Texas A&M’s Anriel Howard is attacking the basket just as hard on offense as she does on defense.
Howard had 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds to help the 20th-ranked Aggies grab an 83-62 victory over the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns on Sunday at Reed Arena in the quarterfinals of the Preseason WNIT.
A&M (2-0) will play 11th-ranked Oregon (2-0) in the semifinals on Thursday at Reed Arena. Oregon, which reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season, advanced with a 110-77 victory over Drake.
A&M warmed up for the high-flying Ducks with balanced scoring against the Ragin’ Cajuns (1-1) with four scoring in double figures. Freshman point guard Chennedy Carter had a game-high 18 points. She was complemented by the 5-foot-11 Howard, who hit 4 of 9 shots but did just as much damage at the free-throw line, hitting 8 of 10.
ULL held 6-5 senior center Khaalia Hillsman to only three points in the first half, but the Aggies were able to wipe out an eight-point deficit and take a 33-30 halftime lead with its perimeter play. Howard was the catalyst with 11 points.
She hit a 3-pointer and a pair of short jumpers but also got to the line five times, mostly getting fouled while driving.
“She put more time in the gym than even [Danni] Williams did this summer, and that is hard to do,” A&M head coach Gary Blair said. “She really said, ‘I want to be more than one dimensional.’ She really worked on the drive and her outside game.”
Howard, Carter and shooting guard Williams picked up the scoring slack for Hillsman (11 points, 11 rebounds), who attempted only six shots. Williams had 15 points, being very selective with her shots, hitting 5 of 9 field goals, including a pair of 3s. Carter was 8 of 16 from the field, bouncing back from a 3-of-11 shooting effort in an 83-65 victory over Houston.
“I feel like I played with a little more sense of urgency,” Carter said. “I feel like my teammates kept me involved and kept me pushing. They pretty much told me to just keep shooting and don’t worry about last game.”
A&M gained control of the game early in the second half when senior guard Lulu McKinney came off the bench to key a 21-6 run. Williams started the spurt with a 3-pointer off a pass from McKinney, a graduate transfer, who then hit a 3 to make it 44-35. A&M kept rolling with four steals in less than 4 minutes with the last a swipe and score by Carter to make it 57-41 with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Lulu McKinney was the story of the game,” Blair said. “She changed the atmosphere. Lulu is not that quick, but she goes hard, and she can follow a game plan.”
A&M’s small lineup put the game away, but it was ULL’s small lineup that allowed it to take a 19-12 lead after the first quarter. The Ragin’ Cajuns hit 7 of 14 field goals, including a trio of 3s, and forced eight turnovers.
ULL coach Garry Brodhead said people think the Golden State Warriors invented small ball, but he’s been doing it for 30 years.
“We aren’t trying to put up a lot of shots,” Brodhead said. ”It looks like we might be because we are pretty quick, but we aren’t trying to get more than 50-60 possessions from either team.”
A&M raced to a 30-19 first-quarter lead over UH in the last game, something Brodhead said they weren’t going to do.
“If you noticed, our defense was man-to-man and we never play sagging — we call it down,” he said. “We were playing within the 3-point line other than on [Williams]. I thought we confused them. They didn’t see the gaps and had a little bit of problems with our defense. They looked uncomfortable in the first quarter, and it allowed us to take our time on offense.”
A&M changed the tempo with its defense, and the guard-oriented offense did the rest.
“I just think we came out not fully ready to play,” Howard said. “We kind of underestimated them. They gave us their all and did really well.”
A&M’s defense clamped down in the middle quarters, holding ULL to 11 points in each as the Ragin’ Cajuns were 9-of-31 shooting.
A&M shot 48.3 percent from the field for the game (28 of 58), compared to ULL’s 23 of 59 (39 percent).
The Aggies had a huge edge at the line, hitting 22 of 30 with the four players in double figures combining for 18 of 23 with Howard leading the way.
Howard shot only 97 free throws last season and pretty much stayed around the paint, attempting only two 3-pointers. This year she’s already 12 of 17 from the line and 2 of 4 on 3-pointers.
“If she has her feet [set], she has the green light to shoot that 3,” Blair said. “She has to learn how to drive and pass when they take that away. She has to realize there are other options in the offense.”
Howard, who was a two-time state triple jumper in high school and was on the Aggie track team as a freshman, gave up the sport last year to focus on improving her offensive skills. She made a big splash at A&M with her athleticism, including a school- and NCAA-record 27 rebounds in a single game as a freshman.
All the emphasis on offense hasn’t taken away from her inside prowess as she also had 14 rebounds in the opener.
“I think I still have to improve on finishing,” Howard said. “I have also been working all summer on my 3s, midrange and finishing with contact, so I just have to keep improving on that, but definitely finishing is something that I am aiming for.”