When we last left the Women’s Bouncy Ball team, they were coming off a close loss in the Sweet 16 in Spokane to eventual National Champion Notre Dame. It was a game A&M could have won and the future was looking bright. Freshman Chennedy Carter was the unanimous National Freshman of the Year and made All-America. The Ags would lose Khaalia Hillsman, Jasmine Lumpkin, and Lulu McKinney to graduation, but had the nucleus of a contender for the 2018-19 season.
Then the offseason got weird.
It wasn’t terribly surprising that freshman post Emer Nichols decided to transfer. Emer was fun and energetic, but she wasn’t getting playing time as she was the third post on Blair team. Blair probably gave more minutes in the post to small lineups than Nichols got as the third option in the depth chart. Although Hillman would leave, Louisville transfer and McDonalds AA Ciera Johnson will be done with her transfer redshirt.
But at the end of March, the first shocker hit as the Athletics Dept sent a letter granting Anriel Howard her release to transfer to other programs. The rumor mill speculated that she wanted to go to another school that had a better chance at winning the NC, which was odd, given that the Ags had just put a scare in the actual NC. But as the story played out, it seemed that Howard and/or her mother felt like Lashes wasn’t getting the stardom she deserved at A&M despite Coach Blair’s efforts to stroke her ego during the season. Howard was on schedule to graduate in August so she could move as a grad transfer and not have to sit for a year.
As the stories swirled about how Howard was making her list of schools to visit, UConn, S. Carolina, and Miss State kept coming up as possible destinations. The second shock was the news that Danni Williams would travel with Anriel to UConn, and that DWill was also going to graduate in 3 years and was looking to transfer.
UConn had lost to ND in the final four on a last second shot in OT. With Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams graduating, perhaps one could imagine Danni and Anriel stepping into those slots. The Huskies also had an unexpected loss when Azure Stevens decided to skip her final year and go pro. But this is UConn. There would be plenty of competition and while Geno has taken transfers, they tend to be transfers who will be with the program for more than one season. The UConn sites said Geno didn’t offer.
Anriel would visit Mississippi State in April, prompting Vic Schaefer to rush back to StarkVegas right after giving a Muster speech to the local A&M club in order to recruit a starter from his mentor and alma mater. Next year, someone should call Vic’s name at Muster, because for a lot of WBB fans, he’s dead to us. Nevertheless, I’m sure that some will call for Vic to replace Blair when Gary finally decides to hang it up.
Danni would end up saying she’ll always be an Aggie as she chose to transfer to … Texas. Danni’s unhappiness here was more understandable to me in terms of the effect of Carter on her touches. There were times when they played well together but there were also a lot of times when it seemed like Danni and Chennedy weren’t on the same page. Carter would take the ball to the hole on plays were Curtyce Knox would find Danni for an open jumper. I think she pressed too much at times last year, leading to a mid-season shooting slump.
Anriel wound up going with Vic and the Bulldogs.
Nobody in the SEC has four starters gone. Mississippi State lost four starters but they gained one of my starters so basically they got three starters gone. - Gary Blair
We can not affect the past, but we can make a difference in today
Gary Blair at SEC media days
As the drama of where our outgoing transfers would end up played out, the coaches were out looking to fill the newly open roster slots. Five players arrived in Aggieland from other schools
- #12 Cheah Real-Whitsett 5-11 Jr F was a JuCo AA at Miami Dade.
- #4 Shambria Washington 5-7 Jr PG from College if Central Florida is expected to be the backup PG.
- #0 Aja Ellison 6-3 Sr/ F/C transferred from Maryland. I think Aja was limited by injuries with the Terps. Her father is Pervis “Never Nervous” Ellison, who played at Louisville and in the NBA. If healthy, she has great leaping ability and is a shot blocker. But she didn’t get many minutes at Maryland.
- #33 Anna Dreimane 6-5 So C from Colorado State. Driemane has been on the Latvian national team but didn’t log many minutes as a freshman in 2016-17 and didn’t play last year. Dreimane is sitting out while the team asks the NCAA for an exemption to let her play this year.
- #23 Lauren Harrison 6-0 Jr G from Texas Tech.
The team has no freshmen, 9 sophomores, 3 juniors, and 2 seniors
- #3 Chennedy Carter 5-7 So PG. National and SEC Freshman of the Year, All-America, preseason All-SEC, Lieberman watch lists. Coaches are saying that Carter really has been working on improving her defense.
- #2 Aaliyah Wilson 5-11 So G sat last season after transferring from Arkansas. She was a McDonalds AA coming out of HS in Oklahoma. As a Ladyback she lit up A&M in Reed.
- #11 Kayla Wells 6-0 So G/F was the 6th man award winner last season.
- #32 N’dea Jones 6-2 So F averaged 6.5 min/g last season. I really liked watching her play in the limited minutes and I noticed that she has a nice shooting touch with range beyond the 3 point line.
- #40 Cierra Johnson 6-4 So C sat out last year after transferring from Louisville. Cierra was another McDonalds AA coming out of HS and was highly ranked by recruiting services. The word from Blair in the preseason is that Johnson is currently a finesse player and the coaches want her to be more physical.
