TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — A season that began with such promise for Texas A&M ended with an abrupt exit from the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies couldn’t keep up with quick, hot-shooting Arkansas-Little Rock in a 69-60 opening-round loss on Saturday.
“They were the best team on the floor,” Blair said. “It had nothing to do with injuries or missed shots or whatever. Right now they’re playing basketball than us.”
It was a sweet career victory No. 700 for Blair’s good friend, UALR coach Joe Foley.
“Tops right now,” he said. “Top game. It’s unbelievable, playing against a friend, playing in the NCAA Tournament. It was fun. And to play as well as we did. We played great, and we deserved it.”
Taylor Gault scored a season-high 25 points, Kiera Clark added a career-best 22 for the 11th-seed UALR. Courtney Williams, playing on her birthday, scored 23 and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Aggies (23-10).
UALR (29-4) led almost the entire game.
The Aggies (23-10), who opened the season 11-0, were without point guard Jordan Jones, SEC defensive player of the year the last two seasons, who tore an ACL against Missouri on Feb. 26. The Aggies lost that game and three of the four after that.
UALR led by as many nine in the first half but Texas A&M scored the final nine points of the half to lead 28-27 at the break.
The Aggies took their biggest lead at 34-31 when Tori Scott scored inside with 16:40 left. They would never lead again.
Gault sank a 3-pointer to ignite a 9-0 run, then capped the outburst with a jumper in the lane and the Trojans were up 40-34.
“Taylor Gault was by and far the best player on the floor,” Blair said. “It wasn’t even close.”
UALR repeatedly responded to threats from the much bigger Texas A&M.
The Aggies were down just 48-46 after Williams’ 15-footer with 8:09 to play, but the Trojans’ Alexius Dawn sank a 3-pointer, her only field goal in eight attempts, to boost the lead back to 51-46. Williams’ inside basket with 6:37 left cut it to 53-50.
On the next possession, with the shot clock almost at zero, Gault let fly for another 3.
“She’s done it over and over, but under this situation and the game we’re in today, the pressure, I mean she’s got ice in her veins,” Foley said. It’s unbelievable what she does.”
Texas A&M cut it to 63-57 when Williams made two free throws with 1:09 to go before UALR put the game away from the free throw line.
After the 3:13 mark, the Aggies missed nine shots in a row before Williams made a 3 with 17 seconds to go.
“The offense that Arkansas ran, they kind of had a lot of movement and you had to do a lot of thinking real quick,” Williams said. “It could get mentally tiring, but you have to suck it up. And we really didn’t have it today. But I think we could get in a little better shape.”
Gault made 5 of 7 3s. Clark, who didn’t start but played 38 minutes, scored 16 in the second half, when the Trojans shot 52 percent in the second half and outscored Texas A&M 42-32.
“We were dead tired,” Blair said. “We couldn’t guard their 3-ball, because basically we were to tired to get it.”
He said it’s a good lesson for a team that returns most of its players next season.
“We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and find out what are we doing to become a top 10 basketball team,” Blair said. “‘Maybe getting kicked in the butt and slapped around a little is going to be good for us.”
UALR: Gault’s career high is 33 against Tulsa on Nov. 12, 2012. … Point guard Ka’Neesha Cobbins was in the starting lineup. She was questionable with a sprained left ankle. … School officials are trying to get people to use the UALR initials and not Arkansas-Little Rock.
Texas A&M: Texas A&M was ranked as high as fourth early in the season. … Aggies leading rebounder for the season Achiri Adi drew two fouls in the first 1:40 and sat out most of the first half. … Aggies lost to UALR in their first meeting, then had won the five since then.
UALR: plays Arizona State on Monday.
Texas A&M: season over.
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