COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP)-- Texas A&M wasn't exactly overjoyed after its victory over North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament on Sunday night.
The No. 3 seed Aggies were disappointed that they let tournament newcomer and 14-seed North Dakota stick around for a half before using a big run to pull away and cruise to the 70-55 win.
"We've got to play a lot better if we expect to go anywhere else in the NCAA tournament," coach Gary Blair said. "We're going to take the `W' and learn from it and grow from it."
Courtney Walker had 19 points and eight rebounds to lead Texas A&M.
The Aggies, who won the national title in 2011, were making their ninth straight appearance in the tournament and North Dakota was one of five women's teams in the tournament for the first time.
But North Dakota wasn't happy to simply compete well.
"It's tough to sit here and we're not the type of people that relish in any sort of moral victories," North Dakota coach Travis Brewster said.
North Dakota didn't look like a tournament rookie early. The game was tied late in the first half before Texas A&M (25-8) went on a 14-0 run which spanned the first and second halves to go on top 40-26 with 16 1/2 minutes remaining.
"By far this was one of the worst games we've played, but I was glad we were able to pick it up and pull it out in the second half," Texas A&M's Karla Gilbert said.
Madi Buck led North Dakota (22-10) with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Tori Scott and Walker made six points each in that stretch. North Dakota missed two shots at the beginning of the second half before Texas A&M's smothering defense forced them into turnovers on four straight possessions to help the Aggies build the lead.
"Credit them because they cranked it up and used all their strengths to their advantage," Brewster said of that stretch.
Blair thinks his team may have been a little off because it hadn't played since March 8.
"What we were not doing well was making good decisions," Blair said. "When you're off 15 days I think it really shows in your shooting percentage and sometimes in your thinking."
Gilbert added 14 points with eight rebounds and five blocks for the Aggies, who won in the opening round of the tournament for the eighth consecutive year. Gilbert has 64 blocks this season to become the first Aggie to have at least 60 in a season. Scott finished with 14 points and Jordan Jones had eight points and 11 assists for A&M. Jones set a school record for blocks in a season with 237.
Texas A&M will face No. 11 seed James Madison in the second round on Tuesday night.
North Dakota didn't score in the second half until a jump shot by Buck with about 16 minutes left. The team couldn't build on that though and Texas A&M scored the next six points to extend its advantage to 46-28.
Gilbert took over soon after that, scoring eight of A&M's points in a 10-5 spurt that made it 56-34 with 12 minutes remaining.
The Aggies had a 20-point lead with nine minutes left before a 15-7 run by North Dakota, with most of A&M's starters on the bench, cut the lead to 65-53 with less than two minutes to go. North Dakota made eight free throws in that time and Buck capped the run with a 3-pointer.
Blair called a timeout after Buck's 3 and had his arms crossed and shook his head as he slowly walked toward the players during the break.
Texas A&M led by seven points early before North Dakota used a 13-8 run to get within 18-16 with eight minutes left in the first half. Buck scored the last eight points of the run capped by a pair of 3-pointers.
The Aggies scored the next six points before an 8-0 spurt by North Dakota tied it at 24-all with two minutes left in the first half.
A free throw by Siri Burck tied it at 26-26 a few seconds later, but the Aggies scored the last four points of the half to take a 30-26 lead into halftime.
Team Record & Series Notes:
• With the victory, Texas A&M improved to 25-8 and advanced to the second round for the eighth consecutive year where it will face 11th seeded James Madison Tuesday night … The Aggies are now 19-9 all-time in 11 NCAA tournament appearances.
• The loss snapped North Dakota’s two-game winning streak and ended its season with a 22-10 overall record … UND is 0-1 all-time in Division I postseason play.
• Texas A&M now holds a 1-0 advantage in the all-time series between the two schools.
Texas A&M Team Notes:
• Texas A&M dominated in the paint, outscoring UND 34-22, including a 14-8 advantage in the first half.
• The Aggies held a 48-36 rebounding advantage, including 21 offensive rebounds leading to 14 second-chance points.
• After halftime, A&M charged out on a 10-0 run to take a then-game high 14 point lead just over three minutes into the second half.
• The Aggies outscored UND 40-29 in the second half, largely due to shooting 11 for 14 from the free throw line.
