Following the greatest comeback in the history of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Texas A&M must now focus on playing an efficient UCLA team at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Monday night in a second-round matchup.
The fifth-seeded Aggies trailed by 17 points entering the fourth quarter against No. 12 Penn and at one point were down by 21 in the final period.
A 25-1 run put Texas A&M (22-11) ahead 60-59 with 19.1 seconds left and the Aggies went on to win 63-61 in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Regional. The Aggies went to full-court pressure and the Quakers turned the ball over 12 times and went cold from the field, not converting a basket for the final 8:58 of the game. The Quakers missed their final 10 shots.
Khaalia Hillsman, a center for the Aggies, scored 27 points with nine rebounds and shot 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.
“Games can still be won with heart and passion,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “That’s what an Aggie is all about. Never count us out.”
Fourth-seeded UCLA (24-8) comes off a convincing 83-56 win over No. 13 Boise State on Saturday.
The Bruins shot 58.2 percent from the field and converted 58.8 percent of their shots from beyond the three-point arc. Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke, both guards, each notched double-doubles. Canada scored 15 points and achieved a school-record-tying 16 assists. Burke scored 14 and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“It’s just Jordin’s ability to get into the lane and that starts our offense and everything else we do,” UCLA coach Cori Close said about the team’s hot shooting. “Our ability to attack into — that sort of eight-foot area right around the goal — it sets up everything else later.”
Texas A&M will also face a deep UCLA team. Four Bruins scored in double figures against Boise State.
Forward Monique Billings, who sat out most of the fourth quarter because of foul trouble, led all scorers with 19 points.
“It can’t be just me and Jordin,” Billings said. “The role players, key players, need to step up and I think that’s what they did today.”
A concern for the Bruins, especially facing an inside presence such as Hillsman, is their rebounding. Boise State outrebounded the Bruins 39-37.
“That’s something we’ve really got to focus on,” Canada said of the rebounding. “When we focus on that, we’re really great in transition.”
Hillsman acknowledged that if Texas A&M falls behind early to UCLA it will most likely be a different story than what happened in the miraculous comeback against Penn.
“In the fourth quarter (against Penn), we just showed incredible heart and passion,” Hillsman said. “We didn’t want our seniors to go out like that so we just gave them everything. We put it out on the floor.
“Thank God it worked out in our favor. We can’t do that against UCLA though.”