MALIBU, Calif. – For only the third time in school history, No. 5 Texas A&M is off to an undefeated 6-0 start with a 70-60 victory over Pepperdine to win the Timeout 4 HIV/AIDS Tournament title Saturday at Firestone Fieldhouse.
Senior All-America candidate Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) scored 19 points and freshman reserve Sydney Carter (DeSoto, Texas) added a career-high 17 as the Aggies held off a late second-half rally by Pepperdine (3-3) in the championship game of the four-team Thanksgiving tournament.
Carter’s three-pointer from downtown broke a 52-52 tie with 4:31 left in regulation and senior All-America candidate Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) added another three to push the A&M lead out to 58-54. The Aggies never relinquished the lead from then on.
Starks, who was named the tournament MVP after averaging 18.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in two games played including a 61-57 win over Penn State in Friday’s opening round, had 17 for the Aggies. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Gant and Carter as well as Miranda Ayim who led Pepperdine with 14 points.
A&M led by as many as 16 with 2:26 left to go in the first and went into the locker room with a 33-25 lead. Carter scored 13 of her 17 in the first half alone. She turned in a flawless 7-of-7 performance from the line coupled with two threes in the Aggies’ 14-4 run in the opening minutes of the contest.
The Waves cut the lead to under double digits as the Aggies committed 13 of their 28 turnovers of the game in the second half of play. Four consecutive free throw makes by Pepperdine’s Skye Barnett put the Waves within four and a lay-in by Lauren Bell closed the gap to two, 52-50, with 6:17 remaining. Bell later tied it up at 52-all with a fast break layup in traffic.
The Aggies will close out their six-game road swing at Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday, Dec. 2 in Nacogdoches, Texas. Tipoff between A&M and SFA is set for 7:30 p.m. (CT) as part of the second game of a doubleheader with the SFA men’s basketball team. Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair, who coached the Ladyjacks from 1985-93, will be inducted into the SFA Athletics Hall of Fame during halftime of the women’s game. The A&M Maroon Club is sponsoring a bus trip for the event. For more information, please contact Lindsey Bounds at (979) 846-3024 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost of the trip is $20 for Maroon Club members and $25 for all other Aggie fans. The bus trip includes one ticket to the game, a snack pack and a chance to win free prizes.
• For the first time this season, Texas A&M used the starting lineup of Sydney Colson, Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Adaora Elonu and Damitria Buchanan. Buchanan made only her seventh career start against Pepperdine.
• Sydney Carter playing the biggest game of her young A&M career with a career-high 17 points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 makes from the free throw line in a career-high 22 minute of action.
• Sophomore Sydney Colson tied a career-best with a trio of three-pointers in the ballgame versus the Waves. She registered nine points before leaving the game with a bruised knee at the 10:27 minute mark of the second half.
• A&M knocked down a season-high eight three-pointers in the contest which bested six versus Pitt on Nov. 16.
• The Aggies went a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line in the first half and 20-for-23 overall for an 87 percent accuracy against Pepperdine.
• Los Angeles Sparks head coach Michael Cooper was in attendance scouting potential 2009 WNBA Draft picks at the tournament.
• Five of A&M’s six games of season have now been decided by 10 points or less with the Aggies posting a 5-0 record in close contests.
• The Aggies are off to an undefeated 6-0 start of the season for only the third time in school history next to the beginning of the 1977-78 (6-0) and 2006-07 (6-0) campaigns.
• Former player Tamea “Tweety” Scales (2003-06) was in attendance for both tournament games and was a senior when the current Senior Class of ‘09 were freshmen. Scales is currently attending fashion school in Los Angeles.
Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair
On the game …
“This was one of the most exciting games we have played all year. Both teams played well and had streaks during the ballgame. We got off to a good start with a 16-point lead, but they were able to close it to eight at the half. In the second half, we struggled and their zone got better. We started turning the ball over. We shot the ball well, particularly from the three. Turnovers are killing us right now and it is a team-wide epidemic. We are sort of like the quarterback who is throwing the ball and is looking at one receiver down the field. When the defense sees that, they break to the ball and you have to look at your second and third option. We have to handle the ball a lot better. We would not have won this ballgame if we did not have (Sydney) Colson and (Sydney) Carter tonight. They both played outstanding with nine and 17 points. I am pleased with our team. In the second half, Tanisha Smith came in and gave us some good minutes with some good passes. When we get into transition, we are pretty good. Pepperdine is a team we should have outrebounded, but it did not happen tonight. We had to go with a small lineup to get some offense, until I was able to put (La Toya) Micheaux back into the game and she was able to get us some key rebounds down the stretch. We learned a lot from this game and we are a better basketball team. We will go home and hopefully have a large Aggie following in our next road game at SFA in Nacogdoches.”
Texas A&M Senior Guard Takia Starks
On the team’s close games on the road …
“We have had big leads and relaxed back. We are running a lot of new kids into the rotation that are very talented. In pressure situations, we are not executing and that attributes to the lead loss. But, we stay in there and we keep on fighting. Getting the win in the end is what’s most important and executing down the stretch. It’s great to play on the road. It gets us into situations where we have to execute and helps prepare us for our league (Big 12) which is always tough and for the NCAA Tournament. We have a lot of things to work on in practice. One thing we have worked on is making our free throws down the stretch. That was one of our weaknesses last year and as a team, we all have made our free throws and that is helping us win these games.”
On freshman Sydney Carter’s play …
“She is a great player and she stepped up the whole game. When Sydney (Colson) went out, she led the team well as I knew she would. We all depend on her. She is a great kid and a freshman who made some big shots for us tonight. We want her to continue to hit the big shots.”