The Women’s Bouncy Ball Team went to Chicago to face the #1 Seed defending National Champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday afternoon. The matchup was a repeat of last year’s game in Spokane but in addition to the change of venue, the Ags came in with only one returning starter, Carter. The Irish, meanwhile, had 4 of their 5 starters from last year back, but the one replacement was F/C Brianna Turner, a senior star who was hurt all last year.
A&M-Notre Dame was the 7th game out of 8 Sweet 16 games. The results had all been chalk and the other 1 seeds had won their games by 20+ points. Earlier in the day, overall #1 Baylor, had eliminated S. Carolina 93-68. Notre Dame had dropped a couple of games during the regular season, but was playing their best basketball down the stretch, including a 20 point win over fellow 1 seed Louisville in the ACC tourney and a 91-63 demolition of Michigan State in the second round. The Notre Dame starters are closing in on scoring 10,000 points for their collective careers. Many, including our own Gary Blair
Both teams missed their first couple of possessions. Kayla Wells opened the scoring by hitting on her trademark baseline drive as the shot clock expired. Carter committed an early foul trying to help on the baseline on Briana Turner. Carter got the Ags an early 7-4 lead but with 5:54 to go she was called for an offensive foul on what looked like a flop by Marina Mabrey. The refs may have seen it as Carter pushing off. Blair gambled and left Carter in with two fouls.
With Caylinne Martin in a boot, A’ja Ellison got some early playing time for N’dea Jones as Blair tried to rotate his bigs to deal with Notre Dame’s strong front line. The lead went back and forth as Carter was hitting 3s and Notre Dame was getting layups in the paint from Jessica Shepard. It was 21-18 Irish after the first quarter. Notre Dame had been called for no fouls in the quarter.
Notre Dame got the lead to 23-18 off their first possession, but A&M came right back and tied it at 23. The tie came on Carter 3 after N’dea Jones laid out Jackie Young with a tough pick at half-court. It was reminiscent of Joe Jones for the Aggie men years ago (Young had to sub out but was OK). Notre Dame would take the lead and the Ags would fight back several times in the second quarter until a 3 on 2 fast break resulted in a score by N’dea gave A&M the lead again at 36-35 with 2:49 left in the half. Timeout Notre Dame. After the timeout the Ags forced a turnover, and Ciera Johnson got a layup and was fouled on an inbounds play. Ciera missed the FT. Blair was doing offense/defense subs with Carter and Jada Walton. Mabrey tied it at 38. Wells got the Ags to 40 first. Ogunbowale tied it at 40 and took the lead at 42-40. But Ciera followed a Carter miss with a buzzer-beating putback to send the game to halftime tied at 42.
Notre Dame started the third quarter with a couple of quick baskets that came off of beating the Ags to loose balls. Blair called an early timeout. After the timeout, a pair of layups by Shepard and Turner got the lead to 8 and it was a danger time for the Ags. But A&M didn’t fold. Carter hit a jumper from the right baseline off an inbounds play that started with 1 second left on the shot clock. A long official review confirmed the bucket. Ogunbowale got it back to 8 by getting inside before the D could get back but then 3 pointers by Wells and Carter got the Irish lead down to 2 with 5:53 left in the quarter. Notre Dame would stretch the lead to 4-5 and each time the Ags would cut it back to 2. With 33 seconds left Mabrey bumped Carter, who sank the basket moving laterally as she shot. I guess I don’t understand the continuation rule; the shot was waved off. Instead Sham Washington drew a foul and hit 1 of 2 FTs as the trainers worked on Carter’s calves for cramping. The score ws 65-62 going into the final period.
The Ags forced a turnover and got a fast break and one for Kayla Wells to tie it as the 4th began. The Ags took the lead on a Carter drive down the right side, but Young retook the lead for the Irish with a pair of scores. Ellison tied it with a putback but then Ogubowale was left too open for a 3. On the next possession there was a key turnover for a ND fast break after Carter was trapped in the corner and a desperate pass to Wells was picked off. It sounded like Blair was trying to call a timeout as the trap closed but it wasn’t granted. Carter would get called for her third and fourth fouls as ND got the lead to 79-71. The fourth was a terrible call as Ogunbowale pushed off (no call) and Carter didn’t get close on the recovery as Arike fell backward on a fadeaway.
