The Ags flew to Knoxville on Saturday. As his custom, Gary Blair had the team spend time at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame to teach them about the history of the women’s game. Coach Blair posed for pictures in front of his own plaque. Coming into Sunday, Blair was 3-17 vs the Vols, of which 2 wins and 7 losses came with the Ags. The wins came in the SEC tourney in 2013 and last year at Reed in OT. The Ags were 0-2 all time in Knoxville.
The Ags continued with Cooper in the starting lineup. ESPN’s Paul Sunderland had made his first screwup of the game before either team scored, calling Tennessee’s Jordan Reynolds “Jordan Jones” (He did this twice during the game; catching himself the second time but not the first). Tennessee scored the first led 5-0. A&M got on the board when Danni Williams made a pair of FTs after being fouled by Tennessee’s leading scorer, Diamond DeShields. Danni also got the first FG for the Ags with transition drive of the right side at the 6:28 mark. After that, both teams struggled to score for several possessions until Anriel got a third-chance putback at 5:12. The Ags scratched back to an 11-11 tie before the media timeout. But the Lady Vols rallied after the commercials to go up 20-13, with the ball and 17 seconds remaining. But instead of milking the clock, Jaime Nared inexplicably took a jumper with 10 second remaining. She missed, allowing the Ags to score on a Jasmine Lumpkin layup with 2 seconds left in the quarter. Instead of being down 7 or 9, A&M only trailed by 5.
Tennessee 20, Ags 15 after 1.
A&M cut it to 3 right away but got stuck at 19. On Tennessee’s third possession of the quarter, Alexa Middleton missed a 3 pointer. DeShields got the offensive board and made a nice pass to Russell, who took a little uncalled shuffle before making a layup. Coach Blair would say later “that girl traveled from here to Lubbock”. What he said at the time is not recorded, but it drew a rare Technical foul.
DeShields would head to the bench with her second foul with 7:51 remaining in the half. Even without her, Tennessee would stretch the lead to 36-27 with 2:18 remaining. A 3 pointer by Danni cut it to 6 and a couple of FTs by Taylor countered a Russell layup. Once again, Tennessee had a chance to stretch the lead late, but Middleton took a quick jumper with 37 seconds left, giving A&M a chance at the last shot. Anriel couldn’t convert this time.
Tennessee 38, Ags 32 at the half.
Danni led that Ags at halftime with 11 points, and she was an efficient 4-9 from the floor. The Ags won the rebounding battle 22-20, with Khaalia getting 10 boards and Anriel 8. It was a frustrating shooting half for Curtyce, going 1-9 from the floor. But she had 5 assists and no turnovers.
Mercedes Russell led Tennessee with 11. The plan for the Ags was to dare players other than DeShields and Russell to step up, and in the first half Alexa Middleton and Jaime Nared did that with 8 and 6 points, respectively. DeShields scored 6 in her 12 minutes before the foul trouble.
The Ags came out of the locker room as the more aggressive team and reeled off a 6-0 run to tie the game at 38 and force a timeout from Coach Holly Warlick. The Vols pulled ahead after the timeout and Anriel turned her ankle on a drive by Jaime Nared and had to leave the floor. The Ags fought back to tie it at 42 and then took their first lead of the game at 47-46 with 2:17 to go in the quarter on a jumper by Jasmine Lumpkin.
The lead was short-lived. Alexa Middlton hit a pair of 3 pointers to make it 52-47. A pair of FTs by Reynolds meant that after all the mid-quarter action the Vols gained a point over the course of the period.
Tennessee 54, Ags 47
The Ags could have folded after Tennessee started the quarter by stretching the lead to 11 with 8:49 remaining on baskets by DeShields and Russell. DeShields hit a nice runner in the lane and the basket by Russell was on a play where ball movement forced Khaalia to leave Russell. Taylor was late on the rotation and Russell was wide open. But Tennessee started settling for jump shots and making imprecise passes and the Ags gradually fought back. It would turn out that Russell’s basket at 8:49 would be the Lady Vols last FG of the game.
Lumpkin came in for Cooper at 7:16 with the Vols up 9. Right after the substitution, Anriel recovered a bad pass on the baseline and Jasmine ran out for a 1 on 3 spinning fast break layup to make it 58-51. A few plays later Curtyce finally got a layup after driving the left baseline, faking Middleton into the air on a reverse spinning the ball in off the glass. That cut the lead to 58-53 with 6:07 left. Neither team scored atain until Nared hit 1 of 2 FTs to make it 59-53 with 3:40 remaining.
Anriel rebounded the missed FT and the Ags got Danni open for a 3 pointer to cut it to 59-56. On the next Tennessee possession, Anriel jumped into a passing lane on the right side and tipped the ball to Curtyce. Tyce pushed the ball down the right side and got the ball to Danni, who pulled up in at the FT line. Everyone in the arena expected her to shoot, but she tried to pass the ball to Anriel cutting down the lane.
