COLLEGE STATION -- In its Big 12 Conference opener, No. 12 Texas A&M battled to keep its nation-leading consecutive home court winning streak alive but could not catch up to a hot-shooting Kansas State squad with a 67-54 loss Wednesday night at Reed Arena.
It was A&M’s first loss at home since a 73-54 setback to ninth-ranked Oklahoma on Feb. 18, 2006. Three players scored in double figures for the Aggies (12-3, 0-1) including a team-high 17 points by junior Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) in her return to the lineup after suffering stomach viral symptoms that kept her out of the Stephen F. Austin game on Jan. 3.
The game may have started with of string of errors by both squads, but the momentum shifted as the offense picked up and K-State (9-5, 1-0) built a 19-9 lead with 11:43 remaining in the first half. A&M came within four points on eight consecutive points in a span of 43 seconds by Starks including two three-pointers at the 4:57 and 4:15 minute marks. Senior Morenike Atunrase (Shreveport, La.) followed it up with two fastbreak layups in the paint to tie the ballgame at 29-29 with 2:04 on the clock. Atunrase finished with 12 points and three rebounds.
K-State used a three-point barrage to take a 38-29 lead into halftime on threes by Shalin Spani and Ashley Sweat with 1:32 to go. The Wildcats were also able to stay composed against the A&M defense with only five forced turnovers at the half.
Junior Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) made a jumper under the basket at the 16:16 minute mark of the second half to give A&M its first lead of the game, 39-38. It sparked a 15-5 run by the Aggies, but K-State countered with its own scoring spurt as A&M was held without a basket for a 10-minute stretch until a jumper by Starks with 3:39 remaining. The Aggies, however, were sent to the free throw line in that time span and made 5-of-6 to stay in the ballgame. Gant turned in a near double-double performance with 14 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
The Aggies were unable to erase their double-digit deficit with last-second three-point attempts with under five minutes left on the clock. K-State built its largest lead of 14 points on a Lehning layup with 53 seconds remaining in regulation to seal the upset.
K-State was shooting on all cylinders in the contest shooting close to 50 percent (48.4) from the floor and from behind the three-point arc (57.1). Kimberly Dietz led the Wildcats with a game-high 20 points on 3-of-6 shooting from long range.
A&M will move on and get ready for eighth-ranked Baylor (13-1, 1-0) in both team’s Battle of the Brazos matchup on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 12:30 p.m. at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
Postgame Notes…For the first time this season, Texas A&M used a veteran starting lineup of A’Quonesia Franklin, Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Patrice Reado and La Toya Micheaux (0-1) in its Big 12 Conference opener…Franklin made her 48th career Big 12 start, Gant her 11th, Micheaux her 32nd, Reado her 29th and Starks her 33rd…Micheaux has made much improvement from the free throw line shooting a career-best 65.9 percent for the season…She went 3-of-4 from the free throw line against the Wildcats and has gone 9-of-10 in the last five contests…K-State’s five first-half turnovers tied for the fewest by an opponent this season next to five first-half turnovers at TCU on Dec. 2…The Wildcats also tied an opponent season-high with 18 assists…A&M saw its third-largest crowd this season with 3,196 fans in attendance at Reed Arena…Gant scored 14 points to extend her double-digit scoring streak to seven consecutive games…She played all 40 minutes for the second time of her career and first time of the season…Gant also was one rebound short of a double-double with a team-leading nine rebounds and four steals…The loss snapped A&M’s school-best 26 consecutive home court winning streak which previously led the nation…It was the first loss at home since falling to ninth-ranked Oklahoma (73-54) on Feb. 18, 2006…The 13-point margin of defeat was its first in double digits for the season and since a 19-point loss at Texas last year in Austin…The Aggies dished out a season-low eight assists against the Wildcats and even forced 19 turnovers which was over the opposition’s average for the season…K-State continues to lead the all-time series, 11-4…A&M has now lost nine of its 12 conference openers since the league’s inception in 1996-97…For the game, the Aggies shot 33.3 percent (19-of-62) which was the second lowest shooting percentage of the season next to 31 percent in a loss to Wake Forest on Nov. 23 at the Paradise Jam…Atunrase turned in back-to-back double-digit performances with 12 points against K-State…Starks continues to play well on both ends of the floor scoring a team-high 17 points and grabbing a total of 17 rebounds in her last two outings…She boarded six of the team’s 38 which was more than the Wildcats’ 34.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH GARY BLAIR
On the game and what K-State did well in the ballgame …
“That’s the same type of offensive Iowa State ran to beat us last year. We were prepared to play this game as any this year. Give credit to Kansas State. They stayed within their game plan, even though we made those comebacks to get even or ahead. The game was won at the point guard position with (Shalee) Lehning. She didn’t panic and kept her team in the ballgame. Danielle Gant was the only one with her size to guard her. (Kimberly) Dietz did a decent job for them as well.”
On the team’s offensive problems and with a tough lineup of teams ahead …
“They were doing a good job on the defensive end. We ran about everything we had. The game is about execution and hustle. They beat us on all of them and they were quicker than us. The key to the second half was when we fought to get back in the ballgame. They didn’t get rattled and came right back and did what they had to do. They settled down like a good basketball team and ran their stuff. Their role players stepped off the bench and did well. We just dug ourselves in a hole, because we are playing a lot of top 25 teams in our next four games. You cannot overlook anyone in this league. The Big 12 North can play and particularly, when you have junior and senior players on your roster. The North is well-coached and plays a different style of basketball in comparison to the South.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR POINT GUARD A’QUONESIA FRANKLIN
On the game and how the team will bounce back with Baylor ahead …
“Most of the North teams like to play the pretty ball and that’s what K-State plays. We had so much pressure on the perimeter. The only way our wings were able to score was on backdoor cuts. Coach Blair told us to look back at last year and how we lost our first game of the season. Unfortunately, it was at K-State, but we bounced back. We are just going to go straight into the Baylor game and look at this as the past.”
KANSAS STATE HEAD COACH DEB PATTERSON
On the game …
“Our players made great basketball decisions. We knew Texas A&M was a great defensive team and would be at our shorts. Our players did a nice job of exploiting the one opportunity we were going to get. It took a lot of team composure. I was so proud of the answer we brought to the big burst A&M brought to the floor in the second half. We just continued to go about our business. We didn’t overreact in any fashion. We just competed in those last few minutes of the game. We applied the lessons we learned from our non-conference slate and stepped up to the plate. At the beginning of the second half, when A&M’s full court pressure bothered us, I thought we had problems because we were playing careful and not being as successful on the catch. We got very cautious to be honest with you. I expected that this game was going to be very close. I thought our players responded well. I thought defensively, we did a really good job of limiting their ability to get easy touches in the paint for any sustained point in time. (Danielle) Gant is unbelievable as well as (La Toya) Micheaux and (Patrice) Reado when they are touching the ball inside. Our players played true to the scout.”
KANSAS STATE SENIOR GUARD KIMBERLY DIETZ
On the game and A&M’s second-half comebacks …
“Our whole offensive mind was staying composed. A&M is such a great defensive team. No matter what shot we were going to make, the biggest thing for us was our composure. Coming out of the half, it was a struggle and they were in our shorts with their press. Trying to break that press was a big deal (in the second half).”
On her money plays and long-range threes …
“That home-run pass to Shana (Wheeler) was awesome. It was all a credit to my teammates. They were setting good screens and giving me a lot of open looks.”