It was 79-71 with 2 minutes to go. Carter cut it to 5 with a 3 pointer. Young answered with a midrange J. After Carer missed badly and Turner grabbed the airball, it looked like the Ags had stolen the outlet pass. But Ogunbowale beat Wells to the ball as Kayla and Sham were unsure who was going to grab it. Fast break layup made it 83-74 but Arike picked up a tech for taunting. Kayla hit both FTs to make it 83-76 and the Ags got the ball with 55 seconds left. Carter drove the right side and found Johnson for a layup. 83-78. But A&M had to foul to stop the clock and Ogunbowale hit two FTs. Wells couldn’t hit a 3 from the left side and Young got ND to 87. Wells hit a baseline J with 5.1 seconds remaining. The Ags tried to force a 5 second call on the inbounds but ND had too many timeouts remaining and ran out the clock after advancing the ball.
Final score ND 87 A&M 80.
- Carter finished with 35 points to maintain her 30+/game average in NCAA tournament games. She was 7-12 from 3.
- Kayla Wells finished with 18 points
- Ciera Johnson had a double double with 12 points and 12 boards. She also blocked 3 shots.
- N’dea had 8 points and 7 rebounds.
- Overall the Ags shot 46.45% from the field. Notre Dame shot 52.6%. The Irish had an edge from the FT line as well, going 13/15 while the Ags were 8/10.
- Arike Ogunbowale led Notre Dame with 34 points. Four out of five Irish starters where in double figures: Shepard had 24, Young 14, Turner 12. Shepard added 14 rebounds as the Domers outrebounded the Ags 45- 28.
It was tough to lose, but it was easily the most entertaining game of the S16.
Muffet McGraw in the post-game regarding Carter:
Q. You mentioned a couple days ago that you didn’t really like any of your options for guarding Carter. So that being said, what were you hoping for defensively? What were some of your goals knowing that?
MUFFET McGRAW: I’m apparently a prophet. I mean, we had a lot of ideas, and none of them worked, and double-teaming was the last idea, and I thought that was a little more effective when we remembered to do it. But she’s really hard to guard. She might be the best individual player that we’ve played all year.
For context, playing in the ACC, the Irish played Asia Durr twice and played UConn and their likely All-Americans in the non-conference.
For WBB fans the E8 starts on Sunday and the Final Four on Friday. Mississippi State is the last SEC team with a shot. The others in the E8 are Baylor, UConn, Louisville, Notre Dame, Iowa, Stanford, and Oregon.
For A&M: The season’s done. The Ags go home and work on being students for a while and the fans reflect on the season that just ended. The story of this season started with the drama of Danni Williams and Anriel Howard bailing on the team and as four new starters were integrated into the system there were times (cough - Lamar) when it looked like the preseason pick of 6th in the SEC might be optimistic. The team could have fallen apart when Aliyah Wilson injured her knee in Hawaii, but instead the team pulled together to upset #8 Oregon State, who ended up getting eliminated by Louisville this weekend in one of Friday’s 1-4 games.
After dropping the first two games of SEC play, the Ags went on a 7 game win streak before losing in OT at Mizzou. Getting blown out by Mississippi State at home could have burst a bubble, but instead the team rallied to win out the rest of the regular season, with the key win being a road win to get a sweep of Kentucky and 3rd place in the SEC. That would be a key to getting the last 4 seed and hosting. The other would be winning a game in the SEC tourney vs Auburn.
Early in the season I wondered where production would come from outside of Carter and whether we’d keep Blair’s NCAA streak alive. The team finishes at 26-8 (12-4 in the SEC). That’s the best overall W-L since the National Champs in 2010-11.
The future for this team is bright assuming no surprises like last year. A&M is the only S16 team that started no seniors. Most of the team is sophomores. Next season Wilson should be back and we add another PG as a fish. There are two transfer bigs who are already on campus in 6-5 Anna Dreimane and 6-4 Ashley Hearn. Anna is said to be the best shot blocker in practice.
While I dream of next year, this is probably the last WBB post for a while. I may try to come up with a reason to post a few times before next season starts, but only because the SBN system dropped me last year due to inactivity.