And the Ags got the benefit of a missed call by the refs, who called it Aggies ball.
On the replay, Anriel can’t make the catch and the ball goes off her hands over the end line. The refs called it off DeShields, who could have been called for a foul - part of the reason Anriel didn’t catch the ball was Diamond hitting her on the arm. But they didn’t call a foul so it should have been Lady Vols ball.
On the subsequent inbounds play, Danni missed a 3 from the right side. The ball bounced long but Anriel contesting the rebound caused a Vol to tip the ball to Jasmine, who got it back to Danni. Danni drove the lane, turned and shoveled the ball to a wide open Tyce on the top right of the arc. Knox buried the 3 pointer to tie it at 59 as the crowd booed the out of bounds call. 2:17 left in the game.
Neither team could score off the next few possessions, setting up the Ags with the ball and 29.7 seconds left after Blair used his last timeout. There were 24 seconds left on the shot clock and Tennessee had many fouls to give - no fouls had been called on the Vols in the quarter. The Vols decided to not foul early. Curtyce ran the shot clock down to 10 and then drove the left side. Reynolds fouled her with 8.5 seconds left.
With no timeouts, Curtyce had to take the ball out on the baseline with no huddle. Khaalia set a hard pick DeShields on the left side of the lane to spring Danni to get the inbounds pass cutting to the left side. Russell switched and forced a shot that was short of everything. Danni’s follow through seems to have hit Russell in the face, causing her to walk off the court toward as the play was still in progress. DeShields went to block out Danni, but Anriel had gotten inside position on Nared. As the airball came down, Anriel tipped it out to Khaalia, who flipped a little right handed semi-hook into the bucket. 61-59 Ags. 4.3 seconds left.
Timeout Tennessee to advance the ball to the front court. A&M had 2 fouls to give. Anriel fouled Nared to get it to 3.7. Curtyce fouled to get it to 2.0 remaining. DeShields was able to lob the ball to Russell on the right block. Mercedes made a great leaping catch to gather the ball, spun to her right to take a contested hook over Khaalia. The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced over the basket as the buzzer sounded.
Final score: Ags 61, Vols 59
Wow, what a game! There were lots of things the Ags could have done better throughout the game: help D on Russell, especially in the first half, make layups, etc. If you had told me yesterday that Tyce would be 3-15 from the floor, I would have thought we had lost (on the other hand, if you had told me DeShields would get 8 points on 4-12 shooting...). And I’m sure the coaches will point them out when the team looks at game film when they get home. But there was so much grit in this win.
- Danni “Sweet Pea” Williams led all scorers with 18 points. Hillsman and Knox also were in double figures in points, with the game winning bucket giving Khaalia yet another double-double at 10 points and 15 rebounds. Tyce had a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists against no turnovers. Anriel snagged 13 rebounds even without being credited for that tipped ball on the winning basket.
- The Ags increased their lead in the rebounding stats, finishing with a 45-34 advantage on the glass. In the postgame, Warlick and the players all highlighted giving up offensive rebounds as being key to the loss.
- Curtyce is now in second place for the single-season assist record at A&M. Tyce has 238; the record is 261. At her current pace, she’ll get the record during the regular season and pad it during the SEC and NCAA tourneys. Anriel is now 8th on the single-season rebounding list with 274. She is on pace to move into the top 4. Danni is currently averaging 17.8 ppg, which would place her 7th on the all-time single season list.
- Russell led the Vols with a double-double: 17 points and 11 rebounds. Alexa Middleton had 14 points. Nared finished with 9. DeShields had 8, of which only 2 came in the second half.
- Those postgame interviews are also striking in how demoralizing this was for Tennessee. Not scoring a FG for the final 8:49 after being up 11 is a tough pill to swallow. One of the Vols mentioned fatigue as a factor but Warlick was having none of that with the Ags playing only 6 again.
- The win keeps the Ags in 3rd place in the SEC, a game ahead of Kentucky. Both teams still have to play S. Carolina and Miss State one more time. Mizzou and Tennessee are tied for 5th. LSU can move into that group if they can beat Vandy on Monday night.
- LSU Lady Tigers
- Thursday February 16, 2017, 7PM CST
- Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, LA
- Streaming: SECN+ Radio 1150 AM/102.7 FM
The Ags go back on the road for a rematch of the 54-52 thriller at Reed on Jan 22. A&M will have to guard against a letdown after Sunday’s thrilling win. LSU plays at Vanderbilt on Monday night. As of this writing, they’re 17-7 overall, 6-5 in the SEC, and 11-3 at home. They’re 3-1 since our last game with the one loss coming at Tennessee. Key players are listed in the previous preview.