Watching Texas A&M beat Baylor in the Dallas Regional on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center reminded me of the days when Gary Blair used to coach at Stephen F. Austin. Those defenses used to wear people out. Forty minutes of hell, Gary used to call it.
Well the Aggies gave the Lady Bears hell on Tuesday night, winning 58-46. A&M’s win was all about defense, and not just what the Aggies did to Brittney Griner. Griner only scored 20 points and was held to 33 percent shooting. The same went for the team as a whole. In addition, the Aggies forced Baylor into 20 turnovers. By the time Baylor realized what had happened, the Aggies were on their way to the Final Four.
Many will remember that the Aggies were 1-3 against the Lady Bears during the 2010-11 season. Everyone will remember the one win.
I’m not a big Aggie person, as you may know if you read this blog. But, I’m happy for Gary, a coach who has toiled for a long time in women’s basketball. This will be his second Final Four, after taking a Cinderella Arkansas team in the 1990s. I certainly wish he had been able to take SFA one year (1993, specifically).
But I don’t like A&M’s chances in this Final Four. I think UConn and Stanford are on a collision course for the final, and that’s a re-match I’m looking forward to seeing.
Texas A&M created a nice template on how to defend the 6-foot-8 Griner. Physical play down low is a good start. But it really boils down to how you defend the rest of the team, because Griner will get her points. What A&M did that was so effective was stifle the other starters to the point where they seemed to exhibit no confidence shooting the ball in the second half. I actually saw capable shooters turn down open looks trying to get the ball to Griner. By then, the Aggies had a defender in front of Griner and a defender behind Griner, making it nearly impossible for her to get a clean look at the basket. The Aggies were daring the Bears’ outside shooters to beat them and they didn’t. At times, it seemed like they wouldn’t.
I spent most of Sunday about 20 feet from Herschel Walker. He could not have been nicer, even if he had tried. I bet he fielded at least 100 photo and autograph requests (including mine and my girl’s) and he just smiled, shook your hand and acted as if it was the first time anyone had ever asked him for such a thing in his life and he was happy to do it. Naturally, he was there to see Georgia, his alma mater. But he actually stayed for the first half of the Baylor-Wisconsin Green Bay game, I assume to get a first-hand look at Griner. And, by the way he’s 49 and he still looks like he could play today. And with the way things are going in the NFL right now, somebody might just give him a chance.
Oh, by the way, Georgia did not show up. At all. Not what I expect from an Andy Landers-coached team. Even with A&M playing defense the way it did.
Anyone who would dismiss Griner as a big girl who gets her points because she’s big hasn’t seen her play. She needs a little more meat on her bones, but that will come with two more years playing at the NCAA’s highest level. She may be the most athletic female player of that size I’ve ever seen.
Of the four teams, I was most impressed with Wisconsin-Green Bay. That team played a great ball game against Baylor on Sunday night. They weren’t the least bit intimidated by Griner or anyone else for that matter. It’s a shame they’re graduating most of that talent.
MVP of the championship game? Karla Gilbert of Texas A&M. Zero points, five fouls. Her job was to body up on Griner and keep Brittney Jones out of foul trouble. Mission accomplished.
Until next time …
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