4,791 came to Reed Arena for the pre-Super Bowl game against one of the brand-name programs in women's hoops. The Ags were coming into the game after losing two in a row for the first time this year, while Tennessee was hoping that their wins against Bama and Arkansas foretold a late season gelling of a talented squad that has not been meeting preseason expectations.
Both fan bases came in somewhere between openly pessimistic and cautiously optimistic. Both of the predictions at Rocky Top Talk were for an A&M win. A&M fans were moaning about how 20 turnovers and yet another bad third quarter let the Gators chomp the Ags last Thursday.
Coach Blair decided to shake things up and started a new combination against the Vols, with both posts, Khaalia Hillsman and Rachel Mitchell in the starting lineup along with Courtney WIlliams, Courtney Walker and Jordan Jones. It was the first time Blair had ever started two posts since he's been at A&M. Following the scouting reports over their preferred defensive styles, both teams came out in zone defenses. Both teams started out shooting poorly and it was only 3-3 at the 6:44 mark after Mercedes Russell hit one of two FTs.
A busy day for trainer Radar Ricke started when Khaalia turned an ankle trying to snag a pass on a fast break. She collapsed on the baseline and Tennessee coach Holly Warlick was the first to go make sure she was OK. Anriel Howard came in for Khaalia.
The Ags opened up a 7 point lead with Rachel Mitchell having a burst of strong play on her birthday. First she got fouled making a strong move to the basket. She hit both FTs. Next she deflected an entry pass from DeShields and dove on the floor to tip the resultant a loose ball forward, triggering a fast break that Jones completed with a turnaround midrange jumper. Timeout Tennessee. After the timeout, Rachel came out strong to challenge a jumper by DeShields and recovered quickly enough to grab the rebound and trigger a quick outlet to Jones. JJ put a move on DeShields to get into the paint while the Lady Vol D was still getting set up and was fouled by Bashaara Graves.
With the zone D causing problems for the Lady Vols, Tennessee coach Holly Warlick subbed in Kortney Dunbar and Jordan Reynolds for Jaime Nared and Diamond Deshields. Dunbar responded by hitting 3 3-pointers in the quarter. The first two were from way beyond the arc. The teams finished the first period tied.
14-14 after the first quarter.
Coach Blair subbed in Chelsea Jennings to try to cool off Dunbar. The Ags built another lead, getting working the ball inside several times to Anriel and Khaalia, who had returned to the floor. Once again, the Lady Vols fought back. Both teams had abandoned their zone defenses by the end of the half.
Halftime score. 30-29 Ags.
Hillsman led the Ags with 8 followed by Jones with 7. Rachel had 6 rebounds while Khaalia had 5. Courtney Williams continued to struggle as she works back into form. She was 0-5 from the field and had just 1 point on a FT. She was making some strong moves but her shots were just off line or short.
Dunbar's first quarter barrage from beyond the arc was good to lead the Lady Vols with 9. Nared had 7 and Reynolds 6. The Ags held Mercedes Russell to a single point in the first half and DeShields, who only played 7 minutes, to just 4.
Overall the Lady Vols outrebounded the Ags by just 1, 21-20.
The Ags went back to the starters and their zone D to start the second half. The Lady Vols stayed in man D. The lead didn't survive the opening possession as Andraya Carter was fouled and hit two FTs. The Vols went on a run in the middle of the quarter forcing Blair to call a timeout with 4:20 to go and Tennessee up 45-36. Leading up to that, the Vols started asserting themselves inside, with Mercedes Russell getting her first FGs of the game. Meanwhile the Ags were missing everything. I thought that Coach had wanted to sub in Jennings for CWill earlier in the quarter, but the only stoppage came when Williams was at the FT line.
After the timeout, Anriel and Chelsea did come in for Khaalia and CWill. Anriel drew a foul on Russell after grabbing two offensive boards. Chelsea didn't last long as she injured her foot or ankle and waved to the bench for a sub. CWill came back in with 2:32 left. The Vols used a late jumper by Reynolds to take an 11 point lead into the final break.
