COLLEGE STATION-Texas A&M saw its eight game win streak end at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats by the score of 70-66 at Reed Arena Monday night.
Freshman Courtney Walker scored 14 points in the final eight minutes of the game, including the final 10 for Texas A&M, as she tried to help the Aggies claw back from 14 points down. Walker matched her career high 20 points, set three times earlier this season.
"None of our offense was working and we ran a couple sets for her and then we got into transition and I told her to go do her best Michael Jordan impression and she did a pretty good job at it," Head Coach Gary Blair said when asked about Walker's play. "Walker is a great kid and she works hard and she gave a chance to be in it at the end."
A&M (20-6, 10-2 SEC) lost for just the second time in the last 14 games, both to Kentucky (23-3, 11-2). The maroon and white fell to third in the SEC with the loss, while Kentucky jumped the Aggies in the standings to sit at second. All six of A&M's losses this year came to teams ranked in the Top-10.
The hometown team opened the game making 4-of-6 shots to take an early seven point lead in under four minutes of action, but the Wildcats stayed the course with five straight points to cut the Aggie lead to just two at the first media timeout.
The Aggies and Wildcats battled back-and-forth for much of the first half with four ties and two lead changes in the first 12 minutes of play. Kentucky took a seven point lead on the heels of a 17-4 run in just under five and a half minutes of action.
Senior Adrienne Pratcher and the Aggies countered with strong play of their own to cut the Kentucky lead to just one with two minutes left in the half. Pratcher had a coast-to-coast layup and a three pointer to score five straight points and pull the Aggies within just one. Kentucky responded with back-to-back threes to push the lead back out to seven.
"I was proud of our team, we made some mistakes," Blair added about the rally near the end of the first half. "Those two threes right before half really hurt us, we had cut it to one and we had the momentum going into half."
A&M attempted to take the lead back, cutting the deficit to as little as two twice early in the second half, but the Wildcats again had an answer scoring seven straight point to take a then game-high 10 point lead.
The home side did not give up when trailing by a game-high 14 points with just over nine minutes to play, responding with a 16-6 run in just four minutes. During the run Walker had eight points to lead the Aggie charge.
Walker scored with just four seconds left to cut the deficit to one with a free-throw following the layup. Blair called for a miss following a timeout, but the Aggies could not corral the rebound and fouled the Wildcats to send them to the free-throw line. Bria Gross made both free-throws to close out the scoring on the night at 70-66 in Kentucky's favor.
"When Walker went down to cut it two and shoot the free-throw to cut it to one, I was not going to take a chance on stealing the inbound when we have not pressed all game," Blair said about the Walker's layup and free-throw attempt to cut deficit to one. "I told Walker to miss it, which was our best chance to win it."
Kentucky outscored Texas A&M 27-9 on points off of turnovers and 11-4 on the fast break. The Aggies did control the paint outscoring the Wildcats 34-24 in the paint and out-rebounding the visitors 36-32.
Joining Walker in double figures were seniors Adrienne Pratcher and Kristi Bellock with 12 points each. Bellock registered her sixth career double-double with a career high 15 rebounds. Junior Kelsey Bone and Bellock led the team with four assists a piece.
Kentucky was paced A'Dia Mathis with 13 points in the win. DeNesha Stallworth recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds and a school record seven blocks.
The Aggies finish the three game home stand with a Thursday night match-up with Ole Miss at 7:00 p.m. (CT). Thursday night will continue the elementary student promotion, students can register for free tickets online for any of the remaining home games, parents can go to http://www.12thmanfoundation.com/ticket-center/promo/elementary.aspx
to register their children for free tickets to the game. Additionally any youth wearing their basketball jersey can stop by the ticket office and get into the game for free.
