COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The combination of senior All-America candidates Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) and Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) combined for the entire opponent team total in No. 3 Texas A&M’s 83-51 blowout of No. 25 New Mexico Tuesday night before a season-high crowd of 5,543 at Reed Arena.
It marked the Aggies’ third win over a top 25 opponent this season and the largest margin of victory (+32) over a ranked opponent in school history. A&M, off to its best start in 35 seasons of Aggie Basketball, remained undefeated on the season at 11-0, while New Mexico dropped to 11-2.
Gant recorded a game-and season-high 27 points which was one point shy of her career best, while Starks added 24. Both returning All-Big 12 Conference First Team performers led the Aggies to a 22-7 run in the first half behind solid shooting performances. Gant was flawless in the first 12 minutes of regulation scoring 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the floor and 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, Starks connected on a season-best trio of three-pointers and moved into first all-time in career field goals made (631) surpassing former A&M standout Lisa Langston who made 627 from 1982-86.
A&M was up by as many as 17 points in the first half, but the Lobos cut the lead to three on a layup by Valerie Kast with 1:56 to go, 31-28. The Aggies went into the lockerroom with a 36-30 advantage.
The second half started off much like the first as A&M jumped out to a 32-8 run and never looked back. They committed a season-low eight turnovers in the game, while the Aggie defense forced the Lobos to cause 26 miscues on the floor. UNM was paced by a 19-point effort from leading scorer Amy Beggin.
Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Tanisha Smith (Kansas City, Mo.) saw her second career start after battling tonsillitis for most of the non-conference slate and registered a career-and season-high 15 points to round out the Aggies’ double-figure scorers on the night. Senior La Toya Micheaux (Missouri City, Texas) added seven boards and sophomore point guard Sydney Colson (Houston, Texas) dished out seven assists in the winning cause.
Up next, the Aggies will ring in the New Year with 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 participant George Washington (7-5) on Saturday, Jan. 3 as part of a doubleheader with the A&M men’s basketball team at Reed Arena. Tipoff between the Aggies and Colonials is set for 5 p.m. (CT). The Half-Price Holiday Hoops promotion continues with tickets available for as low as $2.50 which can be purchased by calling 1-888-99-AGGIE, by going online at www.12thmanfoundation.com, or in person at the 12th Man Foundation Ticket Center’s Kyle Field or Reed Arena locations.
• For the first time this season, Texas A&M used the starting lineup of Sydney Colson, Takia Starks, Tanisha Smith, Danielle Gant and La Toya Micheaux (1-0). Smith made just her second career start as an Aggie and scored a career-high 15 points against No. 25 New Mexico.
• Starks’ season-high 24 points were due in part to a season-best three three-pointers from behind the arc. It marked her 20th 20-point game of her career. She also dished out a season-best five of the team’s 22 assists against the Lobos. With her nine field goals made versus UNM, Starks moved into first all-time in career field goals made (631) surpassing former A&M standout Lisa Langston who made 627 from 1982-86.
• Gant’s season-high 27 points marked her 13th 20-point game of her career and she added a season-high five of the team’s 13 steals against the Lobos.
• Former A&M standouts and current WNBA players Morenike Atunrase (2005-08) and A’Quonesia Franklin (2005-08) were honored prior to the game with their 2008 Big 12 Conference Championship and NCAA Elite Eight rings. Atunrase and Franklin reached the WNBA Playoffs in their rookie campaigns this past summer with the San Antonio Silver Stars and Sacramento Monarchs respectively. Atunrase remains A&M’s all-time leader in career blocked shots (176), while Franklin ranks third all-time in career assists (627).
• The Aggies are now 1-0 in the all-time series with UNM. It marked the largest margin of victory over a ranked opponent in school history. The previous high was a 19-point win over No. 8 Baylor (72-53) on March 1, 2008.
• A&M had a season-high crowd of 5,543 in attendance at Reed Arena which tied for the 11th all-time best crowd in school history next to 5,543 fans that attended the Aggies’ league contest against Kansas on Feb. 3, 2007. It was the third-largest crowd to attend a non-conference regular-season home game next to doubleheaders with the A&M men’s basketball team versus Pepperdine (6,443) on Nov. 10, 2006 and Western Illinois (6,389) on Jan. 2, 2007. The Aggies have now drawn 5,000+ fans in back-to-back games with its previous season-high of 5,395 versus No. 24 TCU on Dec. 21.
• A&M had two 20-point scorers in a single game for the first time this season and for the first time since Starks registered 23 and Gant had 20 in a 74-65 victory over North Carolina A&T on Dec. 30, 2007.
• The Aggies made a season-low eight turnovers against New Mexico.
• The A&M defense has now forced 10-of-11 opponents this season to 20-or-more turnovers in a single game as New Mexico committed 26 which the Aggies converted into 36 of their 83 points. A&M has scored more than 80 points in three of its last four games.
• For the eighth time this season, A&M which currently ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (49.1) held an opponent to under 55 points as New Mexico managed only 51.
Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair
On the game …
“No way (did I imagine this big of a victory). We thought this team was better than TCU, we really did. I know the score didn’t indicate it, but we played so much better in this game than we did against TCU. We really broke down the zone well and made that extra pass. Our kids were very unselfish in passing the ball tonight. We did that all night long. Our ball movement and unselfishness really paid off tonight. When you have enough possessions, like we had, generally things are going to go your way.”
