Ask Texas A&M coach Gary Blair and Missouri coach Robin Pingeton for their analysis of their teams’ Thursday matchup, and the answers will contrast.
“This is a beautiful win,” Blair said.
But the game was far from pretty for Pingeton.
“It hurts. Losing is no fun. I’m probably the worst loser you’ll ever meet,” she said. In a game that was close throughout, defensive adjustments made the difference for the No. 17 Aggies (16-4, 4-0 SEC), as they topped Missouri (13-6, 2-4 SEC), 62-57.
After losing two straight games to ranked teams in Kentucky and Louisiana State, junior guard Morgan Eye wanted this game to be different.
Eye, the program’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals, made five shots from deep in the first half to give the Tigers a 33-29 lead going into the break.
Eye ran around screens from her teammates, allowing herself to get her shot off without dribbling.
“Morgan Eye, what a catch-and-shoot person,” Blair said. “That’s your next Ray Allen-type of kid.”
After one of her first-half treys, Eye pumped her fists.
“I was thinking ‘Not tonight,’” Eye said. “We were talking about that so much. We really wanted this one, and I felt like we kept fighting until the end. It doesn’t always work out, but we're just going to keep going to work like we always do.”
It didn’t work out for Eye in the second half, especially. She attempted one shot, a 3-pointer, in the second half. She missed.
After scoring 15 points in the first half, she had just four in the second.
Eye’s difficulty in the second half was a result of Texas A&M’s defensive adjustments, Blair said.
“In the second half we did a better job of getting out there instead of running into screens,” he said. “They were setting a lot of double screens; we were getting by the first one, we’d run right into the second one.”
Aggie guard Courtney Walker, who led Texas A&M with 22 points and nine rebounds while playing all 40 minutes, said the Aggies did a better job of making sure Eye was denied the ball in the second half, because any kind of space for Eye “is a shot and a make.”
It wasn’t just Eye whom the Aggies had to gameplan around. Senior forward Bri Kulas, Missouri’s leading scorer, had averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers.
“Walker had her for awhile, Scott had her for awhile, and nobody had her for awhile,” Blair said.
But for much of the game, two Aggies had Kulas. She was the recipient of double teams all game, resulting in her turning the ball over seven times.
“She’s just a great player,” Blair said. “(She's) one of the best in our league, but we made her work for it.”
As a whole, Missouri's offensive skill set – typically four 3-point shooters on the floor and every player capable of driving to the basket – caused the Aggies to play defense in a non-traditional way. Though Blair’s team has two centers measuring over 6-foot-5, the Aggies played much of the game without a traditional center, which allowed Missouri to outrebound Texas A&M 38-33. But in the second half, Missouri’s offense didn’t click. The Tigers were 0-for-5 from 3-point range after the break, and they shot just 40 percent from the field in the second half.
The Aggies grabbed the lead less than a minute into second half and never relinquished it.
Missouri’s focus now turns to Mississippi State (14-6, 1-5 SEC), who the Tigers will play in Starkville on Sunday, Jan. 26.
After the Bulldogs, Missouri's next three opponents – Vanderbilt, South Carolina and LSU – are all ranked. “Our kids and our staff look at it as an awesome opportunity,” Pingeton said.