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WBB: Winning ugly vs PVAMU

A 22-4 4th quarter rally overcomes Holiday Gremlins, as A&M wins 70-57

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Texas A&M vs Mississippi State
I don’t like to coach that way, and I’m sure the kids don’t like to hear it, but sometimes that’s what you got to do - Gary Blair
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Women’s Bouncy Ball team had to play a whole came without Chennedy Carter, they lost on Elementary School Day against Lamar. Friday night, Carter was out in a boot to rest her injured foot, and this time the team didn’t have Aaliya Wilson to stretch the opponent’s defense. This wasn’t supposed to be a problem against an overmatched Prairie View Panthers team that came into Reed with a 3-6 record, but the plucky Panthers almost made A&M pay.

With Carter out, Aahliyah Jackson got her first career start at the 2 guard. Jackson plays hard and is an active defender, but she’s not a threat from outside: she has no 3 point attempts this season after going 1-9 as a freshman. Shambria Washington is more of a playmaker and distributor than a shooter, so the scoring burden was going to be on the front court. This isn’t rocket science, and Prairie View clogged the middle with their defense. 2 out of A&M’s first 3 shot attempts were blocked, and the Ags finished the first quarter down 18-13.

The Panthers would stretch their lead to 11 before A&M cut it back to single digits. The Ags and Coach Blair were visibly frustrated and the fans in Reed Arena were restless. By halftime, Prairie View led 37-29 and A&M had only made 7 FGs on 18 attempts vs 15-34 for PVAMU, including 4-12 from behind the arc. Free throws kept it as close as the Ags shot 15-17 from the line, while the Panthers only had 3 FT attempts (they made all 3).

In the third quarter, the teams kept pace with each other, and with just under a minute to go Ford hit a 3 to restore the 8 point halftime margin. Subjectively, it seemed to me like the Ags were playing better but were not finishing opportunities. Jada Walton brought some intensity to the floor and N’dea Jones began asserting herself on the boards. Some late FTs cut the Panthers lead to 53-48 going into the final period.

Kayla Wells drained a 3 pointer early in the final period to cut the lead to 53-51, and the Ags started to press PVAMU in the back court. Both teams failed to score and the crowd was getting frustrated with Washington when an ill-advised pass squandered an opportunity created by a steal by Jones. But Jones rebounded the next miss and Sham brought the ball up court more carefully, and hit a 3 with the shot clock running down to give A&M its first lead of the night.

After a timeout, Shala Dobbins retook the lead on a strong drive down the lane making space by bouncing off defenders and getting a layup. But Jones got a layup to take the lead again and Kayla Wells converted a turnover by Dobbins into a jumper to make it a 3 point lead with 5:24 remaining. The Ags would pull away from there as Prairie View had to foul to extend the game and A&M continued to make their FTs. The Ags would end up outscoring Prairie View 22-4 in the final quarter.

  • N’dea Jones led the Ags with her 5th double-double of the season (15 pts 18 rebounds). This was a career high in points for N’dea. She is currently third in the SEC in rebounding average.
  • Kayla Wells and Ciera Johnson each finished with 14 points. Johnson was 10-11 from the FT line.
  • Sham Washington played all 40 minutes and had a career high 13 points. She added 4 assists but had 5 of A&M’s 18 turnovers.
  • Aahliyah Jackson and Jada Walton split the available time at the 2 guard. Jackson had 7 points, Walton had 3. Together they had 10 rebounds and only committed 1 turnover.
  • Dominique Newman led Prairie View in scoring with 14 by hitting 4-8 3 pointers, but for me the Panthers player of the game was Artavia Ford, who had 13 points, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. She and Jyrah Cobb disrupted the A&M plan to go inside. Both would eventually foul out.