Texas A&M Individual Notes:
• With five blocks against UND, Karla Gilbert improved her season total to 64. Gilbert holds the A&M single season record for blocks and ranks second on the career list.
• Junior guard Tori Scott finished with 14 points, the Louisiana native scored 10 in the first half. Sunday’s game was her eighth reaching double-digits on the season.
• Sophomore guard Jordan Jones set the Texas A&M single season assist record with her 11 assist performance against North Dakota. The DeSoto, Texas, native tallied 237 assists on the season including at least 10 assists in each of her last five games. The sophomore needs just one assist to rank in the all-time top-10 list.
North Dakota Team Notes:
• North Dakota shot 75 percent (3 for 4) from beyond the 3-point line in the first half leading to a 33 percent (5 of 15) effort over 40 minutes.
• UND was outrebounded for just the fifth time this season, North Dakota falls to 0-5 in games in which they are outrebounded.
• North Dakota’s bench outscored the A&M bench 15-6.
North Dakota Individual Notes:
• Senior forward Madi Buck led UND with 22 points, Buck has scored in doubles figured in all but four games this season.
• Buck was 4 for 6 from beyond the 3-point line, it was her third game with at least a trio of 3-pointers this season.
• Junior center Emily Evers nearly registered a double-double with 9 points and 8 rebounds against A&M. Evers had three doubles-doubles on the season.
• Sophomore Mia Loyd was held to just 9 points in the game, the Minneapolis native was held below 10 points for just the seventh time this season.
POST GAME QUOTES – TEXAS A&M
Gary Blair, Head Coach
“Give North Dakota a lot of credit. I believe this is the fifth or sixth first-timer that we have played in the tournament. By far North Dakota has played us better than all the others that we’ve had in the first round of the tournament. What we were not doing well was make good decisions. When you’re off 15 days, I think it really shows in your shooting percentage. We got back in the ballgame. The press was not effective in the first half. We don’t usually press that much anyways, but the second half it was. Our transition basketball was very good. But, we got to play a lot better if we expect to go anywhere else in the NCAA tournament. We will just use this as a day that we were not at our best, and I’m sure Travis probably said the same thing with North Dakota. We’re going to take the W. We’re going to learn from it; we’re going to grow from it. We’ve got to play a very good James Madison team on Tuesday night.”
On locker room speech at half:
“Unfortunately ESPN was in there at my halftime. My assistants said to me, ‘My gosh coach, you were so hard on them at halftime right there. The whole nation heard that.’ But, we had to win a ballgame. We had to find a way to win a ballgame and sometimes you just can’t keep patting athletes on their back all the time. We needed those four points before half that gave us a lot of momentum. And that’s just their character. I think we responded well. We came out, fired at them right at the start of the second half, built the lead, got it over 20. But, it wasn’t the speech. I didn’t have to say a thing. I think our kids knew. When you have Jordan (Jones) and Karla (Gilbert) sitting on the bench as much as we did in the first half, that really hurts your offensive flow. As a result my bench went 3 of 15, 0 of 4 from free throw line. They did a couple of nice things, but other than that I’ve got to have more production from the bench. Williams is not normally going to shoot 3 of 13, but everybody else was about right on their average—what they normally shoot. I’ve got to have production. (Rachel) Mitchell, it’s like that old Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” sometimes, but she can help us, and I can waste some fouls because she intimidates in there and does a good job of blocking shots or changing shots. I’ve made up my mind when Karla gets her first foul she’s coming out until the referees settle down, until Karla settles down, until Karla realizes that I’ve got to have her for 28 minutes of the ballgame at least.”
On getting the ball in the paint:
“We got some great touches inside. We just didn’t have the finishes. Achiri (Ade) didn’t finish well. Mitchell didn’t. Jada (Terry) missed one. Karla missed some early. Williams missed some. This team does a good job of blocking shots and contesting. They weren’t just up there playing bank robber defense. They were contesting us pretty good, and we were just not doing a good job of finishing. We wanted to start the game inside first. I was really surprised they opened up playing us man. I think when we got the 10-5 lead they switched to a zone, like everybody else in the country plays us. Our zone offense was not very good. I think it kept them in the ballgame, because it kept them out of foul trouble. You have to have a balance inside and outside. Hopefully, we will have that against James Madison.
