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WBB: Ags get a rematch in the SEC semis

But not with who we expected

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament - Auburn vs Texas A&M
N’dea Jones in the second half vs Auburn
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Chennedy Carter was in street clothes as the Women’s Bouncy Ball Team opened play in the quarterfinals of the SEC WBB Tournament against the Auburn Tigers on Friday Night. Carter left the Senior Night game vs Arkansas in the 4th quarter after injuring her right hand sliding on the floor. The injury happened when her hand collided with another player’s shoe, bending the finger at a sharply unnatural angle.

On Tuesday we learned that Carter had Open Reduction Internal Fixation surgery on her right pinky, which was broken in two places. This involved cutting the finger open to place six pins or screws to set the broken bones. She was in a soft cast until Friday and her stitches will be removed next Thursday. This meant that Coach Blair decided to hold her out of the SEC tourney in hopes she would be ready for NCAA play starting on March 22 or 23, depending on placement in the bracket. Carter was handling a ball a bit with her hand bandaged during pregame warmups, but would not be cleared to play even if the Ags advanced. Earlier, she probably watched Malica Monk from Arkansas play very well with a bandaged right hand.

The Ags had been the #16 overall team in Monday’s NCAA selection committee reveal of what the top seeds would be if the season ended then. Unlike the Men’s March Madness, the top 16 teams host the first two rounds at their home campuses. The reveal helps teams figure out if they should prepare to host. With Carter out, the bracketology experts predicted that an early loss in the SEC tourney might drop A&M out of the top 16 and have to go on the road for the first rounds.

Among the possible opponents for Friday’s game, Auburn caused particular concern. Although the Ags have never lost to Auburn, their trapping zone defense creates a lot of turnovers. In the regular season meeting, the Ags had 21 turnovers (3 by Carter) and Carter scored 28 points. The last two were a game winning runner with about 5 seconds left. Aside from scoring, Carter’s ball handling was used to break the Auburn press.

In Carter’s absence, Jada Wells got her first career start as the 2 guard. At the start, the Ags were doing a great job of passing to break the press, leading to easy scores before the D could get back. A&M started 7/7 from the field and added some FTs to take a 18-9 lead with 4:06 remaining in the first quarter. At that point the Ags had turned it over only twice, but there were already warning signs in how Auburn defenders were deflecting passes. After getting to 18, A&M would turn it over 4 more times in the first quarter and go scoreless until Caylinne Martin got a putback on a miss by Kayla Wells with 17 seconds left. By the end of the quarter the lead was down to 20-16.

The turnover bug would get worse in the second quarter. The first four possessions resulted in turnovers. That allowed Crystal Primm to give Auburn the lead at 21-20 with 8:11 left in the first half. A&M would turn the ball over a total of 12 times in the second quarter alone, for a first half total of 18. Fortunately the A&M defense was playing solidly and the Ags were outrebounding the Tigers so that the teams went into the intermission with Auburn up only by 32-28.

A&M came out in the third quarter and quickly erased the deficit. The Ags started the quarter by going on a 15-2 run by the 6:04 mark. A&M was finding cutters for open layups again and dominating inside. The Ags were also playing stifling D. Walton would get her first points of the night on a steal and a fast break in the middle of that run. But Auburn would come back and retake the lead on a buzzer beating second chance basket by Robyn Benton off a miss by Janiah McKay.

The 4th quarter was a defensive battle with small leads going back and forth between the two teams. The score was tied at 55 with 6 minutes remaining. Primm scored for the Tigers and then nobody boxed out N’dea Jones after she missed a baseline jumper from the right side. Jones followed her shot for a layup to tie it at 57 with 5:17 to go. Erin Howard hit a 3 pointer. Jada Walton answered with her 3rd 3 pointer of the season from the right side (Coach Blair would guess incorrectly in the postgame presser that this was her first in SEC play but the other two came vs Bama and Kentucky). Jada’s trey came thanks to an offensive board by Cierra Johnson.

Neither team could score until 1:36 when Abigayle Jackson got a layup to take the lead for Auburn. Jackson missed the and one FT attempt making it 62-60. N’dea Jones got the rebound and with 1:11 left N’dea would tie the game again with a underhanded layup from the left side. The Ags would get a stop and Jones would grab the defensive rebound with a 4.3 second difference between the shot clock and the game clock. Blair called a timeout to set a play and advance the ball to the front court with 22 seconds left on the shot clock. That meant that even though Auburn worked to deny the inbounds to Wells by double teaming her, there was enough time for Johnson to take the inbounds pass from Walton up high and hand the ball back to Jada. Jada passed to Sham Washington at the point out by the SEC logo just inside midcourt. The Ags reset the offense into Blair’s “Horns” set with Washington at the point, Jones and Johnson as a double high post, Walton in the left corner and Wells in the right corner. Sham dribbled to her right as Jones set a pick and Johnson moved behind it to post up in the paint. But as Sham picked up her dribble, Auburn post Unique Thompson reestablished defensive position and Sham didn’t make the feed. 13 seconds left on the shot clock. Before Sham could be called for a 5 second violation Wells came out from the right corner to take a handoff. At this point Jones had drifted back toward midcourt, drawing a defender with her. Two defenders were on Sham and Kayla. Two defenders were watching Johnson and Walton. N’dea came down to set a pick at the top and Kayla attacked the left side of the lane. The switching defender, Sanders, cut her off but Wells spun bac6 k into the middle and got off a contested short jumper with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. The ball went in to give A&M a 64-62 lead.

Auburn called timeout to advance the ball with 5.3 seconds remaining. The Tigers inbounded the ball to Janiah McKay, who stumbled. She was able to get up and maintain her dribble but had to shoot a desperation 3 over Ciera Johnson who altered the shot, which fell harmlessly short as the buzzer went off.

Final score: Ags 64 War Eagle 62

  • Kayla Wells would lead all scorers with 28 points, which is an A&M record for points scored in the SEC tournament.
  • N’dea Jones had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds
  • Ciera Johnson had 12 points and 8 boards
  • Jada Walton played a career high 33 minutes. She played much of the final period with cramping in her right leg.
  • The Ags ended up committing 26 turnovers vs 15 for Auburn. Auburn won points off turnovers 21-15.
  • A&M won rebounds by 31-20 and was 14-19 from the FT line while Auburn was 6-10.
  • The stats don’t reflect the quality of the A&M D. Although Auburn shot 45.6% for the game, the shooting % doesn’t reflect the number of shot clock violations forced.

Up Next

  • Arkansas Razorbacks
  • SEC semifinals
  • Saturday March 9, 2019 6PM CST
  • Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, SC
  • TV: ESPNU Radio 1620 AM

After falling to A&M in the regular season finale at Reed Arena, Arkansas is suddenly the hottest team in the SEC tourney. The 10 seed Ladybacks started by dominating 7 seed Georgia 86-76 on Thursday. They were expected to come back to earth vs 2 seed #12 S. Carolina. Instead, Arkansas dropped 95 points on the Gamecocks while giving up 89. Chelsea Dungee, who the Ags held to 15 points in Reed Arena, had 31 points in both games. Dungee’s teammates have also upped their game. All 5 starters were in double figures vs Georgia and 4 of 5 were in double figures vs S. Carolina. The Hogs were 11-22 from 3 point range vs S. Carolina.

Arkansas did get both of their bigs in foul trouble vs the Gamecocks. I was surprised that S. Carolina was unable to exploit their size advantage more. Arkansas will also be playing their 3rd game in 3 days while A&M will be playing the second.