In the post-game comments players admitted that they didn’t come out ready to play after beating 2 ranked teams and with their minds on going home for Christmas. It’s not surprising that the team would not play as well without the top 2 scorers and the best individual defender, but Wilson won’t be back on the floor the rest of the year and the team needs to get ready for situations where Carter can’t play due to foul trouble or other problems. They did it to close out Oregon State, so the ability is there. They just need to become more consistent, and as fans we need to remember how young this team is and that development in many areas of life is not a monotonic upward function.

That said, some areas I hope the team is working on are related to passing and moving without the ball both in the post and on the perimeter. There are times when the team seems to be told to prioritize getting the ball into Johnson and Jones to the point where overthinking leads to a pass that shouldn’t be attempted, or an off-target entry that can’t be handled cleanly. The coaches talk about passing to the pocket. Curtyce Knox was outstanding at that as a senior. Last year some of the better entry passes to the paint came from Jasmine Lumpkin, a senior. This team isn’t there yet. Poor entry passes also happen if the posts aren’t getting proper position on their defenders. To my eyes the bigs have improved on that a lot, but I imagine Coach Starkey sees more ways to do better. The difference in entry passes doesn’t show up just in obvious turnovers on fumbles. It leads to two other negatives: posts putting the ball on the floor and getting stripped by help defenders and not being able to pass back out to open perimeter shooters.

A longstanding fan concern about Blair’s offense is that the team also doesn’t pass well on the perimeter and does too much dribbling in the set offense. I don’t know if that’s by design or if the players aren’t executing the plays the way coach draws them up. For long stretches of the game I felt like Kayla Wells wasn’t getting enough touches but that was partly because she wasn’t moving and the team wasn’t setting her up to get open without the ball.

We are so used to Chennedy having the ball in her hand so sometimes it’s hard not seeing that familiar face and just running the plays we know and trying to get open. She basically spreads the court open for us because people know she can shoot, she can drive, she can come off screens—it is just really tough to guard her, so when she is not on the court, it is a lot more pressure on the other guards. - N’dea Jones

...

They played very smart in the first half. We look like our feet were standing still. I thought the forward dominated the first half for them over shot blocking, over contesting shots, and my post players couldn’t score under that pressure. They better realize what’s coming in the SEC if they’re having trouble with 6’2” right now. - Coach Blair

Up Next

  • UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros
  • Saturday Dec 29, 2018 12PM CST
  • Reed Arena
  • Holiday Hoops discounts
  • Streaming on SECN+ Radio 1150AM/102.7FM

The last nonconference game for the Ags and the last game of 2018 will be against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The Vaqueros are 6-5 and their game in College Station is the second of three in a row against ranked Power 5 schools in Texas. They hosted #12 Texas on Thursday night, the first time they had ever hosted a ranked team in UTRGV Field House, where 2655 was a sellout crowd. After playing the Ags, they go to Waco for a New Years Eve day game against Baylor. UTRGV only trailed by 1 in the third quarter but Texas went on a 15-0 run. UTRGV got back to within 10 by the middle of the 4th quarter but Texas pulled away in the end.

UTRGV, which plays in the WAC, has a new coach this season, having hired Lane Lord from the DII Pittsburg State Gorillas. Lord took his team to the DII Elite 8 a couple of times and won more than 20 games per year in 6 of the last 7 seasons.

UTRGV shoots a lot of 3 pointers. They’re averaging about 20 attempts per game and went 14-30 against Texas.

  • #11 5-11 Sr G Quynne Huggins averages 9.8 ppg but had 25 against the Longhorns
  • #04 5-9 Sr G Idil Turk leads the team in scoring average at 11.3 ppg. She had 17 vs Texas
  • #21 6-0 Sr F Krisynthia Sampson averages 7.8 ppg
  • #01 5-6 RS So G Amara Graham appears to be the PG. She leads the team in assists and averages 8.3 ppg.
  • #34 5-10 Jr F Megan Johnson averages 7.8 ppg.

Hoping the team a Merry Xmas/Happy Holidays and that they come back ready to use the UTRGV game as a stepping stone toward SEC play.