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WBB gives Tennessee their first loss in OT

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Ags dig deep to upset #6 Lady Vols at Reed

WBB vs Tenn
Hillsman and Carter vs the Lady Vols
jimhu’s iPhone

The Women’s Bouncy Ball team hosted the undefeated #6 Tennessee Lady Vols in Reed Arena on Thursday night in front of a crowd that was only around 5K because a bunch of the Corps of Cadets showed up. It was on TV but it’s a shame that more people didn’t make it because it was a heck of a game.

The went with their usual lineup of Hillsman, Howard, Lumpkin, Williams, and Carter. Khaalia won the opening tip over 6-6 Mercedes Russell but Anriel turned it over on the first possession on a traveling call. She often gets called by rushing her first step toward the basket. This time she got that right but dragged her foot as she tried to stop and go for a short jumper. The Ags would turn it over on their second possession as well but fears of being intimidated by the Lady Vols faded as the two teams settled in for a battle of mini-runs where the lead went back and forth with neither team able to pull away. The Ags were playing a 2-3 matchup zone D, while Tennesee started in man defense with midcourt pressure on the ball. But the Vols would switch to a zone as they kept getting beat inside. All 5 starters scored early. Khaalia got a bunch of weak side putbacks and made a couple of baby hook shots that we hadn’t seen much before. Meanwhile, Russell was the main event in the Lady Vol offense. At one point I looked up and both teams were shooting over 50%. Score after 1 quarter was 21-20 Ags.

A&M was up 6 at 5:20 in the second quarter when Anriel Howard was called for her second foul and went to the bench. Although the Ags would get the lead to 8, the offense sputtered after that. Between losing Anriel and the zone D, the offense was only able to score 4 more points, all on free throws, before halftime. This allowed Tennessee to take a 36-34 lead into the locker room. Russell had 15 of the Lady Vols points at halftime. The Ags were led by Hillsman with 10. Remarkably, given the post battle, neither had any fouls at halftime. Carter had 9 for the Ags.

In the second half you could tell that both defenses had adjusted to limit the other team’s posts. The Vols scored first to go up 5 but once again the Ags retook the lead and then the teams went back and forth. Carter got a pretty amazing no-call that was credited as a blocked shot against Jaime Nared. The Ags trailed again in the middle of the period but a run at the end gave A&M a 3 point 58-55 lead going into the final period of regulation.

A couple of baskets by Rennia Davis gave Tennessee a 59-58 lead. Carter and Davis traded baskets and then the Ags went on a 9-2 run where the Vols didn’t get a field goal. With 6:41 left in regulation Carter got a layup and was fouled by Anastasia Hayes. This was the biggest lead in the second half but you could see the Ags were getting tired. What we’ve seen before is that when she gets tired, Carter tends to revert to trying to do everything herself. The Ags would miss 13 FG attempts from that point to the end of regulation. Carter took 8 of those. In many cases she was still able to split the D in the lane, but Tennessee had adjusted their help D to take away room for anything but a wild shot. Some of it was probably uncalled fouls and other players wearing down and not getting open. But during the drought I was joking with one of my group that at this point Nick Saban would pull Carter for someone who hadn’t played yet. A&M would only get outscored 8-1 thanks to a 4 min drought for Tennessee in the middle of the Aggie scoring deficit. The Ags had a couple of chances late. There was a good entry pass to Hillsman, but Russell blocked the shot. After getting a late stop, the Ags had the ball with a timeout and the shot clock off. Carter tried a driving layup but couldn’t convert a scoop as she was falling down in the lane. There was a long review of possession with 3.3 seconds left. The ball was initially called off Tennessee, but Coach Blair said later that the coaches prepped the Ags for defense after Anriel admitted in the huddle that she touched it last. Despite the screams of the fans, the refs got it right when they reversed the call and gave Tennessee the last possession. Timeout Vols advanced the ball. Fortunately Meme Jackson thought the clock was further down than it really was and jacked up a 3 point attempt before trying to get the ball inside. Anriel grabbed the rebound to send the game into OT tied at 70.

Coach Starkey in the postgame said that the coaches all knew that the Ags were the team that looked gassed going into OT. Russell won the overtime tip but Jasmine Lumpkin stepped out and intercepted the tip. But just like the opening of the game, the Ags turned it over and Tennessee scored first. Neither team could get a FG for most of the OT but the Vols built a 4 point lead on FTs. Khaalia would get a couple back from the FT line with 1:39 left. By that time the Aggie field goal drought had reached 18 straight misses.

On the next possession the Ags packed in the D and forced the Vols to go deep into the shot clock. Nared passed to Westbrook on the right wing, and Westbrook made a listless pass back that was easily picked off by Danni. The Ags ran a weave and Danni finally broke the FG string with a pull up J from the FT line.