Post Game Quotes:
Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair
"What a platform tonight. You have President's Day, you have Breast Cancer Day, you had a chance to honor the two fallen firemen, and you had a chance to see #7 and #10 play a game just like was played in Kentucky. Same atmosphere at Kentucky was here. I was proud of our team. We made some mistakes; obviously, we are going to do it. First half killed us on those two 3's right before because we had cut it to one. Made a great comeback, and I thought we had the momentum going into the half. We made a couple of adjustments, like we are supposed to. Our kids started a little more up tempo. We caught up, two point ball game, and they made their run. The difference in the ball game was our lack of wanting the ball on the press. The turnover by Bone on a two point ball game to give them, when all she has to do is bring it down. Pratcher was having a hard enough time getting open. Give their point guard a whole lot of credit for playing denial back, and Pratcher is my best option to run my half-court offense. Jordan is my best option to maybe in the transition game or to play full court defense. But I felt like we had everything under control until that mark in the second half where their press really bothered us. We ended up turning it over 18 times for the game. But it wasn't just the turnovers; sometimes we would finally get it down and we were scattered all over the place where we couldn't run our sets. And when we did run our sets, we missed some bunnies inside. But when we were down 14, I'm so proud of those kids for coming back. The crowd got into the game, and we got it to two. I think Mathies was the one who got it back to four on a good jumper that she had over Walker, and we cut it back to two again, and then I'm not sure if we gave up a three in the corner right there or not right then, but it was just a chess match right then at the end. Two point ball game, and the ball goes out of bounds with 1 second to go. I don't think it was a lack of blocking out; the ball just bounced to the doggone kid. It was a bad shot, she threw it up. She had to. The ball went to her. Bad break. When Walker went down to cut it to two, shooting to cut it to one, I said there is no way I'm going to take a chance of stealing the ball when we haven't pressed the whole game, and we were out of fumes. We missed the free-throw on purpose and we almost got it. Game, set, match. It's not the end of the world. We can still control our own destiny by winning out, and it's going to be up to us to take care of business. Kentucky has still got a pretty hard road to go too, and hopefully Tennessee has a hard road to go. But I said to a writer from Kansas City yesterday, you've got five teams in the SEC that are trying to win a championship. You have five teams in the Big 12 trying to finish 2nd, and right now, I like the competition of the top five teams in our league, what we're doing to make each other better. And you've got teams 7 through 13 I believe, in the AP Poll, there's five of us, and we don't have one of the top five teams in the nation right now because none of us have earned to be in that top five. But if we all keep improving, we all have that chance. The last time I heard, it takes 4 to go to the Final Four, and I wouldn't ever count out an SEC team to get there, including ourselves, including Kentucky and Tennessee."
On Walker's play
"None of our offense was working. Bone was getting double teamed and turning the ball over, so we ran a couple of sets for her and then they were missing and we got in transition, and I just told her to just do her best Michael Jordan act, and she was doing it. I wasn't that comfortable with her sitting on the bench as much as she was in the first half, but they had to do the same thing with Mathies. They would have put her back in if they would have fallen behind, but we both had the same problem. But Walker's a great kid, she works hard, and she gave us a chance there at the end. Bellock is a warrior; she got beat a couple of times, but look at what she did for the whole ball game. It's hard for us to play two bigs against this team because of their speed. Because a couple of times they ran right down and hit a 3 on Bellock because she didn't realize they had four guards in there, and she ended up on O'Neill and O'Neill just drilled it right there in front of her face. That's the advantage they have going to four guards. Sometimes we maybe should have countered it ourselves."
On not stretching lead at beginning of game
"I thought it was huge. We were doing a good job, Bone early, of hitting Williams slashing in, or Walker. We got a couple of those layups, but I think we were standing around. The ball would be thrown into Bone and everybody would just be standing in place to see what Bone would do. We've got to move without the ball. We've got to do a better job, I've got to coach it better, and the best thing about our game is transition offense, and we didn't have it until the end of the ball game."
On Kentucky guarding Bone differently this game
"We were better able to run our sets there. They were making our point guards be forced out so much, and they had so much help. We were not reversing the ball and get it to the other side to attack from the back side. We just went strong right and strong left. It was sort of like the Green Bay Packers running weave right or weave left. We've need to come up with a little bit different offensive plan."