On trying to control UNM guard Amy Beggin …
“What we tried to do in our full-court defense was try to wear her out as much as we could. We wore them down and felt our bench was a little bit stronger. Our bench played very well. One of the keys I put on the board before the game was Kansas State. That’s how much respect we had for her, and she still controlled the whole first half. We felt like they wouldn’t be able to make guard-to-guard passes, and we thought they would try to use a little K-State (style of offense) and beat us on last-second shots, which they did several times.”
On his halftime talk …
“(I told them) you can’t let a good team up like that, one which is that well-coached. In the second half, we went back to what we were doing right in the first half. At the end of the first half, we were attacking off our 1-3-1 correctly and then all of a sudden we weren’t. We also missed some wide-open shots. You work so hard to attack the zone, and if you miss shots, you run into problems.”
On the play of Danielle Gant and Takia Starks …
“That is about as good as both of them get. We started D.G. at the four, because we wanted to get one more outside shooter in there, and we wanted to get the ball to D.G. early, which we did. We figured they would be concerned with T-Kay. She (Starks) was very selective on her shots tonight, and she did a good job of taking what the defense was going to give her.”
On Tanisha Smith …
“We started Tanisha to get Danielle Gant at the four. We wanted Tanisha to add an extra shooter and to penetrate. I have never had a kid that could penetrate and get to the elbow as quick as she can.”
On the team’s defensive effort …
“It was as good a game as we have played all season. It was against a quality team and in front of a great crowd, a fun crowd.”
On the crowd and his team in general …
“They were energetic. I think a lot of people took advantage of the Half-Price Hoops. When Texas Tech comes to town for our conference opener (Jan. 13), I think we’ve earned the right for people to pay full price and I think they will be lined up at the windows. I really like our basketball team. We are 26-2 in our last 28 games, and our only two losses (in that span) have been to Oklahoma and Tennessee—and we were leading both at the half. This team is very good about taking a game and preparing for that game. (Associate Head) Coach (Vic) Schaefer and this staff did an outstanding job preparing for tonight. We could tell you what type of chewing gum they had. They still executed, but our defense is going to wear you out. We only had a few turnovers in the second half. I was really pleased with our ball handling. I was really pleased with (Sydney) Colson and how she was dissecting. When you have 22 assists and eight turnovers, that is pretty special.”
On being able to recognize Aqua Franklin and Morenike Atunrase before the game …
“It was great to have those kids back. They helped build this place.”
Texas A&M Junior Guard/Forward Tanisha Smith
On her second career start …
“I started the season well, but had been getting sick, and it took me a while to come back. I just (spent time) working with Coach (Vic) Schaefer, staying after practice, shooting, and listening to all the things he said. I had to prove to myself I could play defense. After defense, your offense usually falls in and I was able to hit my shots.”
Texas A&M Senior Guard/Forward Danielle Gant
On her energy level tonight …
“The last two games, I wasn’t playing as well on the offensive end or the defensive end. Over the break, I talked to my brother (Ricky Gant, Jr.) and he gave me a few pointers. I knew I had to come back and help my team out tonight. Coach Blair wanted to get the ball inside and he knew I could score better down low. He put me down low and told me to get the ball in the basket.”
On the team’s defensive effort …
“That was the main thing Coach (Vic) Schaefer talked to us about, was to stop the penetration and the dribble-and-drive. In order to do that, we had to pick up our defense and I think that is what we did tonight.”
Texas A&M Senior Guard Takia Starks
On her defensive effort against New Mexico …
“I try to play hard and come out first and establish myself defensively. I had their best player on the floor (Amy Beggin) and I tried to stay out of foul trouble. I really tried to play off my defense tonight. If I could do that I thought my shot would come.”
On New Mexico’s late first-half run …
“I think our defense and offense got stagnant on both ends. They got us on a couple of back-doors, just fundamentals and boxing out. On offense, we did not penetrate and get inside to (Danielle Gant) and (La Toya) Micheaux enough.”
New Mexico Head Coach Don Flanagan
On the difference in halves …
“In the first half, we did a nice job of withstanding their pressure and getting the ball in bounds. In the second half, they got several steals in a row, and that goes right back to what we had taken care of in the first half. Our main objective was to not turn the ball over in the back court. I thought our spacing in the second half was atrocious, and that was due to them. They (Texas A&M) are fast and quick with quick hands. If you make a mistake, they have two points with their speed. We aren’t accustomed to the speed and quickness of a team like that and that’s something we have to work on. They were hitting their shots. I watched a lot of tape and I hadn’t seen them shoot that well. I didn’t think it was our best effort, but it was because of their speed, quickness and talent. They are a very difficult team to play. They had a nice game and the score indicated how much better they were than us tonight.”
On trying to contain Takia Starks and Danielle Gant …
“We were trying to mix up our defense. Obviously, I thought the zone did a pretty good job in the first half. In the second half, they picked it apart and did a nice job adjusting to our defense. I didn’t think we could match up to them man-to-man well enough. Also, the thing that bothered me was way too many offensive rebounds (18). You can’t give them that many chances. We tired a bit in the second half and made poor decisions in passing. You do that and they are liable to make you pay.”