For the first time since accepting the head coaching job at Texas A&M, Joni Taylor faced off against her former squad, Georgia, after spending seven years as head coach of the Lady Bulldogs.
Coach Taylor could not ask for a better way to face her former team for the first time as the Aggies snapped their eight-game losing skid, seven in SEC play, with a 75-73 victory at Reed Arena on Jan. 22.
Throughout the week, Taylor preached to the Aggies that despite facing her former team, it was just another game.
“I love the University of Georgia,” Taylor said. “I was there for 11 years. In some ways I feel like part of me went to school there. The bond that I have with former players there and alumni is real. That’s a special place, but it’s the next game on our schedule just like when I went to Alabama last week.”
Taylor played basketball and also worked at the University of Alabama.
After not playing since the Aggies’ Nov. 30 matchup at Kansas due to a right wrist injury, freshman forward Janiah Barker saw her first action with 5:48 left to play in the first quarter, bringing a loud cheer from the fans in Reed Arena. Barker, ranked nationally as the No. 3 recruit in the 2022 class by ESPN, scored 8 of the Aggies 16 first quarter points capped off by a 3-point basket, bringing an even louder cheer from the fans in Reed.
Barker did not know until this morning at shootaround that she would be able to play in this matchup. It is important for A&M that she did as she led the team in scoring with 23 points off the bench.
“It just feels good to be back,” Barker said. “My hand is fine, actually feeling better.”
Sophomore guard, and Georgia transfer, Tineya Hylton also saw her first action coming off of injury. Hylton had not played since the Aggies’ Dec. 6 matchup at Little Rock.
In the past five games, A&M has played with only seven players. With Barker and Hylton back and healthy, the Aggies received much needed depth for SEC play.
“Playing in the SEC with seven people is tough,” graduate forward Aaliyah Patty said. “It’s tough physically and it’s tough mentally, so we’re glad to have bodies back giving us a breather, helping us through mental fatigue, and then also to help us with scoring.”
The game was back and forth from the start with the biggest lead coming from A&M mid-way through the 4th quarter, 65-56. Georgia proceeded to go on a 11-2 run to tie the game at 67-67 with just over two minutes left to play.
Barker made her presence known again in the game, knocking down a jump shot then going one-for-two at the free throw line to put the Aggies out in front 72-69 with 24 seconds left to play.
After both teams went to the free throw line and knocked down both shots, Georgia senior guard Alisha Lewis knocked down a 3-point basket from the top of the key, decreasing the Aggie lead to 74-73.
Sophomore forward Jada Malone proceeded to go one-for-two from the free throw line on the ensuing possession to put the Aggies up 75-73 with six seconds to go. Malone missed the second shot forcing Georgia to go the length of the court to try and win or force overtime but the 3-point shot from Lewis came up short and the Aggies celebrated their first conference win of the season.
The victory marked the first victory for the Aggies since their 57-49 win over SMU on Dec. 18. The Aggies improved to 6-12 on the season and 1-7 in SEC play as Georgia dropped to 13-8 and 2-5 in SEC play.
A&M will look to build off of this game as they will get right back to SEC play Sunday, Jan. 29, on the road against Vanderbilt.
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