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Texas Aggie women battle South Carolina to overtime win, 67-65

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The No. 25 Texas Aggies women’s basketball team had prepared well to welcome No. 8 University of South Carolina Gamecocks for a game that was sure to be hard fought. On Jan. 16, 2014, the Aggies played their tenth game against a Top 10 team since the 2012-13 season. What was at stake, beyond a potential win, was that Texas A&M was defending an 8-0 home game winning streak, currently the 24th-longest in the nation. The Aggies and Gamecocks battled through regulation play and preserved that record as they emerged from overtime as winners, 67-65.

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Starting for the Aggies were Courtney Williams, Jordan Jones, Courtney Walker, Karla Gilbert and Achire Ade. For the Gamecocks, Khadijah Sessions, Aleighsa Welch, Tiffany Mitchell, Asia Dozier and Elem Ibiam took the floor.

Achire Ade fought to gain the first possession of the ball and Walker missed her first shot. Achire grabbed the defensive rebound and Williams moved right up into the lane for a basket.

Starting point guard Jordan Jones stole the ball and made a breakaway layup, tying the game. Then first 6 minutes of the game, it was just sloppy play on both parts, with 18% shooting for the Aggies and 44% for South Carolina. The Aggies were hitting the rim, but the shots were just not going in. Suddenly, the game was 8-4, favor South Carolina.

Jordan Jones managed two consecutive baskets and punched her arm into the air as she made the second one, but she missed a free throw. Smart Aggie rebounding brought Courtney Walker to the basket, and the Aggies suddenly led by a point. South Carolina got a traveling violation to boot, giving the Aggies the ball back. South Carolina had pulled 5 turnovers and, amazingly, the Aggies had not given up one. Tavarsha Scott-Williams came in for Achire Ade, who played hard and smart.

Count on Courtney Walker to make both free throws, as she always does, and the Ags were up by 12-9. Rachel Mitchell got a rebound to let Courtney Williams come back and hit two more baskets. Tavarsha Scott-Williams got a great steal and then got her own rebound when she missed the shot and kicked it out to Jordan Jones, who got the ball to Williams for the 3.

Suddenly the Aggies were up by 6, 19-13, and South Carolina turned the ball over again, their tenth of the evening thus far; the Aggies had only 1 turnover, and therein was the difference in scoring. Achire had not warmed up her sure shots yet, and left Courtney Williams and Jordan Jones had made 15 of the Aggies 19 points with Walker making the other 4. So after the media timeout, Jordan Jones planted her feet and made a highlight-reel caliber 3-point shot, 22-13. The Aggies had forgotten the powerhouse they were playing in South Carolina, with a 16-1 overall record and 4-0 in SEC play. It was just time for some good old Aggie women’s basketball, Gary Blair style, one play at a time.

Karla Gilbert muscled her way against 3 South Carolina folks to get her basket and a plus one, which she easily made. The Gamecocks were rattled. One of the most amazing plays came without a basket. Jordan had motored down the court and had slipped on a wet court but she kept bouncing the basketball. Two Gamecocks saw her down (still bouncing the ball) and lunged her direction to try and swoop in and get the ball, but she popped right back up, still bouncing the ball, not missing a beat, and then got the ball to Williams, who missed the shot. But it looked great anyway and drew the crowd to a new level of yelling for the Aggies.

Karla played one of her best defensive series and just used sheer muscle to protect the ball away from the Gamecocks. The South Carolina team had gone scoreless for 9:34 minutes before they had one bucket go their way. They had gone 0-13 before making their next five shots.

Meanwhile, Courtney Walker was not about to be denied, and got back-to-back baskets. Jada Terry had a great block as she came in. Jordan Jones missed a chance to score and the halftime buzzer showed a 34-17 lead in favor the Aggies.

The first half of play came down to the Agggies shooting 35.9% compared to South Carolina’s 24.1%. Plus, the Aggies had improved their free throw shooting to 80% and were 2-2 for 3-point attempts and South Carolina was held to 0 of 5 on their 3-point shots when they’d come in 4th in the SEC in 3-point shots.

In the second half, Ade made a tremendous rebound and then Walker got an easy basket from the corner.
But, South Carolina made three consecutive baskets, so it was time for the Aggies to get the momentum back. Jordan went in for a layup but Tiffany Davis fouled her. Jordan made both free throws but South Carolina was starting to see their shots fall. Achire Ade got fouled and made both of her free throws and the Ags were back up by 15. The Aggies played such strong defense that they would not let South Carolina into the paint much.

One cannot forget that the Hullabaloo band played loud, hard, and strong, with every upbeat song from the best of classic rock and really got the crowd into the game, when it was really important. Part of the fun was some of the referee’s calls being considered by the overly biased crowd as well...bad, really bad.

