The Ags flew to Los Angeles on Thursday and spent some time at Universal Studios before preparing to face the 12 seed University of Pennsylvania Quakers. On Saturday they played a game that would have been rejected as a movie script as too implausible.
The game started in a promising way for the Ags. The Ags scored first, and while Penn was able to answer with good ball movement, with 7:29 Khaalia got a feed inside and drew a fould on Penn’s leading scorer Michell Nwokedi. As we heard a lot during the game, Nwokedi had been recruited by A&M and was actually Hillsman’s roommate during a campus visit. Anriel gro at steal and Curtyce was fouled on the next possession. Uncharacteristically, Khaalia and Tyce each missed one of two FT opportunites, but the Ags led 6-4 with 7:07 remaining in the first quarter.
Then the wheels came off for A&M. A 3 pointer by Kacy Chambers gave Penn the lead. Nwokedi his a 3 from the top of the key. Sidney Stipanovich hit from the right baseline after catching a pass that Danni tipped. Chambers hit another 3. Nwodedi hit another 3. That made it 18-6 as the Ags were not getting the ball to Khaalia and Danni and Taylor were missing reasonably open looks. Cooper drew a foul on Stipanovich and got 2 FTs to make it 18-8, but Stipanovich answered. Only a late feed from Knox to Hillsman for a layup kept the margin under double digits.
21-13 Penn after the first quarter. Penn was 8-13 and 4-5 from 3.
The Quakers opened the second period with a 9-0 run before Hillsman scored the first bucket of the quarter for the Ags. A brief 6-0 run by the Ags was answered by Penn as Stipanovich stayed hot, mostly from mid-range. The Ags just looked out of sync.
36-14 at halftime.
Stipanovich led everyone with 14 points in the first half. Anna Ross added 8 for Penn, while Nwokedi and Chambers each had 6. Overall, Penn shot 58.3% (14-24) and went 5-9 from 3. Meanwhile the Ags were just 8-33 (24.2%). Khaalia was the only Aggie with more than one FG in the first half as she led a bad offensive performance by the team with 10 points. It was an especially rough half for Danni, who went 1-11 with a turnover and 1 assist. Tyce was 1-6 with 3 assists and 2 turnovers.
The third quarter is where the Ags were supposed to come out reenergized by the halftime butt-chewing and coaching adjustments, and retake control of the game. And despite Khaalia missing a catch on a nice feed in the paint, I thought that might happen when Danni and Anriel cut the lead to 8 with 8:03 remaining in the third. Knox got assists on both buckets. When Beth Brzozowski answered with a 3 pointer, I thought it wasn’t that bad because Tyce hit Khaalia in the paint again to make it 39-30.
But then the Ags went on another scoring drought while Penn stretched the lead back to 18. The Ags went scoreless from Khaalia’s bucket at the 7:15 mark until Danni hit a 3 pointer with just 1:31 left in the quarter. And Penn outscored the Ags after that. To get a sense of how frustrating it was for the Ags, Curtyce made a great play to score after contact with 1.8 seconds left in the quarter. And then our 83.2% FT shooter missed her second FT out of 3 attempts on a ball that hit the front of the rim bounced gently over the basket and got stuck between the basket and the glass.
52-35 Penn after the third.
The largest comeback in NCAA Women’s history was from a 16 point deficit. Notre Dame did it to UConn in the 2001 Final Four, and Michigan State did it to Tennessee in the 2005 Final Four. Notre Dame was down 16 in the first half and blew UConn out in the second half to win by 15 on their way to a National Championship. The Spartans trailed the Lady Vols by 45-29 with 16:02 left in the game and 49-33 with 14:28 remaining in the second half. They caught Tennessee with 1:20 remaining and won by 4. They would lose in the finals to Baylor.
I would have kept watching even if I had known the history at the time. The hole was deeper and there was less time remaining, but Penn was a 12 seed, not anyone’s Final Four pick. The Ags started increasing the full court pressure to start the quarter. But it certainly didn’t look good when the quarter started with Penn stretching the lead to 21 when Stipanovich got what amounted to a 4 point play. She hit a jumper from the FT line as Khaalia ran over another player setting a pick. Penn ball after the foul; Stipanovich got another jumper from maybe a foot to the right of her previous shot.
58-37 8:57 to go.
Anriel and Khaalia drew fouls in the paint to cut it to 58-41. Khaalia grabbed a bad inbounds pass and scored on a return from Tyce. 58-43. Khaalia drew another foul in the paint 58-45. Blair went small to press in the backcourt and forced a Penn timeout. The timeout didn’t help as Cooper stole a pass intended for Stipanovich and was fouled by Nwokedi (her 4th). Cooper made 1 of 2. Penn got the ball into the front court but after knocking the ball out, Anriel swiped the inbounds pass. After both teams missed, Khaalia converted a putback on a miss by Anriel. 58-48. 6:00 left. Chambers missed a wide open layup. With 4:30 left, Tyce missed a layup. But the Ags got another stop. Danni drove the right side and drew a foul before the final media timeout.