Returning bench players
- #34 Caylinne Martin 6-3 Sr C. Martin was the main backup post last season, appearing in 28 games and getting 1 start when Hillsman and Carter were benched for being late for a trip due to trying to go out for lunch before the team left. With Johnson taking over the post, it will be interesting to see if Caylinne gets more minutes or if the incoming transfers take more of the post time. Caylinne had an off-court problem over the summer and it’s not clear to me whether that will affect her status.
- #14 Jada Walton 5-11 So G. Walton played in 26 games, averaging 6.9 min/game.
- #1 Aahliyah Jackson 5-10 So G.
- #15 Jasmine Williams 5-10 RS? So G . The official site lists Williams as a Junior even though she didn’t play last season and was in street clothes on the bench. I had assumed she was on an injury RS.
Exhibition vs Oklahoma City
Last Friday night, the Ags played an exhibition against the NAIA Oklahoma City Stars. The Ags and Stars have played exhibition openers many times in the past, and OKC is a perennial power in the NAIA. But it’s the NAIA, and A&M should dominate. Still, with no Maroon and White game and so many changes, it was a good place to start things off in Reed, as the Ags showed by going 1-10 to start the game and falling behind 7-4.
Blair would talk about the team needing to stop jacking up 3s, which was odd, because A&M was only 0-2 from behind the arc in the opening quarter. To my eye the problem on offense was finishing and positioning in the paint for the new starters at the 4 and the 5. In addition to missed shots, it seemed like Chennedy Carter’s attempts to involve her teammates led to a lot of dropped passes. The team settled down after Blair put in two senior subs, Ellison and Martin. A&M would end the first quarter on a 12-3 run and wasn’t threatened afterward.
Blair got to play everyone. Four starters finished in double figures and the Ags won 81-40. OKC players joined the Ags in sawing em off after the game.
Game 1 vs Rice
The official season opener was Wednesday night as the first half of a double-header with the men. The Owls made the WNIT last season and are picked for second in C-USA this year. Last year the Ags struggled to beat the Owls in Reed, and I was interested to see how different Rice would be with 6-9 OU Transfer Nancy Mulkey becoming eligible. But when I saw Mulkey’s right arm in a sling during warmups that changed my expectations.
Blair kept the same starting lineup but this time the Ags started fast. Johnson got a steal on the first Rice possession and Carter tipped in her miss on the resultant fast break. It was 14-4 and past the midpoint of the first quarter before Rice got their first FG. After Jones, Johnson and Martin got into some foul trouble, Blair went with a small lineup. The Ags were up 18-6 with 2:41 to go in the first quarter, but got stuck on 18 until 6:33 of the second. From there the Ags would stretch the lead to 10, going into halftime up 28-18. 11 Ags had gotten playing time, but only Carter, Wilson, and Wells had points.
A&M stretched the lead to 15 early in the 3rd quarter, but then the D, which had been exemplary, started losing track of shooters on the wings. Some 3 pointers from the corner and a 4 point play after Carter fouled a 3 point shooter got Rice within single digits. They would cut the lead to 3 at 42-39 with 2:26 left in the 3rd and when Carter missed a J, it looked like they’d have a chance to get within 1 or tie. But the Ags forced a turnover and ended the quarter on a 6-0 run. The lead stayed between 9-14 points for the whole 4th quarter.
Final score Ags win 65-54
- Carter led A&M with 22
- Wilson and Wells were also in double figures with 18 and 16 points, respectively. That was a career high for Kayla. My impression of Aaliyah Wilson is that she’s high energy and not afraid to shoot.
- The bench only had 2 points. A&M shot 46.2% overall, and went 3-8 from 3 point distance.
- Rice won the rebounding battle 31-30
The most striking thing to me was the return of high pressure man-to-man defense. The last couple of years we’ve played a lot of matchup zone. In the exhibition and the Rice game I didn’t notice any, although it looked like we faked zone alignments a couple of times. The defense forced 18 turnovers including 7 steals. There were multiple shot clock violations and a couple of times Rice was unable to inbound the ball within 5 seconds. The D was causing chaos.
The offense strikes me as behind the defense in development. Blair said before the season that about half of his offense had been installed, but it looks more like pickup ball so far.
- Jacksonville University Dolphins
- Sunday Nov 11, 2018 6PM
- Reed Arena
- SECN+ 1150AM
Jacksonville finished second in the A-Sun conference tourney last season and lost in the first round of the WNIT in OT to UCF. This was their second WNIT appearance after making the NCAAs in 2015-16. This led to their coach getting poached by Ole Miss. The current HC, Darnell Haney, was the associate HC for the previous two seasons and had been with the program for a total of five years.
- #20 6-0 Rs Jr C Shalonda Neely averaged 9.8 min/g mostly coming off the bench last season. She started 2 games.
- #0 5-9 Jr G Kiara Meeks is a Juco transfer
- #3 5-7 Sr G Rolanda Hayes played 7.4 min/g.
- #22 5-8 Jr G Alexis Burns started 1 game last year and averaged 3.2 ppg.
- #24 5-10 Sr G Jasmyn Brown is preseason all-conference and was the leading scorer last year. She’s the only returning regular starter.