Lady Bears stumble on offense, can’t beat Aggies fourth time
By Matt Larsen
The fourth time was a charm for No. 2 seed Texas A&M as the No. 1 seed Lady Bears fell to the Aggies 58-46 in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament at American Airlines Center in Dallas Tuesday night in the final matchup between the Big 12’s two best teams.
Mulkey said she was amazed that her young team had posted a 34-3 record.
“Some of the things that we’ve been able to get away with through the course of those games this year, you’re not going to get away with when you play a team four times,” Mulkey said.
Even the tip-off boded ill for the Lady Bears as A&M corralled the ball sophomore Brittney Griner batted in the direction of senior Melissa Jones. The Aggies then struck first with a three from junior Sydney Carter.
Griner missed her first four field goal attempts. She earned a trip to the line but rimmed out both shots.
“You just keep going to her, and we did,” Mulkey said. “And we tried all night to keep going to her, and if we had another 10 minutes to play, we’d keep doing it.”
The 6-foot-8 post finally dropped her first bucket at 13:30 left in the first.
Griner didn’t catch fire, though. She would go another 10 minutes before connecting on her second field goal.
The normally 79 percent free-throw shooter sank just four of her first nine attempts.
“It wasn’t really anything A&M did,” Griner said. “Just poor shooting.”
With Griner struggling and Jones on the bench, the Lady Bears’ offense continued to sputter as the Aggies stretched their lead to as much as 11 with seven and a half minutes left in the half.
At that same point, Baylor was 3 of 20 from the field.
Griner, the Lady Bears’ second-ever AP All-American, went on the finish the half with 10 points and six boards.
Her team trailed 32-21 at the break with a 26.9 field goal shooting percentage and a 53.8 free throw percentage.
The maroon and white supporters reached their loudest point yet watching Tyra White strip Griner during a double team and lob it down court to Carter for a breakaway layup to go ahead 41-26.
The Lady Bears seemed ready to make a run with just over 13 minutes to go as Griner swatted White’s jumper attempt, grabbed the ball and tossed it up court to an open Brooklyn Pope for a layup.
As quickly as the Lady Bears seized momentum, they handed it right back as the sophomore forward picked up a technical foul following a rebound during which there was contact and Pope ended up on the floor.
Carter made one of two of the ensuing free throws to take a 44-28 lead.
After watching opposing seniors’ collegiate careers come to an end the past three games, Jones refused to go home too easily.
A pair of free throws from the captain sparked a 13-4 run for her young squad.
“We’ve come back from deficits more than that before,” Jones said. “We were still in it. We just needed the whole team to hop on board.”
“She never gave up,” Griner said of her fellow captain and the honorable mention AP All-American.
“On the court she kept telling us to keep our heads up and keep fighting. You saw she was fighting when she drove into the lane and just went flying.”
Down 48-41 with four minutes left to play, the Lady Bears watched a comeback literally slip through their fingers as a low pass slid through sophomore Kimetria Hayden’s fingers and into teammates’ hands on the bench.
The Aggies followed that turnover with a 10-5 run of their own to close out the win.
Mulkey said her heart goes out to Jones in her final game and admired her hustle and character in the closing minutes.
“That’s M.J.,” she said.
Still, the 11th-year coach knows she has two or three years left with most of her players.
“Just keep makin ‘em better,” she said.