2 FTs made it an 8 point deficit with 3:48 left.
The Ags couldn’t score on their next possessions and the Ags committed a couple of fouls to allow Penn to run more clock. Nwokedi drew a foul on Lumpkin but only made 1 of 2 with 2:08 left. Curtyce found Khaalia sealing off Stipanovich. Khaalia got the bucket and the FT. It was also Stipanovitch’s 4th foul. 59-53. The Ags forced another Penn timeout when Chambers was trapped in a corner of the backcourt.
After the timeout, Nwokedi broke the A&M pressure but missed the layup as Tyce and Jaz went after the shot. Timeout Blair with 1:34 remaining. Tyce came down the right side and used a pick by Anriel to get an open J from the FT line. Down 4. 1:11. Anriel blocked a shot by Brzozowski. After the inbounds, the Ags forced a shot clock violation. Blair called timeout with 51.2 left. After the timeout, Curtyce took a 3 pointer from the top of the key. The ball was knocked out of bounds as Anriel and Brzozowski leapt for the ball. The call off Anriel was reversed. 41.4 seconds left. Curtyce inbounded to Cooper, who passed to Danni about 6 feet behind the arc on the right side. Danni took one dribble and rattled in a 3 as the defender sagged off. Down 1.
The officials halted play to review whether the shot clock had run properly, allowing both teams to huddle. 34.2 seconds left. Because it was not a timeout, Penn had to start on their own baseline. Nwokedi bounced the ball in as Anriel was jumping in front of her. Danni dove for the ball. Brzozowski thought Danni had tipped it, but the refs didn’t agree. On the inbounds play, Tyce found Danni on the left side. Danni drove to the right side of the key and dumped a great pass to Khaalia for a layup to give A&M the lead for the first time since 6-4.
19.1 seconds left. Penn’s last timeout advanced the ball to the frontcourt. Lumpkin deflected the inbounds pass and grabbed the ball. The ball went to Danni before Penn was able to foul with 15. 9 remaining. Danni hit both. With no timeouts, Penn had to go the length of the floor. Penn got the ball to Brzozowski in the left corner. Chambers rebounded an airball and Jaz fouled Chambers to prevent a 3 point attempt. Chambers made both, but the Ags ran a nice inbounds play where Khaalia was able to relay the ball to a streaking Anriel. Penn was unable to foul until the clock was at 0.3. Anriel made the first and missed the second.
Final Score Ags 64 Quakers 62.
Post game interviews:
There are obvious similarities to the Men’s win last year vs N. Iowa. In both cases the Ags pulled off spectacular comebacks against opponents we arguably shouldn’t have been in such holes against in the first place. The Ags just looked rusty in terms of shooting touch. Hopefully the team will be able to shoot better on Monday. Still, I was excited and happy for the win and happy for the team. It would have been a rough way to lose after an overachieving season.
- Khaalia Hillsman had a career high 27 points and had 9 rebounds and 2 steals
- After shooting just 1-11 in the first half for 3 points, Danni Williams was 3-12 in the second, adding 4-4 FT shooting to get a total of 15 points.
- Curtyce had 8 assists to become the first A&M player and the first SEC player to break the 300 mark. And it wasn’t even her best performance.
- Anriel grabbed 16 rebounds.
- It was the largest comeback in NCAA tournament history. Penn didn’t make a FG after Stipanovich’s 20th point at 8:54. Heartbreaking loss for the Quakers, who flat out outplayed the Ags for the first 80% or so of the game.
- As spectacular as the win was, at the end of the day, it was still chalk. There were only 4 upsets in the first round of the Women’s tourney: 9 Purdue d 8 Green Bay, 12 Quinnipiac d 5 Marquette, 10 Oregon d 7 Temple, and 9 Cal d 8 LSU. Although Stanford and Oregon State had trouble putting away their opponents, the Pac ended up going 7-0 in round 1. The SEC was 6-2 with Auburn and LSU losing.
- #4 seed and host UCLA
- Monday March 20, 2017 at 9PM CDT
- Pauley Pavilion, Westwood, CA
- TV: ESPNU, Streaming: WatchESPN, Radio: KZNE 1150 AM (probably; they interrupted MBB March Madness to carry Saturday’s game)
When the brackets were announced, Coach Blair talked about not knowing much about Penn, but being pretty familiar with UCLA. Last year, the two teams scrimmaged against one another early in the year. UCLA has most of the same players from that team, while A&M has had lots of turnover.
In the earlier game, the Bruins completely dominated the Boise State Broncos from the start. Likely starters
- #25 6-4 Jr F Monique Billings averages a double double (16.8 ppg and 10.6 rpg). She’s an athletic post.
- #3 5-6 Jr G Jordan Canada (17.9 ppg, 6.9 ast/g) is the point guard. Canada is very fast. Vs Boise she had 16 assists.
- #22 6-1 So G Kennedy Burke (12.5 ppg) beat Danni Williams in the finals of a HS 3 point shooting contest in 2015.
- #2 5-9 Sr G Kari Korver (8.0 ppg)
- #23 6-0 Jr G Kelli Hayes (5.8 ppg)
Everyone but Billings will shoot from 3. Canada leads in 3FG% at .364. The few times I’ve watched them, it seems like UCLA likes to play fast. When they struggle they can go a bit out of control. When they are on, they are very dangerous, as demonstrated by wins over Stanford, Washington, and Oregon State.