A&M women’s basketball team looks to repeat last year’s SEC tourney success

A&M women’s basketball team looks to repeat last year’s SEC tourney success

The Texas A&M women’s basketball team surprised many at the Southeastern Conference Tournament last year by winning two games. If the Aggies repeat that this year, they’ll shock the country.

Ninth-seeded A&M (18-11, 6-10) will play eighth-seeded Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8) at 10 a.m. Thursday in the SEC tourney’s second round at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. The winner will advance in the single-elimination tourney to play top-ranked South Carolina (29-0, 16-0), which just capped off rare back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons.

It will be a daunting task for A&M or Mississippi State to upset South Carolina, but neither can afford to be looking ahead with both needing to strengthen their NCAA Tournament resumes.

A&M is the first team out in ESPN.com’s Charlie Crème’s mock 68-team tourney bracket, while Mississippi State is among his last four in along with Washington State, Vanderbilt and Green Bay. A&M is 45th in the NCAA Women’s Basketball NET Rankings, one spot ahead of Mississippi State, which defeated A&M 74-63 during the regular season. A year ago, A&M beat Vanderbilt and Mississippi State at the SEC tournament to become the first 13th seed to reach the quarterfinals. Both teams had beaten the Aggies in the regular season.

People are also reading…

“I think that’s what our team had in its back pocket last year,” A&M coach Joni Taylor said. “They were a little bit excited to go after them a second time, because we lost the first time around.”

A&M sophomore forward Janiah Barker said the team had a “revenge type of mentality.”

That’s worked against A&M so far this season as Auburn and Tennessee both beat the Aggies in the second half of league play after A&M had won the first meetings.

Barker welcomes the chance to make amends with Mississippi State, which recovered from a slow start to beat error-prone A&M at Reed Arena, handing it back-to-back losses for the first time in the season, after falling to Florida the week before.

“We turned it over way too much and we fouled,” Taylor said.

Mississippi State hit 22 of 29 free throws, while A&M was only 7 of 9.

A&M had 22 turnovers that Mississippi State converted into 23 points.

“They were careless turnovers,” Taylor said. “We were skipping the ball into the stands and on other occasions, we’re throwing it over people’s head. We were throwing it out of bounds, we were just really reckless with the basketball.

Barker had a team-high five turnovers in 23 minutes as she had only four points and seven rebounds, but she was coming off a rough stretch in which she missed two games in concussion protocol after getting hit in the head during a 71-56 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 14. She returned against Florida on Jan. 28, but left after 10 minutes after taking another hit to the head.

Barker and A&M put the disappointing losses to Florida and Mississippi State away in a big way with back-to-back road victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky, the first time the program had two straight SEC wins on the road since 2021. That was the high point of the season, but came at a cost as graduate point guard Endyia Rogers, the team’s leading scorer, against Kentucky injured her right knee that needed surgery. A&M has lost five of six games without its floor general, who remains day-to-day, Taylor said.

“She’s back, moving and doing some things,” Taylor said on a Wednesday morning zoom press conference. “We hope to have her out there tomorrow, we don’t know that for sure.”

If Rogers is unable to go, A&M can take solace in coming off a solid offensive effort in a 78-71 loss to Alabama. The Aggies shot 46.2% from the field and had just nine turnovers.

Barker, who is averaging 12.1 points per game, and senior off-guard Aicha Coulibaly, who is averaging 12.4 ppg, have developed better chemistry with each other and their teammates, out of necessity without Rogers.

“It was hard for us to find out how to play, because everybody was focusing on us,” Baker said. “It was easier to play with Endyia, because she could stretch the floor.”

A&M has found different ways to get the ball to Barker and Coulibaly who again are playing at a high level offensively lately. Coulibaly hit 9 of 13 field goals against Alabama and Barker was 7 of 12.

“When Endyia does come back, hopefully soon, she’ll spread the floor out again and we’re just going to pick up where we left off,” Barker said.

A&M also is getting more production from its bench. Freshman guard Solé Williams had 20 points against Tennessee, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Sydney Bowles hit 3 of 7 3-pointers against Alabama and had a pair in a 71-67 come-from-behind victory over Arkansas, the lone win without Rogers.

“We’ve got players who are shooting the ball again,” Taylor said. “So that gives us some added points that we always thought we were going to have.”

Defense has been A&M’s calling card under Taylor, who is in her second season with the Aggies, but they have allowed 71.6 points per game in the last five games, 13.6 more than their season average.

“We need to lock back into what we are known for,” Barker said. “We’ve been thinking about how to score so much, I think we sometimes forget it’s important to get the stops as well. I think defense is high on our minds, especially going into this game.”

Taylor has stressed the need to get five straight stops, which she calls, kills.

“We haven’t gotten enough of those this season,” Barker said. “We have our teammates on the bench counting those and how many we get a game. Hopefully, we’ll get a whole bunch of kills against Mississippi State.”

Mississippi State is trying to make sure its NCAA Tournament chances don’t get killed in Greenville. The Bulldogs were seemingly a lock to make the NCAA Tournament after it beat A&M. That gave the Bulldogs a four-game winning streak and six victories in seven games, but Mississippi State followed that with five straight losses until beating Missouri in the regular-season finale.

“I know when I watch them, [center] Jessika Carter scares me,” Taylor said. “And [guard] Jerkaila Jordan scares me.”

The 5-9 Jordan averages 16.2 ppg and the 6-5 Carter averages 14.8 ppg, along with 10.2 rebounds per game. A&M did a decent job on both graduates in the regular season matchup as Jordan had 11 points, hitting 5 of 13 field goals and Carter had only eight points, hitting 2 of 10. Graduate forward Erynn Barnum had 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting and senior guard Darrione Rogers added 18 points, hitting 5 of 12 field goals, including a trio of 3-pointers.

“It’s a reminder they’ve got five players who have [each] scored over a thousand points in their careers,” Taylor said. “We took away their top two scorers and let two other scorers go off.”

NOTES — The game will be televised by the SEC Network and the radio broadcast will be on KZNE (1150 AM, 93.7 FM) … The winner will play South Carolina at 11 a.m. Friday.