On Walker’s performance:
“I come to expect it, and I really didn’t think this was one of her better ballgames. Look at the stat line. You’d die to have that stat line. But, I thought she got tired at the end. Their middle person was coming out and contesting her shot, and that is usually a guard’s job. But, their middle was doing a good job of coming out, and she was shooting it short. But my gosh, what a player, she rarely takes a bad shot. I’ve got to give her a little bit of rest because she’s going to be hard-pressed to play 40 minutes against James Madison. That’s why I’ve got a good bench. Knox, Jennings and Grant, they all came in. I started Tori because I felt like North Dakota was a four-guard offensive team. That’s basically what James Madison is also. I started Tori mainly just to get us into transition, and she’s better in the press than Achiri or Williams. So, we’ll have to see what we come up with on Tuesday night.”
On playing press against James Madison:
“No they will handle that press a whole lot better. Their guards are excellent. They want an up-tempo game. North Dakota did not want an up-tempo game. They wanted a half court ballgame. They did a good job of breaking our press in the first half. Give them credit. James Madison wants us to press them, because I promise you they want to go up and down. When you’ve got (Kirby) Burkholder in there, what a load she is. She was shooting 1 of 10 at one time and had 13 rebounds during that same time. Quick release, she’s got it all. I’m very impressed. What type of game we want—we want to win the boards like we did tonight, play a little bit better defense on the half court against those good guards, and stop their transition.”
On a having a great start against James Madison:
“First thing, the NCAA committee seeded James Madison wrong. They are a whole lot better than their seed. Look who they’ve played. They played North Carolina, a three. I think they beat Vanderbilt. They beat St. John’s at St. John’s by 15, a team that we lost to. I think they should have been an 8-9 seed. I’m sure Kenny probably thinks the same way. But it doesn’t matter they went and took care of business against a good Gonzaga team. I was sitting there watching that first half and I didn’t know who I wanted to play. I was hoping it would go eight overtimes and they would be a little tired. Their execution is so good. James Madison shares the ball. We are going to have our hands full in this ballgame, because they play with a little bit of a swag. They have got a lot of confidence in their game and in their selves. I want us to get that swag back. I want our guards to play like we did against Auburn and Tennessee, not like what we played today.”
On importance of consistency:
“Ronnie, I might be old but I still got some bills I have to pay. Texas Bank and Trust owns a lot of mortgages for me. We are going to get off to a good start. We never overlook anyone at any time. Like I said yesterday, it’s good that we get to see the men play first, and I can use all the motivational talks about a 15 beating a two, and an eight beating a one and all that type of stuff. I don’t take anything lightly, and I’m definitely not going to take James Madison lightly. I think it will be a very guard-orientated ballgame. I think both teams have very good guards. I think James Madison ended up shooting only 36 percent, so it wasn’t their best offensive night. It wasn’t our best offensive night. Sometimes, that’s the pressure of the NCAA tournament.”
Jordan Jones, Sophomore, Guard
On team struggles during game:
“Really just intensity, getting back into the flow of our offense and of our game. Like Coach said, we were off for 15 days. I feel like we prepared very well in practice in those 15 days. We are a flow team and when we are flowing we are really hard to beat. You saw that in the second half. We really just wanted to have time. The coaches really just talked to us about how this is going to be a short season for us if we don’t pick it up. That was really our main focus. We needed to pick up the intensity, speed and quickness and get out of transition and it showed in the second half.”
On play between Jones, Walker and Williams that enthused the crowd:
“As you could tell, me and Courtney Walker feed off of each other a lot. We really just made that connection with one another and we know where each other are on the floor most of the time. We really just go through that in practice. We do a 3-on-2 drill. Us three really get into that drill a lot more than the others. It was basically repetition. I knew once Courtney passed the ball to me, the girl was going to run out and Courtney Williams diving down to the post. She could score on pretty much anybody when she wants to. It was all just a matter of good ball movement and running the floor. We have to give credit to the coaches because they just harp on that in practice. Transition, transition and that it really does matter. We really executed in transition in the second half.”
On feeling of becoming Texas A&M assist leader:
“It doesn’t feel like a national championship. Really, whatever it takes to get my team to that point is all I am concerned about at this moment in time. It’s a feeling.”
