No. 20 A&M women fall short against No. 6 Kentucky
Something about top-10 teams just seem to give Texas A&M problems.
The No. 20 Aggies squandered a six-point halftime lead, losing 65-62 to No. 6 Kentucky on Thursday night.
A game they seemed in control of while leading 37-31 at the break and shooting 59 percent slipped away in a second half that featured 32-percent shooting, 11 turnovers and their failure to utilize their biggest strengths - center Kelsey Bone and forward Kristi Bellock.
Texas A&M was left with its fifth loss against a top-10 team as a result.
''We've played five top-10 teams and have yet to get a win, but we feel like we turned a corner by keeping this game competitive,'' said Bone, whose game highs of 27 and 15 rebounds kept the Aggies (12-5, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) close.
''Kentucky played like the experienced team that they are. Teams know we are lacking a little bit of experience, but we can't let be an excuse. We've got to find a way to close out.''
A couple more baskets down the stretch certainly would've helped against a Kentucky team that kept giving A&M chances.
Despite losing their halftime lead and trailing 63-57 with three minutes left, the Aggies pulled to 64-62 in the final minute and had a chance to tie the score on Peyton Little's 3-point attempt at the horn. But her shot bounced off the rim, like many others late in the game for A&M.
Aggies coach Gary Blair believes his team will learn from close losses such as this one.
''When you've won a national championship, you schedule up,'' said Blair, who led Texas A&M to the title two years ago. ''We'll be better in the long run because of our experience against five top-10 teams.''
Bellock added a career-high 16 points and 10 rebounds, her third career double-double, and Adrienne Pratcher had 10 points for A&M.
A'dia Mathies scored a team-high 23 points as Kentucky (15-1, 3-0) won its first meeting against the Aggies.
A&M came in having won 12 of 13 and in search of its second win against a ranked team in a week after beating then-No. 23 Arkansas last Saturday. The Aggies were also leading the SEC in several offensive categories, including 46-percent shooting and 17.8 assists per game.
Bone stood out as the SEC's top rebounder (10.0) and shooter (61 percent) and its second-best scorer (17.8), comprising a solid tandem in the post with Bellock.
Kentucky countered with one of the nation's best defenses, boasting the best turnover margin (plus-10.5) while holding opponents to 36 percent shooting. Stallworth and Walker meanwhile had formed a formidable post presence as well, combining for averages of 23 points and seven rebounds.
For the first 20 minutes, the Aggies' inside duo had the advantage.
Bone scored two quick layups over Walker while Bellock added two more baskets in helping A&M take an 11-7 lead. Kentucky couldn't get its trademark pressure defense going consistently and the Aggies widened their lead to nine points with Bone and Bellock setting the tempo: the pair combined for 24 points and 11 rebounds and got help from Pratcher (nine) and Courtney Walker (four) as A&M built its halftime lead.
Three-pointers by Stallworth and Mathies started the Wildcats on a 10-3 run in the second half for its first lead at 41-40, and the defense picked up the pace as well. Stallworth and Walker took turns defending the 6-foot-4 Bone but were better at it after the break, closing easy paths to the basket for her and Bellock, who had two points in the final 20 minutes.
''It's hard to simulate the pressure when you play Kentucky,'' Blair said. ''We walked through Alabama's pressure, but until you experience Kentucky's, it's tough to play against.''
Kentucky built the lead to 63-57 on Walker's tip-in with three minutes remaining but gave Texas A&M many openings in the final minutes with missed free throws. The Aggies failed to take advantage behind their own struggles near the basket, including one stretch with a minute left where they missed at least three layups.
Bellock is confident the Aggies will improve against the Wildcats in the Feb. 18 rematch in College Station, Texas. Maybe even prove that they can beat a top-10 team.
''I'm definitely excited to get a chance at Kentucky again,'' she said. ''It'll be a great environment at our house, and we expect to play better than we did today.''