51-40 Tennessee after 3.
Nia Moore got inside and gave the Lady Vols their largest lead at 53-40 at the very beginning of the final period. Walker and Hillsman kept the Ags from falling further behind, but it was still an 11 point Tennessee lead at the media timeout with 4:43 remaining. Neither team scored for almost 2 minutes and it looked like too little too late when Walker got a 3 point play at 2:53. On the free throw, Coach Blair went small by subbing in Anriel for Khaalia. Howard responded by deflecting an entry pass on the right side, allowing Williams to start a fast break (the official score credits Walker with the steal, but it looked like Anriel as I rewatch the telecast). CWill found Jennings for a pull up J from just inside the arc the left side to cut the lead to 59-53. 2:32 to go.
CWill fouled out with 1:57 left and Coach Blair brought in Jasmine Lumpkin. Moore was only able to hit 1 of 2 from the line to make it 60-53. A crossover and jumper from the top of the key by Walker cut the lead back to 5. The Ags forced a shot clock violation after almost getting a steal. Andraya Carter's long 3 point heave didn't draw iron. On the ensuing possession, Jones attacked the right side of the lane and made tried a go under and scoop shot that missed. But Russell bailed JJ out by fouling and Jordan hit both FTs to cut the lead to 60-57. 50 seconds to go.
Tennessee used a time out to advance the ball. Anriel fouled Russell, who made 1 of 2. The Ags went to Walker who pulled up from the left side with Russell coming out for the block. Russell got a piece of the ball but also got a piece of Walker, sending CWalk back to the FT line. 2 shots later it was 61-59 with 45 seconds to go.
Tennessee brought the ball up slowly to kill time but Jones and Jennings trapped Reynolds in the corner near the halfcourt line, forcing a timeout. Nared took the ball in front of the Tennessee bench with Jennings guarding the passer. Walker chased Reynolds into the backcourt, cutting off that inbounds play, so Nared bounced the ball into Graves, who was immediately double teamed by Jennings and Lumpkin. Graves tried to go back to a cutting Nared, but Nared had to turn back to look at Graves and didn't see Jones come off of Carter to take a charge.
It was a bang-bang play and JJ might have undercut Nared. She was definitely set and it was close. But the crowd went from exploding with joy at the call to shocked silence as Jones didn't get up. Jones hit her head on the floor. After several minutes a stretcher was brought out along with a neck brace. JJ was taken off the court and to the hospital.
After Jones left the arena, Curtyce Knox took over at the point. Walker almost lost the ball trying to drive on the right side of the lane. She pulled up and shot short off the rim. Jennings tapped the rebound away from Reynolds. Anriel grabbed the loose ball facing away from the basket, turned, and drained the game tying shot with 5.2 seconds to go. She would later say that she didn't even look at the clock.
Nared got a 3 point attempt off at the buzzer, but it wasn't close.
61-61 at the end of regulation.
The Ags were without Jones and CWill but the crowd was standing and getting loud. Tennessee looked rattled. The Vols scored first as Russell was fouled grabbing an offensive board. But she only hit one of two and Walker quickly took the lead for the Ags by beating Carter on the right baseline. After Nared traveled, the Ags kept the play alive until Nared finally fouled out by grabbing Walker on an inbounds play. CWalk made it a 3 point lead. DeShields missed and Howard made sure it was one and done. Jennings attacked the basket and almost got the ball to roll in, but was fouled and drained both FTs.
DeShields cut it to 3 and the Vols got back to within 1 after Anriel fouled Carter with 2:26 remaining. But Walker hit over Russell. Tea Cooper's first basket of the game got it down to 1 again, but Waker attacked and drew another foul. More FTs. Knox was able to tie up DeShields under tha basket to prevent a putback. The Vols still had the arrow, but couldn't get off a shot. Curtyce missed a layup attempt with the shot clock under 7 but Anriel got another offensive board and forced Tennessee to foul. It wasn't a shooting foul so the Ags were able to get the ball to Walker, who was fouled. CWalk made it a 5 point lead with 31.3 left. Dunbar missed a 3. The ball went out of bounds and the refs had to use the monitor to try to figure out who touched it last. Aggies ball.
