OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Texas A&M’s record-setting run in the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship came to an end and one game short of the Final Four as the second-seeded Aggies fell to top-seeded and third-ranked Tennessee, 53-45, in the Oklahoma City Regional finals Tuesday night before a crowd of 9,341 at the Ford Center.
The Aggies, whose previous best NCAA Tournament run was a Sweet 16 appearance in 1994, finishes the season at 29-8 overall marking a school record for wins after having won 16 of their final 18 final games of the year.
Oklahoma City Regional All-Tournament Team selections Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) and A’Quonesia Franklin (Tyler, Texas) led the Aggies with 12 and 11 points, respectively, while Oklahoma native Danielle Gant added 10. La Toya Micheaux (Missouri City, Texas) led A&M in rebounds with nine as both teams tied on the boards with 31 each.
All-American and tournament MVP Candace Parker hit 10-of-16 field goal attempts and finished with a game-high 26 points to lead Tennessee (34-2), the defending national champion and winner of seven national titles overall.
A&M took its biggest lead at 42-37 with 6:19 left in regulation, but the Lady Vols went on an 8-0 run to take a 45-42 lead with 2:10 to go. UT led by only two points, 45-43, with 1:18 remaining. Alexis Hornbuckle drained a three-pointer with 50 seconds remaining to put Tennessee ahead, 48-43.
Morenike Atunrase (Shreveport, La.) answered with a two-pointer for A&M at the 48-second mark. With Tennessee in possession, A&M was forced to foul, and the Lady Vols closed out the game hitting 5-of-6 free throws to take their biggest lead and end A&M’s dream of reaching the Final Four.
It also marked the final game for seniors Franklin, Atunrase and Patrice Reado (Houston, Texas) who had four points and five rebounds. Teammates La Toya Gulley (Fayetteville, Ark.) and Katy Pounds (Shallowater, Texas) who both sat the bench with career-ending injuries cheered on the Aggies tremendous rally from a 1-4 Big 12 start, to the program’s first-ever Big 12 Tournament title and first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
Postgame Notes…For the 20th time this season, A&M used the starting lineup of A’Quonesia Franklin, Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Patrice Reado and La Toya Micheaux (15-5)…With her trio of three-pointers in the game, Franklin moved past former player Amy Yates for sole possession of No. 2 in career three-point field goals made (157) in the school record books…A&M’s six three-pointers in the game (five in just the first half) gave the Aggies 161 for the season to mark the most-ever in a single season in school history…It surpassed a total of 159 threes set in 1995…The Aggies also tied a season-high five three-pointers made in a half next to five second-half threes against Texas Tech on Feb. 17 and five first-half threes versus Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship game on March 15…A&M became one of only four teams (No. 4 North Carolina, UCLA and No. 9 Duke) to trail by two points or less at halftime against the defending national champions this season…The A&M defense held UT without a basket for the first five and a half minutes of the second half of play…The Aggies limited Tennessee to only five baskets in the final period, but went 12-of-16 from the charity stripe…A&M also held the Lady Vols, who rank among the top teams in the nation in scoring offense, to a season-low 53 points…Starks and Franklin were named to the Oklahoma City Regional All-Tournament Team and became the first Aggies to be honored on an NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team…A&M played in its 37th game of the season, the second-most in school history...A&M finishes the season with a 29-8 record to mark the most victories in 34 seasons of Aggie Basketball.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH GARY BLAIR
On the game …
“For the die-hards out there, you might have wanted offense. But for the basketball purest, it was great defense by both teams. Their perimeter defense was a lot better than what we expected. (Shannon) Bobbitt controlled their defense in the first half. We did a lot better job of running our stuff, but we couldn’t score in the second half. We did some things to take them deep into the shot clock and that’s good defense. They were doing the same thing to us. We did a good job of rebounding the ball. We turned over the ball more than we usually do. Tennessee played very good perimeter defense. Our post players neutralized themselves well and (La Toya) Micheaux neutralized (Nikki) Anosike. I’m just so proud of this basketball team. When you look at the eight schools that were left, this is the way it should be. You shouldn’t predetermine who the national champion is going to be. There is parody and it’s coming. We need more Texas A&M’s out there. Tennessee won it down the stretch. Neither team can look back at one particular play that would have made it.”
On the senior class …
“High school seniors should realize that they should go to the school that best fits their talent and opportunity. There are a lot of schools that you can live your dream out at, especially Texas A&M. These seniors are so special. They believed in us first. I want them to be successful in life. We had every intention to win this basketball game. Our last two (NCAA Tournament) games, we didn’t leave our best game on the floor. Tonight, we left our best game on the floor, but just didn’t execute. We gave people around the country a new team to root for. It’s time to spread it around.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR POINT GUARD A’QUONESIA FRANKLIN
On the game …
“You have to give credit to Tennessee. They did a tremendous job of guarding us on the perimeter. But, also give us credit for holding them to only five baskets in the second half. It was a great defensive game. In the second half, they were switching from man to zone. (Alexis) Hornbuckle made a big shot down the stretch.”
On the senior class’ impact on the program …
“When I first got here, Texas A&M was losing close games, but then we were winning big games and made it to the WNIT. The next two years we advanced to the NCAA Tournament and now to the Elite Eight. Texas A&M is back on the map.”