The future for the Texas A&M women’s basketball program looks much brighter after Thursday night’s 69-45 season-opening victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Reed Arena.
The Aggies made head coach Joni Taylor’s debut a smashing success by putting the game away with a 14-0 run in the third quarter.
A&M-Corpus Christi put the Aggies on their heels to open the second half with a 6-0 run to pull within 38-32, the closest the Islanders had been since late in the first quarter. A&M-Corpus Christi, picked to win the 10-team Southland Conference, applied full-court pressure on the Aggies while they brought the ball down court, falling back into a zone press that forced two turnovers and a missed shot.
A&M took a timeout then hurt the Islanders on both ends of the floor over the next seven and a half minutes with the fast-paced game Taylor has been installing since replacing retired Hall of Fame coach Gary Blair. A&M-Corpus Christi was 0-for-5 shooting with eight turnovers over that stretch. The Aggies were effective, if not great, on offense hitting 6 of 16 shots with only one turnover. All but three of A&M’s points during the run came off turnovers.
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“I would have been a lot happier if I wouldn’t have had to call the timeout,” Taylor said.
A&M-Corpus Christi was the one that needed to take a timeout in the first half after the Aggies scored 10 unanswered points for a 13-6 lead. Sydney Bowles got A&M rolling with back-to-back 3-pointers. Fellow freshman Janiah Barker hit a 17-foot jumper, and junior Sahara Jones scored on the fast break during the run.
A&M controlled the rest of the first half for a 38-26 halftime lead, hitting 48.4% from the field with only eight turnovers.
“We cannot come out to start the third quarter and be flat, and that’s exactly what happened,” Taylor said. “Yes, they had a different defense, but we knew that could happen, and to not be ready for that was disappointing obviously. But the good thing is they responded.”
A&M-Corpus Christi, which went 19-10 last season and opened this season with a 69-49 loss at Texas Tech on Monday, wasn’t able to mount a threat after A&M’s big third-quarter run.
The Islanders had 22 turnovers, nine of them in the third quarter. They also shot only 32.7% from the field.
“I’ve been saying our defense needs to generate our offense, and that’s what happened for us in the fourth quarter,” Taylor said.
A&M held Islander forward Alecia Westbrook to two points on 0-of-3 shooting and five rebounds and senior guard Makinna Serrata to 10 points. Both are returning All-Southland Conference players.
Bowles led a balanced attack with 13 points, hitting 4 of 11 shots, including a trio of 3-pointers as A&M was 6 of 16 from long range.
“You always want to start out with a win, but [it’s] back to the drawing board,” Bowles said. “The next 24 hours we are preparing for [Army on Sunday]. It is good to win, but we also need to be prepared to move on to the next.”
The 6-foot-4 Barker added eight points, hitting only 3 of 13. But she had a game-high eight rebounds, a game-high six steals and three blocks. She picked up fouls early which seemed to affect her game.
“She puts a lot of pressure on herself,” Taylor said. “You want a player who puts that kind of pressure on herself, but she has to understand she’s so dynamic in so many ways, she has so much value and she doesn’t need to put all her pressure on making shots.”
A&M sophomore guard Tineya Hilton had 10 points, hitting 5 of 8 field goals with a game-high six assists. The 5-7 Hilton played a handful of games at Georgia for Taylor, while Bowles and Barker originally signed with the Lady Bulldogs but followed Taylor to Aggieland.
They were complemented by junior guard Sahara Jones (11 points), super senior forward Aaliyah Patty (six points, seven rebounds, three blocks), graduate point guard McKinzie Green (eight points, three assists) and senior center Sydnee Roby (eight rebounds, six assists) — all part of 11 returning players.
Taylor envisions the 5-6 Green taking command of the offense and being an elite defender.
“She’s someone who can really wreak havoc on the defensive end, and then offensively she needs to run our team, get people in good positions,” Taylor said.
A&M, which didn’t play an exhibition game, missed four of its first five shots and had a turnover, but the Aggies quickly settled in.
“I think it was excitement. It wasn’t really nervousness,” Hilton said. “It was the first game coming in and having a new environment for me seeing all the fans. It was excitement for me.”
A&M, which ended last season with six straight losses to finish 14-15 and end a string of 15 straight NCAA tournament appearances, will play Army at 2 p.m. Sunday at Reed Arena.