It was sweet justice, as Aggie center Kelsey Bone got the first two points of the game as well as the final two winning points, in a significant win, as Texas A&M women’s basketball beat the #15 University of South Carolina Gamecocks, 50-48 Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10. The atmosphere was anything but cordial in welcoming Kelsey Bone back to the Colonial Life Arena, a place she’d once called home to face a team for whom she'd once played. Ancient history? Not really.
Aggie fans listening by radio and watching on pay TV were shocked as the announcement of players actually drew boos when Kelsey’s name was called. The Gamecocks should have known not to make Bone’s teammates mad as they would not leave Columbia without a ‘W’ in the stats column. Despite the flagrant dissing and rather rude “welcome,” Kelsey just kept her cool, stayed focused, and played her best. The Aggies, led primarily by point guard Adrienne Pratcher made sure Bone, and her team, went home victorious.
The South Carolina Gamecocks had apparently held a grudge against Bone, the Aggie’s junior center, who’d played her first year of NCAA eligibility at South Carolina, before the Houston native decided she preferred to return to Texas, where her family and friends were. She paid the price of sitting on the bench for an entire year, when the Aggies won a national championship, just to be able to play for Head Coach Gary Blair and the fighting Texas Aggies. It’s been a win-win for Bone and Texas A&M, particularly this year, as Bone has truly come into her own, dialing up her play to match the competitition, and garnering substantial national attention to boot.
Today’s game was definitely the defensive matchup of the Aggies’ year to date, as the score was tied 9 times and the lead changed 12. And Gary Blair just drew from a tremendous bench as he sent players in and out to go up against a South Carolina bench that didn’t have a lot of depth, yet played with substantial fierce intensity.
Buzzer to buzzer, it was a highly physical contest between the teams as players were slammed to the floor in going for the ball, but the Aggies didn’t quit. Despite a grade 1 ankle sprain, Peyton Little ignored the pain and jumped back into the fray as fast as she could, to help the Aggies win. She didn’t have offensive points, but she made a difference with 4 rebounds, 2 each on offense and defense.
Karla Gilbert had stalwart play in gaining 4 rebounds and scoring 7 points, and giving the Gamecocks grief in general by outmaneuvering them on the court. In the department of numbers that are high that you’d rather not see, the Aggies had 18 turnovers, something that will be worked on as soon as the team arrives back in College Station. Courtney Walker was held only to 10 points but she managed to grab 2 defensive rebounds and 5 offensive rebounds in her 32 minutes of play.
It may not have been Kristi Bellock’s best day on the court, but in addition to her 4 points, she racked up 5 rebounds, before fouling out. It’s rare for Bellock to foul out, which is just more evidence of how physical the contest was today. Starting forward Courtney Williams scored 3 points and played for 24 minutes; South Carolina knew she was there, to be sure. Tori Scott went into the battle for 8 minutes and snagged one offensive rebound.
However, a win is a win is a win, to all of the Aggie women’s basketball fans. Learfield sports announcer Mike Wright shared that, before the game, Coach Gary Blair said, “The first one to score 50 will win; if we score 60, I’m running to jump on the bus to get out of here,” he joked. It was almost that bad, if you listened to call after call that described players going to the floor or being charged. And yet, Blair called the final score and outcome, down to the point total.
“It was a dogfight from the start of the game to the finish of the game,” said senior guard Adrienne Pratcher, in the post-game interview with Mike Wright. She complimented Blair’s game plan and said she did her best to lead her team up and down the court. That she did.
After the game, Aggies Assistant Coach Amy Wright said of South Carolina, “They’re a tough, competitive team, very scrappy. We can tell our kids what to do but until you get in there, you haven’t experienced it.” On the job training produced battle scars, sprains, and tired bodies, but the Aggies never gave up. Lead changes went back and forth throughout the game, a real nail-biter as a weakened South Carolina team kept fighting when, on paper, they didn’t have anything left to fight with. South Carolina presented a team that, so far, was “the toughest one to go up against in the SEC,” said Amy Wright.
"This is our biggest win of the year, bar none," said Wright. Coach Kelly Bond-White rushed to the radio post a few minutes behind schedule, ecstatic. "I was so doggone excited high-fiving the girls, congratulating the team" said Bond-White, that she almost forgot the post-game show. Said Kelly, "Coach Starkey had to remind me, 'weren’t you supposed to be on the radio now?', she confessed, laughing. As Bond-White bubbled over with trademark gentle effusiveness, announcers Steve Miller and Mike Wright shared their respect for the victory today, as probably the hardest on-the-road game they've seen to date.
Kelsey Bone had another double-double today, despite South Carolina’s determination to keep her from shooting. Kelsey had the team-high 13 points and 15 total rebounds (3 offensive and 12 defensive), plus she had the last word on the day, in scoring the final go-ahead game winner that made the score 50-48. She’d also scored the first bucket against her former team, in a silent answer to the “boos” she’d been surprised to hear.
Of Kelsey Bone, Bond-White said, “when she (Kelsey) went down and I saw her take that charge, I told (freshman guard) Curtyce (Knox), “Gig ‘em and Praise the Lord,” Though Kelsey didn’t get many touches in the game, Bond-White said, her teammates did a good job of letting offense run through her.” Pratcher, too, “stabilized our team” in running Coach Blair’s offense. “This is her ball club and she’s doing a good job running her team,” said Bond-White.
In the final five minutes, the Aggies' defense reigned supreme, in denying South Carolina any points in the contest. Scoring was low in general, with the Aggies defending the Gamecocks, whose top scorer, Ieasia Walker (their Walker, not our Walker), was held to 16 points, shooting only 8 of 20 from the field. South Carolina forward Ashley Bruner had four personal fouls, 9 rebounds and 9 points, but the Aggies held her to 3 of 10 shooting, as well as holding Aleighsa Welch to 6 points, on 2 of 9 shooting, despite her 8 rebounds on the Ags. It may have been a squeaky win, but it was a win.
The Aggies are now 6-2 on the road, 9-1 in SEC play and 19-5 on the season, ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll and 16th in the USAT ranking. They’ll play their next game on Valentine’s evening, at 8 pm against Florida in Reed Arena. Tip for the crowd: arrive early Thursday to purchase your pink t-shirts, as the Aggies will play their BTHO Breast Cancer game against Kentucky on Mon., Feb. 18. $5.00 will get you decked out in style in the next pink-out as they rock Reed, again.