At the 15:21 mark, the odd thing was that the Aggies were not shooting that well, having made 1 for 7 shots in the 2nd half for a 14.3% accuracy. The Gamecocks had made 5 of their 7 attempts. But the Aggies still held the lead by 13 points with 100% accuracy on their free throws. The Gamecocks had a 8-0 run over 3:52 and the Aggies were 0 for 4 of their last field goal tries when they lost the ball again on a shot clock violation.

Chelsea Jennings came in for the Aggies, who were now only leading by 9, 40-31. Courtney Williams got called for her third foul on a call that was contested clear across Reed Arena. Karla Gilbert then got called for her 3rd foul, which even if you were not in favor of the Aggies, looked questionable at best.

That’s when you can always count on the Hullabaloo band to get the crowd going, with one member shouting, “I’m sick of you, Ref!” with the echo answer by the rest of the band in unison, “I’m sick of you.” Now, the Aggie Yell Leaders were busy leading the “Riffety, Riffety Riff Raff” Horse Laugh cheer too, but it felt really good to yell along with the band, “I’m sick of you” as several of the referee calls in the second half bordered on just being “flat, dab wrong” as we say here in the south. Of course many of us are highly opinionated that we are right, too. No matter. Lots of fun, thanks to the Hullaballoo Band and Yell Leaders at every game.

The band was needed as the Aggies had seemingly gone cold, with 1 for 9 shooting. Blair wisely called a time out. Unfortunately, Jordan Jones lost the ball, on Blair’s foot, as it went out of bounds. South Carolina had managed to pull within 4 points with not-that-stellar shooting of 36%. Finally, Karla Gilbert muscled in for a basket and gave the Aggies a little breathing room and fortunately South Carolina traveled. Olivia Gaines hit a 3-point shot and had managed, suddenly out of nowhere it seemed, to overcome a 17-point deficit to pull within one point, 42-41.

Courtney Walker got a key basket on a layup as she simply would not be denied, and the crowd really started getting back into the game. Williams got the ball to Walker for another Aggie basket. The crowd really went wild when Jordan Jones stole the ball and zoomed down the court for an uncontested layup, and the Aggie lead was extended to 5. They continued playing with fever or fervor, or both, as the Gamecocks turned the ball over again. Time out on the court with 6:40 to play. The game was the Aggies’ to win or lose.

Karla Gilbert made 1 of 2 free throws and it was a 4-point game (50-46) with 5:18 to go. Karla also managed to get the defensive rebound, but Courtney Williams couldn’t make her shot go in. The ever-calm Gilbert also made the team’s 50th point on that second free throw attempt. Blair had said the other day, “the first team to get to 50 points is going to win.” The Aggies were hoping that was correct. Unfortunately, Asia Dozier hit a 3 point shot, but Williams bounced back for one more bucket to extend the lead to 3 again, with 3:12 to go. South Carolina called time out. Dawn Staley was effusive in her instructions and their team did have momentum, no doubt.

SC was just about to get a basket, but Courtney Williams stole the ball and the Aggies could not capitalize on it. According to vocal audience members sitting nearby, the referees did appear, collectively, to even the most slightly biased observer, to be missing calls against South Carolina and overly tagging Aggie players (particularly when you are sitting courtside and manage to be able to see calls the referees should be seeing). Nevertheless, the score was 52-49 with 2:33 to go.

Jordan missed a key shot, Karla missed a key rebound and South Carolina had the ball again. Williams managed to pull in the next defensive rebound and got fouled. She missed her free throw, but Aggies got the rebound. Williams shot too hard and missed again. The referees called Gilbert for her fourth foul with 1:10 to go and the score was still in favor of the Aggies 52-50. Would they be able to hang on and squeak out for the win?

The crowd rose to their feet as the Aggies’ Courtney Walker, hero of the game, made her basket against a heap of SC traffic. Aggies defended SC so hard that they threw the ball out of bounds and then took a time out. Blair was animated, fired up. With 27.9 seconds left in the game and the crowd on its feet, where it had been standing in support, waving towels, screaming, and jumping up and down since the 1:10 mark, the Aggies were determined not to give up this game.

Jordan Jones inbounded to Williams, and she was promptly fouled by Dozier, which put Williams at the free throw line for 1 and 1. She was on target with the first one and equally so on the second, bringing the Aggie lead to 5 points with 22.9 seconds. The Gamecocks scored a basket.

The referees managed called yet another play that drew crowd ire to see the Gamecocks have the ball again. SC’s Tiffany Mitchell made a 3-point basket to tie the game with 5.1 seconds left. The Aggies had to inbound the ball and scramble down the court, Jordan missed the shot, which secured the overtime.

