No. 8-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball held No. 22 Georgia’s leader in scoring, rebounding and blocking to only four points, one rebound and 12 minutes played en route to a 60-48 win.
Just like in its previous four games, A&M started slow — only scoring nine points in the first quarter. Good defense by A&M and unlucky positioning for Georgia’s Jenna Staiti led to two quick foul calls to start the game. Following her second foul, Staiti, the Bulldogs’ senior center and team-leading scorer, went to the bench and played only two total minutes in the first half.
A late three-pointer from senior guard Gabby Connally gave Georgia a 12-9 lead heading into the second quarter.
"I kept trying to be positive in the first half when we were getting great shots, but some days the shots don't fall,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “That being said, when your offensive struggles do not carry over to the defensive end, you know it's going to be OK.”
The beginning of the second quarter saw continued offensive struggles for A&M. Starting four minutes into the first half, the Aggies went 3-of-16 shooting that lasted until the 5:09 mark of the second quarter. With a down-low bucket, senior center Ciera Johnson gave A&M a one-point lead midway through the second quarter.
The Aggies’ lead was short-lived, however, as Georgia responded with five quick points on a three-pointer from senior guard Que Morrison and a jumper from Connally. A&M’s senior standout N’dea Jones ended the quarter with a layup to tie the game at 22 looking into the second half.
At halftime, A&M honored its 2011 National Championship team in front of over 1,000 fans in Reed Arena. Former A&M guard Sydney Carter closed out the celebration by thanking the 12th Man for the role they played in securing A&M’s first and only national championship title.
"I appreciate our fans,” Blair said. “Today we saw the largest attendance of the season. I thought they carried us. They wanted to honor the past, but they also wanted to enjoy what we're doing in the present.”
Staiti returned for the Bulldogs to start the second half with two quick layups to give Georgia an early lead. She later picked up her third foul but stayed in for most of the quarter.
A&M quickly responded to the Georgia lead by way of senior guard Kayla Wells. Wells led the Aggies in the third quarter with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. The Aggies took the lead back early in the third, and Georgia did not come close for the remainder of the game after being outscored 38-26 in the half.
"I just think our shots started falling more,” Jones said. “In the first half it was kind of hard. I credit [Georgia], because their defense is really good. I think it was us just trying to knock down our shots and we really looked to attack a lot more, especially to get them in foul trouble. That is what works for us and we are pretty good at the free-throw line. Our mentality was to really attack."
Two more fouls in the fourth quarter for Staiti sent her to the bench with five. With Statiti only playing 12 minutes in the game, A&M easily won the game at the post with 34 points in the paint to Georgia’s 12.
“We knew that they wanted to get the ball inside,” Johnson said. “A lot came from [Jenna] Staiti being in foul trouble as well, so they didn't really have their go to post presence in the paint. We did give up a few threes, but overall, taking away the paint was one of our goals today."
A&M’s impressive performance in the paint helped them overcome going 0-of-4 from beyond the arc, with no made three-pointers for the first time this season.
“We didn't need to make any three-pointers to win this game, because our defense played that well,” Blair said. “Our team also does an excellent job of taking timely charges over the course of the game. I think we drew three or four offensive fouls, and each one of them was necessary to alter the ebb and flow of the game. Our faster pace on offense and good defense in the second half allowed us to pull away when we needed to."
A&M’s Jones scored 15 points and grabbed 12 boards to record her 12th double-double of the season and the 38th of her career. Jones is currently ranked first in the NCAA in double-doubles and is ranked third in the SEC in rebounds per game.
Johnson said competing against a ranked opponent in front of the Aggie’s 2011 National Championship team added a sense of pride for the team.
“We would be doing them a disservice if we didn't come out here and play hard,” Johnson said. “I don't think if we walked away from this game, even if we did win and didn't play hard, I don't think we could walk away happy in front of them. They have done so much for this program."
The Aggies will remain at home for their next game on Feb. 4 against LSU. In their last matchup, LSU handed A&M its only loss of the season.