Tori Scott, Junior, Guard
On her performance:
“As Coach Blair always tells me, when I get on the floor I just need to be efficient and have energy. That’s what I tried to bring today. I tried to bring as much energy as I could by playing their best player and just running the floor.”
Karla Gilbert, Senior, Center
On if this being potentially her last game had an effect on her performance:
“I don’t really think so. I think, once again, not using this as an excuse, but with us being off the floor, you could tell the difference. You could tell we haven’t played a game in a while. Of course, knowing the possibility of it being your last game, it is always in the back of your mind. Other than that, I just think that it was an off game for us. I was just glad we picked it up in the second half.”
On if the team is disappointed in their performance tonight:
“Most definitely. One thing we harp on is not to sell ourselves short. By far, this is one of the worst games that we’ve played but I’m glad we were able to pull it out and at least pick it up in the second half.”
On how they will prepare for the next game:
“Just understanding what we did not execute well during the last game and what we need to focus on more and continue for the next game. We need to make sure we don’t do it again. Like we said, this is a one-and-out tournament. Everything is on the line.”
LOCKER ROOM QUOTES – Texas A&M
Courtney Walker, Sophomore, Guard
On getting only six points off the bench:
“Coach Blair has really been harping at the fact that all the games aren’t going to be perfect. We have to prepare for any foul trouble or anything like that. Somebody’s not shooting well. He’s really been preaching that people have to be ready to come off the bench and have a big game. We have several players that are capable of doing that. It just has to be done. Chelsea [Jennings] and Tori [Scott] did a really good job today. We’re really looking to go a little deeper with that.”
On James Madison:
“We have our scouts, so we’ll look at that tonight. But just the half we got to watch: They’re a really confident team. They have really good guards. They crash the boards really well. I noticed that their wing players really crash the boards and they get a lot of offensive rebounds in 20 and 24. So we really have to block them out, because we have had some struggles offensive rebounding of other teams on us this year. Really looking to run on them, too. They’re faster than North Dakota, but that’s one of our strengths, and really want to try to make that happen.”
On Gary Blair’s halftime speech after only being up 30-26:
“The halftime speech was interesting. We’re supposed to come out and dominate the first round. That really was expected. Even if you don’t dominate, you really just want to be playing your game and getting stops. Really our energy I think is what disappointed him the most.”
On the 12-0 run to start the second half:
“After already playing a half to be able to come out with that much energy, it shows what we could have done in the first half. We’ve really got to get our mind right and really focus on that for James Madison, because they’re faster. They’re more of what we’re used to playing in the SEC compared to North Dakota. So I think we might be a little more comfortable, but it’s also going to force us to come with a lot more energy.”
On North Dakota keeping it close:
“We really kind of struggled on offense in the first half. I think that came from us not getting our transition offense [going]. We won the rebound battle, but we really should have won it by a lot more, we feel like with our athleticism. So just to block out and rebound could have led to more transition in the first half. I think that would have separated the score a little bit more. As well as obviously our defense. They scored a lot more than they should have. We’ve held SEC teams to less points than that. We’re really capable of playing a lot better defense.”
Courtney Williams, Sophomore, Forward/Guard
On slow start:
“I feel like it was just a little nerves. Coach Blair was a little nervous. I think that also kind of affected us. So I feel like in the second half, once we got those little nerves out, we picked it up, and we started playing defense and getting stops and started running the floor. We should have been doing that in the first half – running it.”
On 4-0 run to end the first half and 12-0 run to start the second half:
“That was big. When Jada [Terry] came in the game, she got the block. I feel like every time Jada gets in the game, she makes something happen, whether it’s a rebound or whatever. She’s just an energy player. I feel like those four points were big, because it got us the lead. The second half we continued to keep that roll going and just extended the lead.”
On if it was disappointing not to win by more:
“A win is a win, but it’s disappointing to not be disciplined like we’re supposed to be. That was the disappointing part. But winning by more, we could have done that. But the disappointing part is not getting stops and not being disciplined like we need to be. We’re going to need that later in the tournament.”
On needing to play better vs. James Madison:
“We’re going to have to play a lot better against James Madison. They’re a great 3-point shooting team, just like North Dakota was, but even better. We’re going to have to run them off the 3-point line and be disciplined. If we’re not, we’re going to have it turn out like last year, and we really don’t want that to happen. We just have to be disciplined.