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WBB: Ags can’t hang on vs Arkansas

A&M can’t close out the Hogs after leading for 37 minutes

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament - Texas A&M vs Arkansas
Double doubles by Johnson and Jones weren’t enough.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Women’s Bouncy Ball Team couldn’t hold the lead at the end vs the Arkansas Ladybacks on Saturday night and fell to the Cinderella of the tourney in the second semifinal.

Things started well for the Ags. Ciera Johnson scored inside on the first possession to start the game on a 7-0 run. The half court defense was getting back and limiting Arkansas opportunities and the Ags controlled the pace to avoid a track meet with the Hogs. After Arkansas got their first fg, the Ags went on another run to take a 17-2 lead, with Arkansas star Chelsea Dungee picking up two fouls along the way. But after N’dea Jones made in 19-4 with 2:58 to go in the first, Arkansas went on a 7-0 run to end the first period with the Aggie lead down to 19-11. Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors would put dungee back in the lineup in the first quarter despite two fouls. Coach Blair would do the same with Shambria Washington.

The second quarter was similar in being alternating runs. The Ags would dominate early, stretching the lead to 29-13. Then the Hogs scored 8 unanswered in the last 2:14 to keep the lead at 7 going into halftime.

The third quarter followed a similar pattern. A&M got the lead to 43-28 by the middle of the third quarter, but would not have another FG for the rest of the period (only a pair of FTs from Johnson advanced the score). Jailyn Mason had a pair of 3 pointers to cut the lead to 43-34 before Johnson’s FTs, and Arkansas cut the lead to 6 by the break going into the final period.

The Ags had lost the edge they had to start the game, but were still able to get the lead back up to 49-38 with 8:05 remaining. N’dea drew a charge on Dungee for her third foul in that period. But then the comeback started in earnest. After Dungee drew a foul on a drive for Arkansas’ first FT attempts of the game, Jada Walton got her pocket picked and fouled Alexis Tolefree. The FTs allowed Arkansas to shave 3 points off the lead as Tolefree missed one. after the teams traded turnovers, Kayla Wells was able to drive the right side to make it a double digit lead again at 51-41. But Raven Northcross-Butler answered with a 3 pointer from the left side with 6:15 remaining. Arkansas was crowding the paint even more to force turnovers and misses on paint touches, while focusing on Wells as the only serious outside threat. Tolefree hit a 3 to cut the lead t 51-47 with 5:14. After Walton missed a 3 point attempt, Dungee drove and dished to Mason, who hit another 3 to cut the lead to 51-50. Arkansas missed on a good chance to take the lead and Blair called timeout.

But after the timeout, Wells was called for an offensive foul for pushing off Tolefree. Then Wells was called for her third foul on the defensive end. Two FTs by Mason gave Arkansas the lead with 3:03 remaining. The Ags withstood multiple chances to stretch the lead, but with 1:22 remaining, Malica Monk stole a pass from Johnson intended for Jones on a cut to the basket. Monk had fallen back into the paint to front Jones after Dungee had left N’dea to double team Ciera. The steal prevented a layup that would have retaken the lead. Instead, Arkansas called a timeout and set up a play with 1:14 left. Monk drove the right side and Dungee lost Walton on a screen to get an open look from beyond the arc on the right side.

With 55 seconds to go, A&M called another timeout. But once again, coming out of the timeout Wels was called for a charge. The Ags had to foul and Wells fouled out with 38 seconds left. After Taylah Thomas made 1 of 2, the Ags used their last timeout and Blair put Lauren Harrison in the game to take a 3 pointer. She missed and Dungee ended the scoring with a pair of FTs after being fouled by Jasmine Williams.

Final Score: Arkansas 58 Texas A&M 51.

Arkansas ended the game on a 17-0 run. The last A&M score was Wells’ layup with 6:30 remaining. The Ags committed 9 of their 21 turnovers in the 4th quarter.

  • N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson both had double doubles. Jones had 14 points and 14 rebounds while Johnson had 18 points and 11 boards. Jones also blocked 2 shots and Johnson blocked 3. But Johnson, who scored easily over double teams early, had trouble after Arkansas adjusted their defense. Ciera had 6 turnovers.
  • Kayla Wells had 14 points before fouling out. She committed 5 turnovers, including the offensive fouls.
  • Sham Washington was only responsible for 1 turnover but she and Jada Walton were each 1-7 from the field.
  • The A&M half court defense mostly was OK. Dungee was limited to 17 points on 5-14 shooting, and Monk was scoreless. As with their game vs S. Carolina, Mason and Tolefree provided unexpected scoring and Arkansas got 6 and 8 from bench players Gaulden and Northcross-Butler

This was disappointing, but as Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors pointed out on Friday night: conference tourneys are harder to win than NCAA games because of the lack of off days between games. Neighbors had some interesting comments about how the Hogs adjusted their practice and other schedules starting in December to try to be fresh for the post-season. Although Arkansas had played an extra game compared to the Ags, they looked fresher. The lack of size on their roster turns into an advantage when they have a surplus of guards to rotate into the game to keep their starters fresh. Meanwhile, on the A&M side injuries to Carter, Wilson, and Jackson limited the options. Jada Walton had already been cramping up in the first game. But while fatigue might have been a factor (despite Coach Blair’s denial of it in the post-game), the available subs would not have been able to stretch the Arkansas defense as credible outside shooting threats even if fresh. It’s the difference between opponents having to double team Carter and figure out how the other 3 will stop our other options vs putting the best defender on Wells and daring Washington and Walton to shoot from distance.

I wonder if this is why the Ags without Carter were able to score 64 against Auburn on Friday night despite 26 turnovers while being limited to 51 vs a generally weaker defensive team in Arkansas. I suspect the difference was that Auburn’s press created easy opportunities on the possessions where you break it, while Arkansas packing a more passive defense in the paint was a better strategy without Carter’s ability to hit jump shots.

Up Next

  • NCAA Selection Show
  • March 18, 2019 6PM CDT
  • ESPN

Despite the loss, A&M remains a lock for the NCAA tournament. The only question is whether or not we hold on to the last 4 seed, which would mean hosting games in Reed Arena, or if we get displaced and have to play on the road. Either way, Carter’s stitches will be out before then and she should be back for the Big Dance.

There’s usually a selection show watch party at Reed in the Cox-McFerrin Center, but I haven’t found an official announcement.