It was a Texas-sized matchup as the 9-4 Aggies and the 11-1 UTEP Miners of Conference USA faced off at Reed Arena on Jan. 2, 2014, with the Ags winning, 74-58. The two teams had met only once previously, back in 1987, where the Aggies won. The Aggies have won 65 consecutive nonconference home games against unranked opponents, and the last six straight. Starting lineup for the Aggies included Courtney Williams, Jordan Jones, Courtney Walker, Karla Gilbert, and Achire Ade.
Coming into today’s matchup, Courtney Williams was averaging 20.7 ppg, along with scoring her career-best each of the past two games. Courtney Walker was also bringing in an 18 consecutive free throw streak, which started Nov. 29. The Aggies were hoping to continue their 26-game winning streak also against mid-major teams that started in March 2010.
At halftime it was 42-24 favor of the Aggies after a rousing series of plays by the “C-W network.” Courtney Williams had 16, and Courtney Walker had 7 to anchor the 47.3% shooting across the team. Achire Ade played smart, hard, and strong, fighting for rebounds. The first half was decidedly better than the second half of play, because the first half, Coach Blair kept his cool, and in the second half, well, he didn’t.
Frustration ensued in the second half, even with the win, because of 25 pointless turnovers on the game, missed opportunities and just losing the ball, the kind of elements that give Blair nightmares about SEC-level play, which incidentally starts on Sunday. If there’s anything that causes him to throw his jacket on the chair, or his vinyl play board on the ground to a crashing halt, it’s turnovers.
Overall, Karla Gilbert had some good left-handed layups, resulting in 12 points, but really contributed more on defense, as she posted a career-high 8 blocks in a game. The present record is held by Danielle Adams with 10 blocks in a game. Gilbert also managed to pass Danielle Gant to become fourth-leading in career blocks thus far. The season is young. But Karla is still not the imposing presence she could be as a “big,” because simple errors in judgment can lead to only half the points she’s capable of easily getting.
Rachel Mitchell came in for 12 minutes and showed promise and improvement. That said, when that young woman realizes that she is 6’7” and uses every bit of her height to the Aggies’ advantage, it is going to be showtime in Aggieland. She’s on the verge, no doubt. Blair even complimented Mitchell’s contribution for this game in the postgame interview. It’s fun to watch her block and there seems to be a good matchup with Curtyce Knox as point. Knox was 2 of 3 on 3-point shots for a total 8 points, and grabbed 5 defensive rebounds. However, her 6 turnovers is a sure-fire guarantee to riding Blair’s bench.
Jada Terry got only 2 minutes, but she is learning the system. Like it or not, this game and Blair’s system takes time and extra hours to learn. You can’t shortcut around it or zig-zag through it.
Courtney Walker fouled out of the game with 3 minutes to go, with 18 points on the night, having made this the 11th time she’s been in double digits so far this season. Some of the worthless fouls were because she either breathed or blinked, and the refs didn’t like it, but she maintained composure at all times, while grabbing six rebounds, five on defense. Walker also continued her perfect free throw streak, adding 6 more last night, her record now at 24 consecutive shots from the line. The “C-W Network” of Williams and Walker really pulled the Aggies through tonight, while everyone else worked around it.
Courtney Williams played hard the time she was in and had she stayed in longer, she could have bested her previous record of 27 points in one game, but she was pulled out with 21 points to give others a chance for some playing minutes. Nevertheless, last night Williams became the first Aggie to score more than 20 points a game for three consecutive games since Kelsey Bone did that same thing in 2012’s “World Vision Classic” tournament.
Jordan Jones has earned a theoretical new middle name—Assist—because she managed 9 of them last night, 4 steals, along with 3 turnovers, and 4 points. This is the third straight game where Jones had 8 or more assists, an encouraging trend as she knows where to push the ball. Like every other Aggie last night, she just needs to prevent all turnovers.
Achire Ade had 6 points and 8 rebounds, plus 1 assist but also had 3 turnovers of her own. She managed to give UTEP some fits with her defensive play. The UTEP Miners had been strong enough to have received some AP votes but they were held to 32.4% shooting and were blocked out of any 3-point shots at all. All told, Gary Blair still was dissatisfied.
In fact, Blair was basically not in a very good mood at all last night, because he knows what’s ahead for the Aggies this year. He’s spent these first 14 games of the year trying every potential combination to find his starting lineup and figure out what can be done to build every game. Two weeks ago he lamented to radio audiences that he was still looking for “gym rats,” who came in on their own time and shot baskets. In the postgame interview he gave himself a grade for coaching and admitted that he had to stop yelling at the players, which was good to hear. These young women respond well to tough taskmasters and Blair shows his marine training in Panavision and Technicolor at times, but like the sign on his desk says, he's here to "build champions." And "this" is all part of what they sign up for when they sign on to Texas A&M.
Although that sounds easy enough, you have to remember that these young women have a full day, they are in classes, they study, they have fellowship and they perform tons of community service projects that don’t show up on their stat sheets but Blair, and Associate Head Coach, Kelly Bond-White, et al. know that the secret to successful team play is to be a successful team off the court. Many times Bond-White might be overlooked in her contribution to this team, but that should not happen. As many know, she's the glue that keeps this sports show rolling day after day.
The Aggies open SEC play on Sun., Jan. 5th against Alabama; Holiday Hoops special ticket pricing is still in effect for this game. Local school districts are still on vacation, so bring the entire family out for the best game to see in person. At $4.00 per ticket, you just can’t beat what you’ll see, and this Aggie team deserves that, and much more.