After some fast sidelines coaching on both sides, the Aggies missed their first shot of overtime, but Karla managed to come up with a key defensive rebound. The Aggies should have been able to keep that defensive rebound, but the referee said that the ball had gone out off of Achire Ade’s foot. The referee next called Achire Ade for her fifth foul, and Blair was beside himself. Coach Starkey just stood up on the sidelines with his “Really? Really?” look. Both Aggie coaches stayed calm enough not to draw a technical.

For the Aggies, Rachel Mitchell came in and SC missed their first free throw shot. On their next failed shot, Rachel came up with the key defensive rebound but Jordan lost the ball.

Karla Gilbert got the layup after Williams missed, with 2:39 left. SC’s Alaina Coates tied the game with her basket so the Aggies’ Jordan got the ball to Karla who made her 11th point of the game. Jordan continued engineering the team as she stole the basketball, made the basket and picked up a foul, and made the extra point. Tiffany Mitchell then made another 3-point but the Aggies were up by 2 and Courtney Walker made her basket.

At this point, Assistant Coach Bob Starkey was absolutely a ball of carefully contained fire. He saw what the Aggies needed to do and he made sure they knew what it was he needed them to do. He was coaching like thunder during the time out, while Dawn Staley was busy pitching a fit and making the officials review the previous play’s call, which was ultimately resolved in the Aggies’ favor.

SC’s Staley was just doing her job and she coaches just as she used to play—with passion. Staley was a formidable opponent as she’d personally competed in three Final Fours as a player. Dawn has spent the past 13 years as a head coach, the last five with South Carolina. Staley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. She did her best to fire up her team to play their best offense ever, and the crowd in Reed Arena practically held their collective breath to see what would happen in the last minute of overtime.

The score was 65-61 with 58.8 secs left, Courtney Walker had the chance to add a free throw but missed it. The referees called Karla on her fifth foul with 43.5 seconds left, and the score 65-61. SC’s Tiffany Mitchell made one of her two free throws and the Ags’ Courtney Williams got the rebound.

Williams was fouled and with 15.4 seconds left, she was perfect on both free throws to stretch the Aggie lead to 5, the score 67-62. With 15 seconds left, South Carolina did move down the court and Aleighsa Welch successfully hurled up a 3-pointer, but time expired, and the Ags won it 67-65.

The game stats reflect a balanced offense. Courtney Walker led the way with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, many of them clutch, just as the Aggies needed them. Courtney Williams had 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists in the game. Jordan Jones was all over the court and made 16 points, 5 rebounds and had 7 assists. Karla Gilbert had 11 hard-fought points, including two baskets that there seemed to be no way she could make, but she did, plus she had 7 rebounds and 3 free throws.

Although Achire Ade had only 5 points in the game, there is no way you can say she was not a major factor in this game. First, she had 6 key rebounds and 3 perfect free throws that made a difference when you won the game by 2. Ade is a smart player, she reacts well and she moves up and down the court quickly, and has such a presence as to be imposing as a defender. Tavarsha Scott-Williams had 2 rebounds, Tori Scott had 1, and Rachel Mitchell had 2 rebounds, one of which was key in helping to seal the victory in overtime. Everyone who played gave something valuable to the team win.

Texas A&M had been ranked in the Top 25 before the season started, had quickly fallen out of the prestigious ranking, and just two days prior reappeared on the charts as No. 25. The Aggie women’s basketball team paid no attention to the fact that their opponent was ranked No. 8 in the nation. They just went about their work and gave it all they had.

Next home game is Sun., Jan. 19 in Reed Arena. The Aggies host “Old home week” with the return of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, led by Head Coach Vic Schaefer, Associate Head Coach Johnnie Harris, Assistant Coach Aqua Franklin, Director of Women’s Basketball Operations Maryann Baker, and Women’s Basketball Video Producer, Skylar Collins back to face the Aggies. There won’t be a dry eye in the house before the game as an incredibly important part of the Aggie family comes back home for at least a few hours. See you at Reed Arena, 2 p.m., Sunday! Get there early.

Coming soon to Reed Arena:
In a poignant display of regard and respect, on Thursday night, the entire Aggie coaching staff wore pink ribbons in honor of South Carolina Asst. Coach Nikki McCray, who was earlier this week diagnosed with breast cancer. Just a reminder that the Aggies are also preparing to take part in their annual BTHO Breast Cancer game on Feb. 9, as the Aggies host LSU at home. This game also will be a “pink out.” The public will be able to purchase t-shirts for $10 before and after future home games, with all proceeds from t-shirt sales going to the Kay Yow Foundation to support breast cancer research.

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