of the broadcast on the SECN talking about how Florida is a legit team that belongs in the top 25, and Florida showed why. The Gators took on a quick lead on #12 Kentucky, using pressure D and a 2-3 zone to force turnovers and frustrate the Cats in their half-court offense. They were very good at collapsing on posts and tying up the ball, something that the Ags have also had trouble with. Kentucky fought back in the second quarter but Florida built a double digit lead in the third quarter and held on at the end to win 85-79. Florida forced Kentucky into 30 turnovers.
The Gators aren't particularly big, but they're quick and play well as a team. Expected starters is mostly veterans that seem like they've been there longer:
- #01 6-0 Jr G/F Ronni WIliams (10.5 ppg 7.2 rpg) has been a leader for the Gators since her freshman year.
- #44 6-3 So F Haley Lorenzen
- #21 6-0 Fr G/F Eleanna Christenaki (10.8 ppg 3.3 rpg 4.0 asst/gm) may be a freshman (the only true freshman on the roster) but she's already played for the Greek national team. Christenaki had a double-double vs UK, and had the game sealing steal at the end. She's going to be a player to watch.
- #20 5-8 Jr G Simone Westbrook (8.4 ppg)
- #4 Carlie Needles 5-6 RS-Sr G (6.8 ppg) has started more games than any of the other players.
Florida used 11 players vs Kentucky and no Gator has started every game. They like to play fast. This kind of team has given us trouble this year, and the Ags will have to put the S. Carolina game behind them and avoid the kind of slow start that helped sink Kentucky.