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WBB: Ags can’t finish the upset at S. Carolina 61-59

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So close but not enough

NCAA Womens Basketball: Western Carolina at South Carolina
A’ja Wilson scored the late game winner to beat the Ags. A rare WBB pic from the photo library that’s from this season, but not this game.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The #22 Women's Bouncy Ball team entered SEC play on Sunday Aftenoon at 11-3 with all of the losses coming to two teams currently in the top 10 in the AP poll. Since the last update, the ladies went to Disneyland, split a pair of games in Las Vegas (easy win vs Hawaii, loss to Oregon in the rematch), and demolished SMU at home on Thursday night to give Coach Blair his 750th career win. It looked like Danni Williams was coming out of her shooting slump with a pair of 20+ performances that led to her being named to the Duel in the Desert All-Tournament team.

#4 S. Carolina is the defending National Champion. They return the odds-on favorite for the National Player of the Year in 6'5" A'ja Wilson, but 3 starters are new. Although twin tower Alaina Coates graduated along with transfers Kaela Davis and Alisha Gray, they were still 11-1 as the game began with their only loss coming against #6 Notre Dame.

First half

It looked bad at the start. S. Carolina opened the game with a 7-0 run without Wilson taking a shot. The Gamecocks didn't miss a shot until 5:08 in the first, by which time they were up 11-6. They would lead by until Chennedy Carter hit a buzzer beater to end the first quarter. It wasn't quite as bad as the 20-11 deficit would suggest. A&M was playing pretty well on D but S. Carolina was making contested shots. Meanwhile the Ags were missing open looks and scoring chances. S. Carolina turnovers were also keeping it from being a blowout.

After a pair of misses, Wilson would make a rare 3 pointer to stretch the lead to 12. But the Ag switched to a triangle and 2 defense and got S. Carolina out of their offensive rhythm. The Ags held S. Carolina at 25 points from the 8:10 mark until there were just 22 seconds left before the break. Meanwhile, the Ags were clawing their way back. A 3 pointer with 4 seconds left sent the teams to the locker room with S. Carolina leading just by 27-25.

Chennedy Carter led all scorers with 13 points. The rest of the A&M starters had between 2-4. The Ags did get some minutes from Caylinne Martin, Kayla Wells, and Jada Walton off the bench. S. Carolina had 13 turnovers by halftime.

Second half

The Gamecocks continued a 12-0 run to open the final quarter convert a deficit to a 53-49 lead. The Ags didn't score until a Carter layup after a turnover with 5:334 remaining. That made it a 2 point SC lead at a media timeout. After the break, Hillsman got her fourth foul wrestling for position with Wilson.

Wilson went down after an awkward landing. The Ags got a break to cut it to 57-55. The Ags got a stop with Wilson on the bench. Carter drove to the basket and was fouled. After working out a cramp, she tied it at 57 with 1:50 or so to go. Danni hit a midrange to give the Ags the lead. Wilson tied it with a short J over several Ags..

With 42.4 seconds remaining the Ags made a pair of critical mistakes. S Carolina was giving light backcourt pressure. Anriel inbounded the ball to Danni, who passed to Carter under the bucket and Carter walked the ball up court too casually and was called for a 10 second violation. S. Carolina called timeout to advance the ball. Cliney missed but the Gamecocks got the rebound. Carter fouled a second chance attempt. On the third attempt to take the lead, Lumpkin blocked Wilson and the Ags tried to hit a streaking Danni Williams for a layup and the lead. But Danni couldn't catch it cleanly and was called for a double dribble. SC ball, 5.7 to go. Wilson worked it into the lane and scored with 1.1 seconds to go over Howard (with some help of an off hand push-off and Hillsman getting cleared out by another Gamecock.

The Ags got the ball to Carter in the left corner but the last show was well short.

Overall

We've got to figure out how to finish it out - Assistant Bob Starkey on the radio in the post-game

"I'm tired of losing games like this," Gary Blair via the ESPN game recap

This falls sort of in the moral victory is still a loss category. My fellow fans at the SMU game were predicting we'd get blown out; the team is still clearly working on lots of things, even in the non-conference wins. They didn't back down on the road under circumstances where a lot of teams would fold.

  • Chennedy Carter led all scorers with 36. As she went off against the non-conference schedule, the question was whether she could do it against SEC defenses. S. Carolina and Miss State in particular are known for outstanding D. She answered by hitting 3s, midrange jumpers, and her trademark drives that end with a scooping layup. In addition to being quick, Carter has a knack for making feints in mid drive that give her openings even against premier defenders.
  • Anriel Howard had another big rebounding game with 16 boards but was held to 2 points on 1-6 shooting.
  • Danni Williams was the only other Ag in double figures with 12 points on 5-15 shooting. Danni was just 1-5 on 3 pointers. She took fewer in the second half and shot 4-9 after the break.
  • Wilson was clearly the focus of the A&M D, but still led the team with 25 to go with 15 rebounds.

Up Next

  • Kentucky Wildcats
  • 6PM CST, Thursday Jan 4, 2018
  • Reed Arena
  • Holiday Hoops discounts apply
  • TV: SECN Radio 1150A M/102.7 FM

Kentucky transfers are all over the Women's Bouncy Ball landscape. Alexis Jennings, who started for S. Carolina lineup sat out last year leaving the Cats before her junior year. Linnae Harper is playing for Ohio State. Batouly Camara gave up a significant role with UK to mostly watch from the bench at UConn. Last year, the presence of Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator covered up the holes left by transfers and decommitments and Kentucky finished at 22-11 (11-5 in the SEC). The biggest win was probably a late-season upset of Miss. State. The Lady Cats made the tourney and fell in the second round to Ohio State.

Now Coach Matthew Mitchell is adjusting to life after Epps and Akhator. They do return three starters. In a blowout home loss to the Lady Vols on Sunday, the Cats started:

  • #24 6-0 Jr G Maci Morris is the leading scorer, averaging 16.11 ppg. 77 of her 190 FG attempts have been 3-pointers. Morris had to get stitches after getting cut over the eye in the first quarter vs the Lady Vols. She was back on the floor before halftime.
  • #24 5-6 Jr G Taylor Murray plays PG and averages 110.4 ppg and 3.7 assists.
  • #45 6-3 Sr C Alyssa Rice averages 8.8 ppg and is the leading rebounder at 7.7 rpg.
  • #3 6-1 Fr F Keondra "Keke" McKinney was a 4 star recruit out of Tennessee.
  • #22 6-11 Sr G Mackenzie Cann is another long range shooter. 67 out of her 101 FGAs are from behind the arc. She's making .343 of them.

Kentucky arrives at Reed with an 8-7 record having dropped their SEC opener to unbeaten Tennessee. The Cats have played a non-conference schedule similar to A&M with losses to top 10 teams mixed with games against less impressive opposition. But they're on a 6 game losing streak and only have of those were to ranked teams (#3 Louisville, #24 Cal, and #7 Tennessee). They also lost to Florida Gulf Coast, Miami, and Middle Tennessee. Earlier they got beaten by 27 at Baylor.