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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Balanced offense lifts A&M to quarterfinal win over LSU

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Photo by Abbey Santoro

Senior guard Aaliyah Wilson recorded a career-high 15 rebounds against LSU in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

Avenging its 2020 SEC Tournament Quarterfinals loss to Arkansas, the Texas A&M women’s basketball team has turned a corner in 2021 and has advanced to the semifinals with a telling win over LSU.

A key reason for the Aggies’ success this season has been the selflessness they have displayed in each game, sophomore guard Jordan Nixon said.

“There’s no one person where as soon as it gets in their hands it’s not coming out or no one is out for ‘I’ or self,” Nixon said during a Tuesday press conference. “We all know that any one of us on any given day can do something really special. We’re open to that, there’s no fight for it. Whatever we need at that moment, whoever needs to make a big shot, make a big play, we all have faith in each other.”

Five Aggies scored in double figures on Friday as No. 1 seed A&M defeated LSU by a score of 77-58. Senior guard Kayla Wells extended her 10-game streak of scoring double-digit points with 16 against LSU, and Nixon, senior forward N’dea Jones and senior center Ciera Johnson followed with 12 points a piece.

A&M coach Gary Blair attributed some of his team’s success to their ability to perform late in the game and dissect LSU’s defense in the second half.

“Give LSU a lot of credit,” Blair said. “It’s hard coming back and playing 24 hours later. But our kids played well, and again played with that savvy you have to have in the second and the third quarter, which we did.”

LSU kept the game close throughout the first half thanks in part to a game-leading 26 total points for senior guard Khayla Pointer. A&M’s 16 paint points and nine made free throws are what ultimately gave the Aggies the upper hand with a 32-26 lead heading into halftime.

“I thought the first half it was the Me and N’dea show,” Johnson said. “[In] the second half the guards found their way and they took over for us. I feel like we had a really good balance inside. We were just, like, in the past we’ve been very hesitant when we played LSU. I thought today we were in attack mode. It paid off for us.”

Pointer and senior center Faustine Aifuwa led the Tigers through the second half as well and combined for 21 points in the third and fourth quarters. A&M’s presence down low would prove too much for the Tigers though, as the Aggies would outscore LSU 40-14 in the paint.

“When you’ve got somebody as good as Pointer and Aifuwa out there, that says a lot about our league,” Blair said. “I think [LSU coach Nikki Fargas] has done everything she can with this team. Yesterday’s game against Mississippi State, I mean, I didn’t sleep at all last night just thinking how could we beat it.”

Although she only scored two points, a career-high 15 rebounds for senior guard Aaliyah Wilson was invaluable for A&M, who outperformed LSU on the glass 44-34.

“She was getting every offensive free throw rebound you could,” Johnson said. “We miss a free throw [and] I’m like, ‘Dang.’ I see Wilson come out of nowhere and get the ball. ‘Yeah, we got the ball.’ She had a feeling when the shots weren’t falling, she said, ‘Shots ain’t falling, what else can I do?’ We needed every single one of our rebounds. She was my player of the game today.”

Blair continued the praise of Wilson and said his team’s depth allows players to contribute by doing more than just scoring.

“Wilson had 15 rebounds. We didn’t need her offense as much, but her rebounds, two blocked shots,” Blair said. “This team will do whatever it takes. If it isn’t their night, they’ll defer and find another way to help the team.”

Some second half foul trouble for A&M’s starting five gave several underclassmen the chance to maintain upward momentum for the Aggies. Junior guard Alexis Morris proved A&M’s depth with 13 points off of the bench and junior guard Zaay Green followed with five.

“[Alexis Morris] comes out and she changes the tempo for us,” Johnson said. “She’s looking to push. She can really score the ball offensively. So we needed every one of her points today. We definitely needed that boost off the bench. All practice and pregame, we’ve been talking about energy, energy, energy. She brought the energy for us.”

The Aggies will rest their legs before returning to take on Georgia in the SEC Tournament semifinals, Johnson said.

“We’re getting off of our feet. Whether Kentucky or Georgia wins, it’s going to be all about transition defense,” Johnson said. “We have to be springing back. It’s going to be a track meet tomorrow, whichever team, because both teams like to run and both teams are very physical. So we’re going to be off our feet.”

A&M’s semifinal matchup will be broadcast on SEC Network at 3 p.m. Saturday.

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