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WBB: Ags catch the Gators 85-80

Fighting cancer puts the game in perspective

Carter vs Florida 2018
Chennedy Carter retakes the lead in the 3rd quarter.
jimhu’s iPhone

The Women’s Bouncy Ball Team hosted the Florida Gators in the annual Play4Kay BTHO Breast Cancer game at Reed Arena on Thursday night. The Ags have been wearing white uniforms with pink trim for home games in the Breast Cancer games, and pink uniforms on the road. Thursday, Adidas made a new outfit for the ladies: black with pink trim. Florida wore pink in case the main photo is confusing you.

The Dance Team had special outfits too:

Dance team BTHO Breast Cancer
The Aggie Dance Team at the BTHO Breast Cancer game

The Ags struck first after the teams traded misses. Khaalia Hillsman converted a layup off an assist from Danni Williams and it looked briefly like Ags would get off to a fast start when A&M went up 7-3. But the Gators are a 3 point bombing team and have been playing better than their record, especially early in games. The teams traded the lead as visitors went 5-11 from behind the arc. The last gave Florida the lead after the first quarter, 21-20.

By then, although she had scored a couple of times, it looked like something was off with Khaalia. Caylinne Martin subbed in with 3:26 remaining in the first, and played the first couple of minutes of the second quarter. Florida’s leading scorer, Funda Nakkasoglu, would heat up in the second and contributed to the Gators opening up a 7 point lead several times. Haley Lorenzen was also playing very well. The threat of the 3 pointers had the Ags giving up more inside. Chennedy Carter and Anriel Howard were keeping A&M within striking distance. By halftime, the Gators had increased their lead to 43-37. Florida went 18-35 from the field and 7-16 from 3. Nakkasoglu had 13 points, Lorenzen 12. Florida had outrebounded the Ags 20-17.

At halftime of the BTHO Breast Cancer game, women who are in remission or currently being treated are honored on the court. As the ceremony ended, each was given a long-stemmed pink rose and they went off toward the locker room. As the teams came back out for warmups, the jumbotron showed that the women had lined the hallway to cheer the team as the players came back out. Later, Blair and the players would talk about how comparing their own struggles to what the women were going through put things in perspective and inspired them for the second half.

And the second half began with Coach Blair making a pretty radical change, going small with a lineup where Kayla Wells replaced Hillsman as a starter. Meanwhile the Gators starters had their 2 6-3 girls on the court. Lorenzen had 3 baskets in the paint over Howard and Lumpkin in the first few minutes and it seemed to me that the Gators might pound the ball into the paint until that stopped working. But somehow the Ags kept pace and even closed the gap as A&M sped up the pace of play with the smaller lineup. And Florida kept going for outside shots and substituted so that Hersler and Lorenzen were not in the game together as much as I expected. By the time Blair decided to put Hillsman back in with just 1:39 remaining in the 3rd, the Florida lead was 62-58. Carter found Lumpkin for a layup to make it just a 2 point lead going into the final period. Late in the quarter, Florida’s Delicia Washington came down awkwardly after taking a jump shot. There was a stoppage of play and she had to be helped off the court with what turned out to be a bad sprained ankle. She finished with 11 points in 22 minutes. 5-6 Fr Tameira Johnson would have to take over for the rest of the game.

The Gators were able to stretch the lead to 7 again early in the final period. Blair pulled Hillsman for Martin again with just over a minute elapsed in the 4th. A foul by Martin gave Lorenzen a pair of FTs to make it 67-60. After a miss by Danni, the Gators had a chance to take their largest lead of the night. Another foul by Martin gave Florida an inbounds play but gave Blair a stoppage to put Hillsman back in. Nakkasoglu missed a 3 pointer that would have made it a double digit lead. On the next possession, the Ags turned up the intensity on the offensive glass as 3 rebounds led to a putback by Anriel. Lorenzen fouled Howard on the basket and the FT made it a 4 point game instead of a 10 point deficit.

The crowd was getting louder and it got even more intense thanks to a bad call by the refs. Carter had gotten a turnover and it looked like the Ags would cut the lead to 2. But an offensive foul was called despite Hersler having her feet in the circle. It was Carter’s 4th foul. The fans and the team seemed to build off the unjust call and Carter did a great job from there out of not fouling out as the Ags continued to press the Gators in the backcourt. Florida got rattled and turned it over on 4 more consecutive possessions. Nakkasoglu broke the Gator drought by restoring a 5 point lead, but another string of turnovers allowed Danni to take the lead on a pair of FTs with 3:51 remaining. A pair of FTs by Anriel made it 73-70 for the Ags. Although the Gators regrouped with respect to the turnovers, now it was Florida chasing the lead. A 3 pointer by Carter with 1:01 remaining meant Hersler’s 3 pointer only got Florida within 3.

On the next possession, Carter ran the clock down and went down the left side of the lane off a high post pick by Khaalia. Florida came over to help but Carter made her best play of the night by passing off to Jasmine Lumpkin for an easy layup with just 21 seconds left in the game. Coming out of a Florida timeout, Nakkasoglu hit her fifth 3 pointer of the night to cut the lead to 82-80, but there were only 9 second remaining. The Gators fouled Khaalia, but Hillsman, despite a frustrating night, iced the win by calmly draining both FTs to make it a 2 possession gap. Danni would add another FT at the end.

Final score 85-80. Ags win!

