BATON ROUGE, LA -- Shreveport native Morenike Atunrase came off the bench and knocked down a game-high 19 points to lead second-seeded Texas A&M to a 91-52 rout of 15th-seeded UTSA in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship held Saturday afternoon at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on host LSU’s campus.
Atunrase, making a homecoming to the Pelican State for the first time of her four-year A&M career, went 6-of-10 from the floor and 4-of-5 from behind the three-point arc to give the Aggies (27-7) their 10th-straight victory which is now tied as the second-longest winning streak in school history. The nation’s hottest team has won their last 14-of-15 games and picked up their 27th overall win of the season which set a new school record for most victories in a single season.
The Roadrunners (23-10) seemed stunned by A&M’s pressure defense throughout the first half and committed 23 of their 30 turnovers in the first half alone. UTSA, making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, attempted only 15 shots in the first half as the Aggies converted 28 of its 49 first-half points off of UTSA mishaps.
Junior Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) scored 16 of her 18 points in the first half which set the tone early for A&M. She was one of four double figure scorers for the Aggies including 14 from junior Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) and 12 from senior Patrice Reado (Houston, Texas). Meanwhile, UTSA was led by Monica Gibbs who had 14, while leading scorer Onika Anderson was held to just three points.
The win gave Texas A&M head coach his 100th career victory at the school as the Aggies moved past the first round for the second consecutive year. They will take on 10th-seeded Hartford (28-5) in the second round on Monday, March 24 at a time still to be determined by ESPN. Game times will be at either 6:00 or 8:30 p.m. and announced after the LSU versus Jackson State game to be played later tonight in Baton Rouge. Hartford upset seventh-seeded Syracuse (22-9) in first-round action of the Oklahoma City Regional, 59-55.
Postgame Notes…For the 17th time this season, A&M used the starting lineup of A’Quonesia Franklin, Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Patrice Reado and La Toya Micheaux (13-4)…With the victory, the Aggies won their second-consecutive NCAA First Round game and claimed its 27th overall win of the season which set a new school record for most victories in a single season…A&M extended its season-best win streak to 10 straight which now ties for the second-longest in school history next to a span of 10-straight from Dec. 4 through Jan. 4 in 2005-06…The red-hot Aggies have won 14 out of their last 15 games…Fifth-year head coach Gary Blair also picked up his 100th career victory at A&M...The Aggies also set a new school record for most points scored in an NCAA Tournament game with 91 points against UTSA in first-round action…It marked a season game-high and A&M’s 49 first-half points was the second-most behind 50 first-half points against Florida State on Dec. 6…It was also the first game A&M scored more than 90 points since defeating Sam Houston State (93-43) on Dec. 29, 2006…The Aggie defense caused the Road Runners to turn over the ball 23 times in the first half alone which was an opponent season-high in any half…UTSA (30) became the fourth opponent to commit 30-or-more turnovers in a single game this season…It marked the second time a Gary Blair-led squad forced a first-round opponent to commit 30-or-more turnovers next to an NCAA first-round game record of 34 against LSU head coach Van Chancellor’s Ole Miss team in the NCAA First Round in 1991…A&M also held the Road Runners to a season-low 16 first-half points and their 52 total points marked their third-lowest scoring production in a game this season…Senior Morenike Atunrase, a Shreveport native, played in her first game back home in the state of Louisiana…She came off the bench to contribute a game-high 19 points to mark her career-best output in an NCAA Tournament game behind 14 points against TCU in the NCAA First Round in 2006…It tied as the third-highest scoring NCAA game by an A&M player in eight all-time tournament games…Atunrase knocked down a season-high tying four three pointers versus UTSA…The went 6-of-9 from behind the arc to set a season-high for three-point shooting percentage in a single game (66.7)…With her second point of the game, Reado recorded her 900th point of her four-year A&M career…She was one of four players in double figures with 12…In fact, A&M’s starting five outscored the entire production by UTSA’s 11 players who checked into the ballgame…They combined for 59 of the team’s final 91 including 18 by Gant and 14 by Starks…Micheaux had straight six’s across the board with six points, six rebounds and a career-high six steals which tied an A&M NCAA Tournament individual record set by Atunrase versus TCU on March 19, 2006…A&M has now held its last eight opponents to 21 points or less under their normal scoring average…UTSA was held to 17.4 points below their average of 69.4 ppg...The Aggies shot 50 percent from the floor against the Roadrunners including an 8-of-11 performance by Gant, 6-of-9 by Atunrase and 5-of-9 by Starks…A&M has now won the last four-straight meetings with UTSA and leads the series, 10-4.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH GARY BLAIR
On the game …
“We were ready to play today. The best motivation we had was watching the men’s tournament and watching the upsets or near upsets – and all of sudden you have to give your opponent credit. I know what the Southland Conference is all about. We wanted to make sure that the first 10 minutes of the game was under our pressure defense. UTSA showed us what they could do in the second half and they do a good job of dribble penetration. When you are the No. 2 seed, you cannot be nonchalant when the game starts. Our coaching staff did a very good job of preparing our team, because we respect UTSA. Defense keys us and makes us open for easy shots. We were able to get Danielle Gant going early. She was able to get loose. Not many 5-10 or 5-11 kids can play all over the floor like she can. She’s definitely a next-level player. It feels good to win a game in LSU’s gym and not have to play them. Monica Gibbs is a very good player. She will be a Southland Conference Player of the Year in years to come.”
On the team’s inside game and unselfish play …
“(Patrice) Reado and (LaToya) Micheaux played very well. What we do to free up our outside game, it starts in the inside game. They do so many of the little things for us to be successful. We are a very unselfish basketball team. When we go into games, what we want to do is to make sure opponents don’t know how to prepare for us, because we have a lot of weapons. We were just hooked up and wired today. We had our team fired up. We expect perfection. If you practice perfect, you have a better chance of playing perfect. We don’t have a (Tennessee’s) Candace Parker or (LSU’s) Sylvia Fowles, so we do it a different way. Danielle Gant and Takia Starks, they are pretty good imitations. It’s winning time right now. We have to figure out a way to beat either of the two teams in the next round. This team is ready and we plan on dancing awhile.”
On the two potential second-round opponents …
“Eastern style of ball is a little different than in the south. We might run a little bit more. Hartford is a very smart team which is a reflection of their coach (former UConn All-American point guard Jennifer Rizzotti). The kids up east know the game very well. They are just junkies and gurus of the game. I respect their brand of ball and their coaches first, because of their knowledge of the game. Syracuse is very athletic and a good ball club.”
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR GUARD TAKIA STARKS
On frustrating UTSA defensively …
“During pregame, we talked about putting the pressure on UTSA and not coming out nonchalant. We wanted to put the pressure on with the press and up our game on the defense.”
On the team’s winning streak …
“We are trying to stay humble and take each game one game at a time. We just want to handle our business, stay focused in our game plan and stick to our principles in defense. Hopefully, we will make it far in the tournament this year.”
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR GUARD/FORWARD DANIELLE GANT
On the team’s defensive swagger …
“This is the way we like to play. In the Big 12, we play aggressive defense. Defense was our main focus and that’s what came out today. It is drilled into us in practice everyday by getting to the line, playing pressure defense and going after the ball.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR GUARD/FORWARD MORENIKE ATUNRASE
On playing back home in Louisiana and A&M’s defense …
“It means a lot to play in front of all of my family, friends and fans who followed me in high school today. As a team, we were just excited to be here and advance in the NCAA Tournament. This year, we have a lot of experience and the Big 12 has prepared us well for this tournament. It just goes to show our defense creates so many opportunities for us on the offense.”