The numbers tell the story of the (basketball) Battle of the Brazos, tonight in Texas A&M’s Reed Arena, as a crowd of 10,265 watched as Baylor struggled but emerged victorious as an undefeated team with the final score of 69 to 62, Baylor winning.
In what can best be described as a heated contest, it was hard to tell where more of the heat was coming from—the animated, electrified Aggie-edge crowd, or the tops of the heads of head coaches Gary Blair and Kim Mulkey as each had more than their fair share of referees’ calls not go to their liking.
Officials Tina Napier, Lisa Jones, and Felicia Grinter would not win any popularity contests after tonight’s inconsistent officiating that just seemed to the audience to be beyond belief, much less understanding. At one point near the end of the game, the score was close, with Baylor 2 points ahead, as all of us in the crowd saw what has to be the weirdest play all season. Everyone saw the basketball slip out of the hands of a Baylor player, hit the top of the head of the referee standing on the sidelines.
The ball bounced off the ref’s head, then back onto the basketball court, where it was put back into play by the Baylor player, who then scooted down the court, made a shot and drew a foul against the Aggies, went for the extra point and made it. Coach Blair challenged the legality of that shot but walked away shaking his head silently after one of the referees ‘explained’ it to him. Surreal. Unreal. For real. The ref’s head should have been credited with an ‘assist.’
That unique call aside, the game was delayed over and over all night long, with one referee or the other being called over to talk to Coach Mulkey or Coach Blair. Each referee had to stand there and explain this or that call to each coach, depending on which way the call went. The officiating should never decide the outcome of the game and in actual fact it really didn’t, since there were (in this writer’s opinion) an equal number of screwy calls against both teams. Or at least stupid calls, based on the commentary emanating from all the unofficial referees in armchair season ticket seats. Many games are played in Reed Arena without people getting upset at the officials, but tonight was not one of those nights.
Back to the part about the numbers deciding the outcome. It’s safe to say that this game was lost by Texas A&M’s inability to make a free throw. The first half of the game saw 50% free throw shooting, to Baylor’s 80% accuracy. The second half of the game saw A&M at 44.4% to Baylor’s 83.3%. Those numbers are the key to where the Aggies handed Baylor the key to the limo to ride to the next level of competition as an undefeated team that will likely remain at the number 1 spot, for at least a week longer.
Aggie standouts Tyra White and Sydney Carter played every minute of the 40-minute game. Tyra wound up with 14 points and was 5 of 14 shooting from the field and a disappointing 4 of 10 free throws. Sydney Carter made 13 points, the second leading scorer, shooting 5 for 16 field goals, and making 2 of her 4 free throws. To be fair, Tyra showed such grit and determination in her pure muscling her way through traffic to reach the basket. White had adrenalin and fury powering her where she should never have been able to withstand all 40 minutes without respite. She had been Gary Blair’s go-to player for shooting all season long, and she wasn’t about to let the team down. She had two offensive rebounds and 4 defensive rebounds.
In like measure, by sheer will and strength of character alone did Sydney Carter literally give the Aggies everything she had in her to do her best for the final home game at Reed Arena. Anyone watching at home or on TV knows full well that Carter was playing hurt. Even Asst. Atheltic Trainer, Mike “Radar” Ricke went over to Sydney during one time-out to see if he couldn’t talk her into sitting down long enough for him to look at what seemed to be an ankle she was favoring. Carter wouldn’t have any of it and she just ignored the pain and pretended like nothing was wrong. That kind of leadership and giving in behalf of her teammates is what makes Carter a leader among women.
Adaora Elonu was among the brightest spots in the first half of play, and she scored 12 total points and grabbed 3 rebounds while making 5 of her 6 shots from the field as she made both of her free throw shots and managed those points in just 25 minutes of play. Elonu showed pro caliber play as she had four personal fouls but each foul seemed worthwhile as the Aggies showed the Lady Bears one hard row to plow, all night long.
Speaking of foul calls, the calls on Aggie players were plentiful. In fact, had they made as many free throws as they racked up personal fouls, this team could have emerged the victor. Kelsey Bone played 24 minutes and was 5 of 7 on her field goals for 10 points, but missed both free throws. Alexia Standish only took one shot all night and missed it but she was in it to win in all 17 minutes she played. She racked up 4 personal fouls and gave her opponents a really bad night. Her ball handling skills were the best ‘street ball’ you’ve ever seen, as she whipped right and left, spun, and moved the basketball behind her back as she shifted directions on the floor.
Adrienne Pratcher spelled Standish as she played 23 minutes and garnered 3 personal fouls, along with 4 points. Karla Gilbert went in and out of the game whenever Bone scored a personal foul and yet Karla managed to acquire 5 personal fouls as it took just that kind of ‘in your face’ playing to really do a number of Baylor’s offense.
Kelsey Assarian played 15 of the hardest minutes of regulation basketball you’ve ever seen in your life, and she was 1 of 2 field goals for 2 points, but her presence was vital and she intimidated Baylor’s shooting specialists and made their ‘day at the office’ oh so very hard to bear. But what’s in a number, anyway? What do box scores tell you, truly?
All these statistics do is make the numbers-people happy. What was really going on down on the floor was the containment of the Baylor Bears, pure and simple. Time and time again, the shot clock went down to 2 and 3 seconds and Baylor struggled to take a shot as the Aggies played some of their best defense, ever, and not only prevented Baylor from running away with the show, they shut down the Bears over and over. Shot clock buzzers showing time expired seemed to surprise the Bears, who couldn’t believe the hand-waving, ‘I’m right in front of you and you’re not going anywhere’play from the Aggies.
And, had there been five more minutes of regulation play, there still might have been a different outcome. The final minutes of play saw Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims both playing with 4 personal fouls, while their teammates, Kimetria Hayden, Jordan Madden, and Destiny Williams each were playing with 3 fouls apiece. Good defensive play by the Aggies contributed to the Bears’ racking up fouls as fast as their scored points.
Vic Shaeffer was on his feet, often, tonight but it wasn’t to scream at his players. Instead, most times, he was welcoming them back to the sidelines after a job well done. In fact, Blair and Schaeffer, Kelly Bond, and Johnnie Harris were all proud of their team for giving it their all tonight on the court. It could be that, some three hours after the game has ended, the team is collapsed in a heap of exhaustion and still in the dressing room showers, and no one would be surprised. There seemingly wasn’t enough Gatorade to replenish lost electrolytes poured out in sweat equity all over the floor of Reed Arena tonight.
Compared to the previous matchup 16 days ago in Waco, the Aggies have come a long, long way in a short time. Although they did not emerge the victors in tonight’s battle, the Texas Aggies showed the Big 12 the fight of its life tonight at Reed Arena. Each woman on the team and each coach, trainer, assistant, and staffer on the Aggie sidelines has every reason to be proud of this team, the defending national champions, presently ranked by the AP poll as No. 17 nationally.
And tonight, there was finally a crowd there to watch, thanks to the Women’s Rowdies, Double Dave’s pizza and the 12th Man Ticket office offering students free admission tonight only. [Memo to TAMU Athletics gurus: Please do that again, often, until you have capacity crowds for women’s basketball games. Don’t worry, you’ll still make money on the concessions.]
The impending Texas A&M move to the SEC means the end of a long-term rivalry with Baylor, one ‘almost’ as intense as the Texas A&M-University of Texas rivalry. And though the Aggies did not end the contest with a ‘W’ in the column, they ended it with class, determination, and they gave it their dead level best. Rough, tough, real stuff. That’s Texas A&M.