Aggies’ D muzzles Bulldogs
After overtime loss to LSU on Thursday, team bounces back to end seven-game skid to MSU
COLLEGE STATION – No. 7 Texas A&M turned to an old friend, constricting defense, in bouncing back from the Aggies’ lone loss on the season.
“The setback happens sometimes,” A&M women’s coach Gary Blair said. “The most important thing is the comeback, once you return.”
The Aggies defeated No. 14 Mississippi State 69-41 on Sunday in Reed Arena, in an overpowering return from a 65-61 overtime speedbump at unranked LSU on Thursday.
“I thought we put that loss behind us the very next day,” Blair said. “We reflected and rested a little, and our kids came right back and got to work. (And) that game wasn’t an upset at LSU. They’ve outplayed my teams there for the past four years, so give them credit.
“That was just an example of how good this league is.”
So was Sunday’s outcome, considering the Aggies (13-1 overall, 4-1 SEC) defeated a top 15 opponent by 28 points. MSU scored three points in the first quarter, its lowest output in a quarter in program history (the NCAA switched from two halves to four quarters entering the 201516 season).
The Bulldogs are in their first season under coach Nikki McCray-Penson, after A&M graduate Vic Schaefer left MSU for Texas last offseason. The Aggies snapped a seven-game losing streak to MSU.
“The offense will come here or there, but the defensive end is where it starts for me,” McCray-Penson said of what MSU must rectify moving forward.
Guard Kayla Wells led the Aggies with 19 points, in making 8-of-9 field goals. The Bulldogs (8-4, 3-3) shot 27 percent (15 of 56) from the field against the smothering Aggies defense.
“We knew going into practice (on Saturday) that we needed to prepare for Mississippi State and let the LSU game go,” Wells said. “It was a bad loss, and we knew what we needed to do.”
McCray-Penson said she knew A&M’s defense would throw a variety of looks at MSU courtesy of A&M assistant coach and defensive specialist Bob Starkey, and that the Bulldogs had prepared accordingly. Or so she believed.
“We knew they were going to change defenses against us and we had been working two days on it, and we acted like we didn’t know what was happening,”
said McCray-Penson, whose team lost at home to unranked Alabama on Thursday.
A&M, in its 8th season under the indefatigable Blair, is playing its most complete basketball since winning the program’s lone national title in the sport 10 years ago this April.
“It was hard coming back for both Mississippi State and Texas A&M after our respective losses,” Blair said.
“I thought it was going to be interesting to see which team responded – not regarding who won or lost – but who responded in the first 10 minutes of the game. We responded very well, even though we missed some layups. We played with some energy.
“… (And) we don’t care which player gets more of the spotlight – we just want to win.”
The spotlight on Sunday
enveloped Wells, who made 89 percent of her shots from the field. She had made a lone 3-pointer in five different games this season prior to Sunday, but sank all three of her tries from the 3-point line against the Bulldogs.
“I was loose and more confident in my shot,” Wells said. “I’ve been in the gym working on my shot a lot. I went out there … not thinking about or secondguessing any of my shots. It worked out for me.”
The Aggies don’t play again until Sunday at Missouri, and then play at Auburn on Jan. 28. A&M does not return to Reed Arena until Jan. 31.
“We know that on any given night, anyone can (score),” said A&M center Ciera Johnson, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds on Sunday. “Our goal is to set up plays for the person with the hot hand. This team doesn’t care about who’s getting the most points, (talking) to the media, or who the best player on the team is at any given moment.”