In the first game of the season, junior Ciera Johnson finished with a career-high in points, as the Texas A&M women’s basketball team dominated the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 78-35.
In a matchup between familiar opponents, the No. 6 Aggies coasted for much of the game after building a double-digit lead early in the second quarter.
“I thought we were focused,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “We knew what we wanted to do. Even when we got down 9-4, we were taking good shots, and all of a sudden we started getting the ball inside at will.”
On offense, Johnson was the focal point of the Aggies offense, scoring 18 first half points and going 9-for-10 shooting. She finished the game with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
“I'm just a lot more comfortable, I would say,” Johnson said. “Getting last year under my belt, I was rusty, I hadn't played a game in a year. I think this year I was kind of a little bit more comfortable and the girls look for me a lot more and my confidence is a lot better.”
Defensively, A&M was able to keep Arkansas-Little Rock from gaining any momentum offensively. With a sturdy protection of the paint, the Aggies forced the Trojans into 14 turnovers while holding them to 27.6 percent shooting.
After the match, Blair said he gives credit to the defensive gameplan from assistant coach Bob Starkey.
“I'd like to give a lot of credit to Coach Starkey because defensively he did a tremendous job of not allowing them to get the ball inside in the paint,” Blair said. “We forced them into taking shots that they didn't want. We worked as hard on that to get ready for Little Rock as we did to get ready for Mississippi State or South Carolina. Give Coach Starkey a lot of credit, he had their attention.”
Junior guard Chennedy Carter finished with 16 points and six assists. N’dea Jones finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds, while also making nine of her 10 free throws.
One area of concern, Blair said, was the lack of attendance for the matchup, with only 2,758 in attendance for the game. Last year’s opener against Rice had an attendance of 4,043.
“I'm proud of the fans that were here,” Blair said. “I'm embarrassed for the fans that were not here. We're the highest ranked team at Texas A&M right now that's currently playing, and I think we deserve a little bit more. We're going to play the U.S. Olympic team, that at least eight out of 12 of those will be on the Olympic team in Tokyo. If you're not going to come out to see the sixth ranked team, then at least come out to support the Olympians. The Red, White and Blue, they deserve every bit of it.”
In their next matchup, the Aggies prepare to face the U.S. women's national team on Thursday. After the match, Carter said she is excited to be able to compete against the nation’s top athletes.
“We're going to play hard and we're going to compete,” Carter said. “I think it will be a good game. It'll be a measuring stick for us. I think our team is ready. We're embracing the moment and we're going to continue to play hard and win regardless of who is in front of us.”
Tip off against the national team is set for 7 p.m. at Reed Arena on Thursday. The game can be streamed on SEC Network+.