  • Chennedy Carter followed up her worst game of the season with one of her best. 28 points on 12-22 shooting. 2-5 from 3. 3 assists vs 1 turnover (the bad charging call). 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and a blocked shot.
  • Anriel Howard had one of her best performances. 21 points 12 boards for yet another double-double.
  • Danni Williams had 15 points, 5 assists, and just 1 turnover. Danni was praised by the coaches for doing a lot of things that didn’t show up in the scoreboard. Williams, Carter, and Howard all played all 40 minutes.
  • After getting outrebounded in the first half, the Ags won the glass 18-14 in the second. Florida had zero points on fast breaks for the game.
  • Florida was led by Nakkasoglu with 24. Lorenzen had 22. Both shot better than 50% from the field: 9-14 and 10-16, respectively. The Gators ended up making 13 3 pointers on 29 attempts.
  • Associate Head Coach Kelly Bond missed the game as she and her young daughter were ill. Get well wishes to both! I found myself wondering if Hillsman also had some kind of bug but if so, nobody was talking about it after the game.

At the start of the season, it seems to me like the Ags played mostly zone D to protect Carter, who was learning to defend at the college level. A few games ago, the coaches commented that the team was finally understanding how they wanted the zone to be played… and then we’ve started playing more man to man. I think the staff thinks we need both going into the postseason, but it’s not a well-oiled man D yet.

Elsewhere

The Ags started the day in a tie for fifth in the SEC and with our chances for hosting in jeapordy. By the end of the night we were in a 5 way tie for 3rd, thanks to Bama knocking off Tennessee in Knoxville. Whether or not that was a major upset depends on whether you focus on the Vols going into the game ranked #11 while Bama is 8th in the SEC. Or Bama being winless on Knoxville before Thursday night. Or how Bama’s win was their 4th in a row over the Lady Vols after losing the previous 42. It’s still too early to think about tiebreakers for the Ags because winning out is going to be hard starting on Sunday in Starkville (see below). But I think we’re ahead in most of the tiebreakers.

Whether or not we host also depends on what happens in other conferences. The teams ahead of us in the bracketology include two from the SEC, Mizzou and Georgia, plus NC State and Stanford. Stanford started the season with people wondering if Tara Vanderveer would have her worst year ever. Now, despite losing to Western Illinois in December as part of a brutal nonconference record, the Cardinal are leading the Pac-12 and are done with all their ranked regular season opponents. NC State still has to play Notre Dame to end the season. That’s not a likely win for the Wolfpack, but it helps their RPI.

There were some other upsets of ranked teams on Thursday: Purdue upset #10 Maryland and #17 Duke lost to Syracuse. Whether those affected our chances may show up on Monday when the Committee does their 3rd reveal.

Up Next:

  • #2 Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • Sunday February 28, 2018 4PM CST
  • Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville MS
  • TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1550 AM

The consensus is that Vic Schaefer has an even better team this year than the one that knocked off mighty UConn in the Final Four. That this would be the case wasn’t a given: MSU graduated 3 regular starters from that team: Center Chinwe Okorie, Forward Breanna Richardson, and shooting guard Dominique Dillingham. But it isn’t a surprise either: more than capable backups got significant playing time last year, and all-everything wing Victoria Vivians would be going into her Senior year.

Even those who don’t pay much attention to WBB probably know that Coach Vic has the Bulldogs as one of the last 2 undefeated teams remaining. The other, not surprisingly, is UConn. Miss State isn’t just undefeated. They’re destroying opponents. Their average margin of victory is 28.8 points. Against the top half of the SEC, only Mizzou has played them close. I’ve watched some of their games: S. Carolina had a 12 point lead early in the second quarter. MSU had retaken the lead by halftime by holding the Gamecocks to 8 points in the quarter. They also held S. Carolina to 9 in the final quarter, turning them over 5 times. Blair Schaefer outscored the defending champs in that quarter. What makes it even scarier is that last year’s Final Four hero, Morgan William, has been in a bit of a slump and hasn’t been getting much play in crunch time. Against S. Carolina, she only played 5 minutes in the second half.

Likely starters (MSU has started the same 5 in all 27 games):

  • #35 6-1 Sr F Victoria Vivians leads the team in scoring at 19.6 ppg. She’s moved to the 4 this season, which analysts say is more comfortable for her… not that she had much trouble playing the 3 last year.
  • #15 6-7 Jr C Teaira McCowan is just behind Vivians at 19.0 ppg. Most of her scoring comes from point blank range. She averages 13.3 rebounds/g, of which 6.1 are offensive.
  • #11 5-7 RS St Tr G Roshunda Johnson tends to be overlooked but is averaging 11.4 ppg and 2.2 steals/g.
  • #1 5-7 Sr G Blair Schaefer is just below a double digit average at 9.8 ppg (her scoring is higher in SEC play at 11.0 ppg). She’s deadly from 3 point range (.416) and will back up after taking a pass to convert a 2 point attempt into a 3 point attempt. And as is fitting for the daughter of the Secretary of Defense, she is really good at taking charges on help defense.
  • #2 5-5 Sr G Morgan “Itty Bitty” William has seen her minutes decline but is still dishing out 4.7 assists/game and scoring 7.1 ppg.

Mississippi State WBB has been playing to sellout crowds. Anyone who thinks it would be easy to get Vic back to A&M when Blair retires should look at what he’s built there and how much support he’s getting from the fans.

All this means that the Ags will be underdogs. But we might match up better than some teams vs the Bulldogs. Hillsman will have to play much better on Sunday, but she will benefit from not facing a post who she has to chase out to the 3 point line. Danni, Anriel, and Jaz can hold their own. The big X factor is Carter vs the MSU D, and how she balances scoring and distributing. And I suspect Blair Schaefer and her dad are looking at how to bait her into charging calls.