Against S. Carolina, the Ags had chances to pull the upset but A’ja Wilson was able to make a game winner late. Now the Vols got the ball to Russell on the right block. She dribbled into the middle against a double team by Carter, then spun back the other way and made a turnaround J to give Tennessee a 76-74 lead. Timeout A&M to advance the ball with 19.3 to go. Tennessee did a great job guarding the inbound so Lumpkin threw the ball off of Nared to get another inbounds play. Danni took the second inbounds play and got the ball to Carter. Carter went to the left side of midcourt to burn clock. She dribbled from there across the top of the key and handed the ball to Danni, who went up for a 3 pointer and was fouled by Westbrook with 7.8 seconds to go. After video review of 2 vs 3 iced her standing at the line, Williams drained all 3 FTs to get the lead for A&M - nothing but net. She looked calm but later said she felt like throwing up.

The Ags still needed a stop. Tennessee called timeout to advance the ball. Westbrook inbounded the ball to Jackson on the left side. Jackson gave it back to Westbrook, who inexplicably picked up her dribble, allowing Carter to collapse on her. Westbrook panicked and tried to get the ball to Nared before she was in a spot to receive the pass, which went out of bounds at the Tennessee bench. 1.3 seconds left. A&M was out of timeouts and couldn’t advance the ball, but despite Russell challenging the inbounds play the Ags got it to Danni who was fouled to stop the clock. Danni hit two more FTs with 0.4 seconds left. Tennessee was out of timeouts and that was the ball game. The team lifted Danni after the buzzer.

  • Danni Williams and Khaalia Hillsman both had 22 points for the Ags. Both played every minute and both were perfect from the FT line (7-7 and 6-6, respectively). Danni’s end of game heroics were the focus for most, but Khaalia had a double double against one of the top posts in WBB. Although she hasn’t been known as a shot blocker, she blocked 4 shots Thursday night. Khaalia was 8-9 from the field, with her only miss coming when Russell blocked her shot late in the 4th.
  • Chennedy Carter continued her streak of double-digit scoring with 21 points. It’s a sign of how good she is that this is viewed as an off night for her. The criticism is based on how, in order to get there, she took 31 shots and was 0-5 from beyond the arc. Still, her ability to get through tiny gaps in attempts to trap her was a big factor in disrupting the Tennessee defense. Carter is the only freshman named to the midseason Wooden Watch list. Carter also has more assists than people realize. She had 4 on Thursday night, including a spectacular pass to Khaalia. But she also had 5 of the team’s 10 turnovers.
  • Anriel Howard had 10 rebounds to keep her double digit rebounding streak alive. The Ags reviewed the film vs Auburn and found one that got her to 10. Howard leads the SEC in rebounding.
  • Mercedes Russell led Tennessee with her own double double: 21 points and 10 boards. At Reed, I thought Jaime Nared had a good game, 18 points on 6-8 shooting 4-8 from 3. She added 7 rebounds. When I looked at the Tennessee forums after getting home and watched the replay, I was surprised that people consider this being in a slump for her.
  • The game was viewed by some as a matchup of the top freshman PGs in the SEC, if not the country. Evina Westbrook is talented but it wasn’t close. She scored 9 and had 7 assists, but in addition to 5 turnovers including the last one of the game that blew the Vols last chance to pull out the win, she committed the foul against Danni on the 3 point attempt at the end. She played 42 minutes, so perhaps fatigue affected her.

This was an incredibly fun game to watch.

Up Next

  • Georgia Lady Bulldogs
  • 2PM CST Sunday January 14, 2018
  • Reed Arena
  • Legacy Day/Take a kid to the game
  • TV: SEC Network Radio 1150 AM/102.7 FM (radio may be 1550 AM if the website is wrong)

While the Ags were playing, Georgia won at home against Arkansas to get to 15-2. Georgia is unranked but Coach Blair thinks they’re a tourney team that’s under the radar. Their only losses are to a pair of top teams: Texas and Miss State. Georgia lost both of those by double digits while beating weaker opponents easily. Playing the Ags at Reed will be an interesting test of how good the Lady Dogs are in Coach Joni Taylor’s third year. Georgia has used the same starting lineup for 17 games.

  • #04 6-3 Jr F Caliya Robinson had a breakout sophomore season where she raised her scoring average from 5.8 ppg to 16.5 ppg in the last half of the SEC schedule. She is a scorer and a shot blocker and made the All-SEC Defensive team last year. This season she’s averaging 12.8 ppg and 7.2 rebounds.
  • #33 6-2 Sr F Mackenzie Engram killed us last season in Georgia’s win in Athens. She’s averaging 12.4 ppg.
  • #23 5-6 Fr G Que Morrison averages 8.7 ppg.
  • #00 5-7 RS So Taja Cole sat out last season after transferring from Louisville. She was a top prospect out of High School.
  • #12 5-9 Sr G Haley Clark was the PG last season, but based on the assists numbers it looks like she’s moved to the 2.

The legacy game is the one where lots of former players show up at Reed. The early arrivers will get a Sydney Colson bobblehead.