On Stallworth's play
"Stallworth hurt us the whole night. She's quick on her feet, she was the difference in the first half I thought. We couldn't control her. I was afraid we were going to get that second foul on Bellock, so I switched Bone over to guard her there at the end of the first half because Bone didn't have any at the time. But we've got to do a better job of playing denial into the post, and they had way too many post touches, but when you look at it, 29 to 6 off of turnovers. Most of our turnovers we forced at the end. They only had three turnovers at half, and give them credit. O'Neill ran good game for them, she did a good job."
Freshman Guard Courtney Walker
On Kentucky's tip play with one second on shot clock
"I was guarding Mathies. Really, we played it right. We were not letting Mathies get the ball. Her and O'Neill were pretty much who they were going to go to for a quick shot, unless if somebody was just wide open. We had it covered, O'Neill took a bad shot, and really, somebody just got loose on the back side, and when we went up for the rebound, the tip, of all places on the court, it went right to her."
Senior Forward Kristi Bellock
"I think our turnovers were just a lack of concentration, being too lackadaisical with the ball. We need to be more focused, more aggressive. We were trying to get the ball to the point guard, that was our main focus so we can get it down the court and run our offense. So when we had to pick it up, that's playing into their hands. Turning the ball over is something we definitely need to get better on, and that's definitely the turning point of this game and why we came up with the loss."
"We just wanted to play with more energy. After halftime, Coach Blair just said they had just played harder than us. They had gotten all the loose balls and all the loose rebounds. Our main thing was to come out, play hard, get all the loose rebounds, for our fans. They don't need to see that on our home court. We just turned it up a notch and got back in the game and just kept on going."
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
"I thought that was a great basketball game. Two really good teams going at it, played well tonight. We were fortunate to win. We have a lot of respect for Texas A&M and their program. They are a very talented team. There was a great crowd here tonight. We had to really play well to win the game, and to our player's credit, they did it. I just thank the good Lord we had the strength to prepare for this game and come down here under difficult circumstances against a great team and win a ball game. It was big for our team."
On first half play
"When you lose your best player and your senior leader, you're certainly concerned, but we had a lot of confidence in our team. And I think that goes to show you that we aren't really a one player team. We have some really tough minded players, and I just thought it was a beautiful first half of basketball by our team. They really moved the basketball and we talked about being patient offensively, and they were. They made some critical defensive plays when maybe the momentum was getting ready to swing Texas A&M's way. It was just a beautiful half of basketball, and I was real proud of our team."
On guarding Kelsey Bone
"That's another credit to our players; their preparation and having the strength of mind over two days. We played her very different than the first time. I thought we were fortunate to win in Lexington with her getting so many shots at the basket and off the glass. I don't know how our players could have done a much better job."
On losing big lead
"That was great composure, that was impressive I thought. I thought it was a terrific crowd tonight; it was really thunder coming down on us when they made their run. And as a coach who has been in these positions here before, I thought when we had it at 12 and kind of fiddled around a little bit and didn't build the lead, it kind of had the feeling they were going to make a run, and I tried to get prepared for that. I thought the bench did a great job, the players on the floor kept their composure, and you just need to make one play. A'dia came off the nice little set we had for her, great composure, shot fake, let them go by, and stuck the jumper that got us back going. Players have to make plays in this kind of game. This kind of game to me is more about players than it is about any coaching you can do. I'm just really impressed with our players tonight."
Senior Guard A'dia Mathies
On guarding Kelsey Bone
"We just tried to swarm her and tried to get as many defenders. She's big, and she had a good day against us in Lexington, so we wanted to push off the block as much as we can and tried to get some little guards for when she dribbled to try to swipe the ball out of her hands. We did a good job tonight."
Junior Center DeNesha Stallworth
On her own performance
"Just being confident and believing in myself, and I knew my team really needed me tonight. I thought it was really important for me to step up, and I thought I did a good job. Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to do it because they never gave up and always believed in me."
Junior Guard Kastine Evans
On keeping composure after losing lead
"I just think it helped being in some bigger games already this season. We've been in a way where we had to come back against Arkansas, and then we've been up against Georgia and they come back and win. So you just have to learn against experiences you've been in. We don't want to be in an experience again where we're taking the loss. I think our preparation also helped us a lot and being prepared for the game and running our game plan, executing throughout the stretch and finishing out the game strong."