That was the ball game. There were a few more fouls and FTs before the end, but the gap was too large to close by then.
Final score 76-71 Ags.
After the game, Coach Blair took the PA mc to thank the crowd and urge everyone to drive safely instead of rushing to catch the start of the Super Bowl.
- First, the most important news: Jones was released from the hospital on Sunday evening, so she did not have to stay overnight. We await word on whether she will be ready to play by Thursday.
- Walker led everyone with 29 points. She was a perfect 11/11 from the FT line in 42 minutes. Khaalia had 14 and Jones 11. Anriel led the team in rebounds with 11, including 8 on the offensive side.
- Jones was hurt taking her 31st charge of the year.
- Reynolds led the Vols with 16. Russell was 1 board short of a double double scoring 11 and getting 9 boards. Carter added 10.
- Observers can pick how they want to attribute things to great D, poor shooting, or both, but neither team shot above 40% from the field. The Ags won despite shooting 33.8% for the game (it was something like 11% for the third quarter). The Lady Vols were better at 38.6%. Tennessee had 6 3-pointers to none for A&M. The difference was at the FT line, where the Ags were 26-35 vs 11-15 for Tennessee. I noticed that the permalink chosen by our bball-savvy friends at Rocky Top Talk for the preview and game thread includes "clang-clank-clank-clank-clank-clank-clang".
- The win kept the Ags in 4th place in the SEC, behind S. Carolina, Miss State, and Florida. Shockingly, Tennessee could fall out of the top 25 with the loss and is now at .500 in conference play. For now that puts them in 7th behind Georgia and Auburn.
- Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs
- 6PM Thursday February 11, 2016
- Reed Arena
- TV: SEC Network Radio: KZNE 1150AM/102.7FM
Thursday night brings Vic Shaeffer's Mississippi State Bulldogs back to Reed Arena, a place where Coach Shaeffer and so many of his assistants (Associate HC Johnnie Harris, Director of Operations Maryann Baker, and Director of Scouting and Video Coordinator Skylar Collins) helped make so many fond memories for fans of Aggie WBB. Both head coaches view each other as brothers but want to beat the hell out of each other on the court.
The Lady Bulldogs took care of Mizzou on Sunday in what looks like an ugly win in the box score. The two teams combined for 3 quarters scoring less than 10 points, with Vic's girls holding the halftime lead despite a 6 point 2nd quarter. They then held Mizzou without a field goal in the 3rd. Probable starters:
- #35 6-1 So W Victoria Vivians (17.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is the leading scorer by a wide margin. She combines 3 point range with the ability to score in the paint. She also leads the team in steals. Keeping Vivians in Mississippi was viewed as a key recruiting win for Coach Vic.
- #45 6-5 Jr C Chinwe Okoie (7.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a sloid post who has started most games. She was important in last year's success, especially when the now-departed Martha Alwal was out early in the season.
- #00 5-9 Jr G Dominique Dillingham (7.6 ppg) is a tenacious and energetic defender who is the kind of player you see diving on the floor a lot.
- #13 6-1 Jr F Ketara Chapel (6.2 ppg 3.4 rpg) has started every game but one. She only played 10 minutes in last year's game.
- #2 5-5 So G Morgan William (9.8 ppg) is a lightning-quick PG. She gets to the FT line more than anyone else on the team,where she's an .839 shooter.
We should also expect to see significant playing time from #15 6-7 Fr C Teaira McCowan and #3 6-1 Jr F Breanna Richardson.
Unfortunately, I will be out of town on Thursday, so the recap will be based on whether I can get the game in my hotel. It should be a good one.
Beat the Hail Outta State!