Women's basketball prep for No.8 Penn State
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 00:11
For head coach Gary Blair and the No. 12 Texas Aggies, the opening stretch of the season is a gauntlet. A&M scheduled three Top-10 teams in a row in hopes of jolting itself into the form that brought a Sweet Sixteen banner to Reed Arena last season and a National Championship the season before.
A&M fell to No. 9 Louisville on the road by a bucket, 45-47 and will host No. 8 Penn State Wednesday in the second leg of a stretch that will conclude at home against No. 2 Connecticut.
Blair said his motivation in creating the schedule wasn’t rooted in wins and losses.
"When we made this schedule, we felt like our program was at a point to play this type of schedule and not have to worry about winning and losing but, more or less, competing and trying to become a better team against Top-10 teams,” Blair said.
Blair compared the scheduling to that of the football team.
"I think it's very similar to the football team having to open up against Florida,” Blair said. “You get better. Competition makes you better.”
Against Louisville, A&M used a 21-4 run to work its way back into the game on the road but ultimately fell short. Blair said the game was in A&M’s hands at the end.
“We should've won it,” Blair said. “Did we deserve it? No. We didn't deserve to win because of the mistakes.”
Blair said Penn State’s style differs from Louisville’s in key ways.
“I expect Penn State is a transition team where Louisville was not,” Blair said. “Louisville was more of a half-court team. Penn State is going to run the ball. They're very well coached and they're very athletic at the wing position and particularly at the guard position."
Last season’s senior class — hailed by Blair as among the best in school history — has graduated and there are holes to be filled. Just two years removed from a National Championship, none of the main contributors from that team remain.
Much of the scoring and interior presence Blair seeks will fall on senior center Kelsey Bone, who is the only returner of the four Aggies to average better than 10 points per game last season. Bone doubled the scoring output of her next closest teammate in the loss to Louisville with her 14 points. Her 12 rebounds were a team-high.
Bone said she embraces the highly competitive non-conference schedule.
“That’s why I’ve been playing basketball since I was 10 years old, for this week when we play No. 9 [Louisville], No. 8 [Penn State] and No. 2 [Connecticut],” Bone said. “That’s what it’s all about. Win, lose or draw it’s about coming out, competing and being on that stage.”
Sophomore point guard Alexia Standish emerged as a leader and contributor during A&M’s NCAA tournament run. Her standout three-point shooting will be called upon in her second season of college basketball.
However, Standish combined with fellow point guard Adrienne Pratcher to shoot just 2-of-15 from the field against Louisville. Conversely, centers Bone and Karla Gilbert combined for 21 points and 23 rebounds.
Despite the rough start, Pratcher — one of three seniors on the team — said the brutal early-season slate is a testament to Blair.
“Coach Blair and this program have come a long way in order to start out this season with three Top-20 teams,” Pratcher said. “I think this program is built around champions and continues to be built around champions. It says a lot about Coach Blair and what he’s done with this program.”
Tipoff against Penn State is set for 7 p.m. in Reed Arena.