On Dec. 15, 2013, when No. 24 Texas A&M leaves the warmth and safety of home base Reed Arena, there’s no such thing as an easy road trip when Head Coach Gary Blair has the No. 12 Penn State on deck. Before today’s contest in State College, Pennsylvania, the Aggies had won three straight games. The Texas A&M women’s basketball team lost 66-58, but super sophomore Courtney Walker managed to score 20 points on the Lady Lions. And the game was closer than expected.
But when you’re still an essentially young team facing up with a national powerhouse, some days the best you can do is to hold your own. Then you add into the mix the play of Penn State’s Maggie Lucas, who had 26 points today, and had just been “celebrated prior to the game for reaching 2,000 career points.”
Yet, there were bright, shining moments in this loss, indicating future success for Texas A&M in upcoming SEC play next year. Courtney Walker’s performance was exemplary and she is quickly becoming the standout player this season as she racked up 20 points, made all of her free throws, grabbed 4 rebounds and had 2 steals. It was a hard-fought game as Walker also racked up 4 personal fouls in a game that saw quite a few Aggies adding to total fouls. No doubt she was the spark that put the Aggies into the lead for a while and kept them in the game throughout, as she managed her first 10 points within 5 minutes in the first half.
In the most exciting game of the season, broadcast on radio only this afternoon, the game began with a dull thud as the Aggies couldn’t buy a bucket, serving up 14 complete misses. You can imagine the expression on Coach Gary Blair’s face. He probably evaporated the plus sign off his hand in frustration from waving his hands in the air.
Something or someone started a fire under the Aggies though, and they “responded with a 27-7 run, highlighted by Walker’s 3-point shot to give the Aggies their first lead of the game with 5:43 left in the half.” For the eighth consecutive game this season, Walker was in double figures, securing her place as the team’s most consistent offensive performer.
The Aggies led by as many as 8 points but Penn State managed an 11-1 run of their own and took a 30-28 lead by the end of the first half. In the first half the Aggies were a very bad 28.6% in field goal shooting, making onlly 10 of 35 tries. They were 2 of 13 3-point tries for a head-shaking 15.4% but they managed 6 of 9 free throws. The Aggies were pretty solid on defense, though, as they held Penn State to 36.7% field goal shooting and absolutely no 3-pointers in the first half.
In the second half the Aggies ran hard to stay close to the Lady Lions, always about 6 points out of even, but with 4:32 left in the gain, Maggie Lucas made the only 3-pointer of Penn State’s 7 attempts, and soon after, the Lions led by 11. Solid shooting by Tori Scott off the bench (including two 3-pointers) cut brought their lead to 5 by 1:07 left in the game. By the time the Aggies ran out of clock, Scott had grabbed 14 points, including two 3-pointers.
Courtney Williams fouled out of the game but not until after she’d made 11 points and 9 rebounds. Rachel Mitchell played her best game as an Aggie to date, contributing 5 points and grabbing 3 rebounds, as she comes into her own this season. More exciting play is expected from the improving Mitchell as the season continues and she has more playing time.
Senior Karla Gilbert only added 2 points to her scoring totals, but she managed 10 rebounds today, for the fourth time this season. Similarly Achire Ade had only 2 points but she had 2 offensive and 5 defensive rebounds in a game where each possession really counted. Curtyce Knox led all Aggies with 7 assists and was perfect on all 4 free throws that comprised her point contribution today.
For Penn State, Tori Waldner was the only Lady Lion in double digits in rebounding, with 11. Maggie Lucas was only 1 for 5 of 3-point attempts, but was perfect on 5 free throws and made 10 of 20 field goals and in her 36 minutes of play.
The lead changes were extreme and the come-from-behind scrambling was scrappy and the Aggies have much to work on in their shooting for future games. But as Coach Blair will likely explain tomorrow night at his last College Station Wings N’ More radio broadcast at 6 pm: the Aggies faced a truly exceptional player in Maggie Lucas, and her team helped her out, but the Aggies were in it up until the very end. Nothing to be ashamed of there except that it's in the 'L' column.
Two future notes: the Aggies will play the final home game of the season on Tues., Dec. 17, at 11 am in Reed Arena. Over 5,000 area elementary school children are being treated to a special game experience in addition to the general public whose work schedule permits them to attend.
If you plan on attending Blair’s Wings broadcast on Monday night, please consider bringing one or more toys to donate as Coach Blair’s charity is seeking all contributions for children to have toys at Christmas. Get into the holiday spirit and come on out to Wings N’ More at 6 pm Monday night. Each chicken while you hear Blair talk turkey about playing the Lady Lions.