Quelling any questions in anyone’s mind as to whether the Texas Aggies were truly SEC caliber, on Thursday night, Jan. 3, the Texas A&M women’s basketball team showed they have the “right stuff” as they had a resounding win over the Alabama Crimson Tide, 91–52 at home in Reed Arena. Local support for Aggie women’s basketball continues a tide of its own, growing stronger each week, as the crowd included 7,191 fans, especially during the campus holiday break.
Kelsey Bone, award-winning, record-breaking SEC standout, racked up her sixth double-double of the season with 20 total points and 4 offensive rebounds. Coach Bob Starkey’s defensive training with the team is showing up on the court as Bone also snagged, ripped, and trapped 10 defensive rebounds with brilliant strength. Visualize a cartoon balloon over Kelsey’s head with the comment, “I’ll take that please,” and that’s pretty much how Alabama’s top shooters felt as they shot 37.9% of their field goals in the first half and only 28.6% in the second half.
Make no mistake: Alabama was as evenly matched as possible for SEC competition with the Aggies. Prior to the game, their stats were at 10-4 on the season and only one loss in their first SEC game. But as Head Coach Gary Blair said, of Kelsey Bone, “We’ll let her wear you out for 10-to-12 minutes then here comes our bench.”
One critical factor that often ends up being overlooked is free throw shots, but the Aggies were paying attention and clearly had been busy on the practice court, Alabama’s free throw shooting improved from 20% (1-5) to 100% (7-7) in the second half but the Aggies beat them in the stats there, with 83.3% in the first half (5-6) and 66.7% in the second half (14-21). Bone was 6 of 7 free throws and 7 of 10 baskets from the court.
Coach Bob Starkey’s contributions to the team defense may be appearing quietly, rather than with a lot of fanfare, but the Aggies are finding their groove in being able to capitalize on solid, consistent play. Thursday they scored 17 points off Alabama’s turnovers. Courtney Williams had only 4 points on the boards, but she pulled in two offensive and two defensive rebounds and spent 21 critical minutes keeping Bama busy. In fact, Alabama only scored 16 points in the paint, so the Aggies did a good job of pushing them back away from the sure-fire zone.
The starting line-up for the Aggies’ inaugural SEC contest were Bone, sharpshooter Kristi Bellock, the solid, strong Adrienne Pratcher, and the two Courtneys--Williams and Walker. When Blair decided these two freshmen had earned the starter role, it’s a testament to their work ethic ever as much as their talent. Their early season play has shown Walker and Williams have worked hard to get here and they’re working hard to stay there. Williams had 4 rebounds and 6 points, and Walker had 5 rebounds and 6 points. Kristi Bellock’s 5 offensive rebounds and Bone’s 4 are the primary reason why A&M had 21 second-chance points. Bellock has a special sense of focus; when she’s near that basket, chances are good she’s coming back with the ball, or with points. She continues to impress.
The Aggies were able to muscle their way inside the paint, and scored 48 points there. Freshman Peyton Little had a solid game off the bench, with 2 defensive rebounds and 14 total points, with an impressive 5-5 free throws. Karla Gilbert did more than just give Kelsey Bone a rest; Gilbert had 5 rebounds and 12 points in just 16 minutes of play.
Beyond the numbers, there was high excitement on the court as the Aggies, led by Bone, are playing together, learning to move the ball and pass unselfishly to assure the points. Rachel Mitchell saw 6 minutes of play and added one really entertaining sky-hook-type move for a bucket, and that wasn’t the first time she made it look easy.
Mitchell’s defensive play improves as she begins to explore how to use her height to intimidate her opponent; that’s Starkey’s work showing up again. Her free throw play was off in this game, but past experience has shown that her usual shot there is nothing but net. Mitchell is one to keep an eye on for signs of future improvement.
Coach Kelly Bond-White added much to immediate coaching and game analysis for players coming off the court; she’s fun to watch as she is breaking down every opponent’s play, and the sideline coaching lessons are taken to heart as the players get back in there and fix what’s wrong.
Meanwhile, strategist and play designer Gary Blair draws the plus sign on his outer left hand and when the suit coat jacket comes off, it’s “game on” for the Aggie team. The first SEC game is in the “W” column, and it’s on the record books.