The Texas A&M women's basketball team shot lights out to take a commanding lead against the Texas-El Paso Miners but poor ball-handling down the stretch forced the Aggies to settle for a 74-58 victory on Thursday night at Reed Arena
A&M (10-4) hit 20 of its first 38 shots for a 55-30 lead, looking more than ready for the
Southeastern Conference opener against Alabama on Sunday.
Sophomore forward Courtney Williams hit 8 of 13 shots helping A&M enjoy its best outing against a zone defense, which had given it so many problems in losses to Texas, Syracuse, Penn State and St. John's. Sophomore wing Courtney Walker also hit 4 of 6 shots in the first 26 minutes as the Aggies did a good job of hitting midrange jumpers to complement the team's 13 layups via sharp passing or dribble-penetration.
"We did just about everything correctly in the first half," A&M head coach Gary Blair said.
A&M hit half its field goals, 9 of 10 free throws and had a 23-14 rebounding edge for a 42-24 lead against a team that had won 11 of 12 and outscored opponents by an average of 20 points. A&M kept that going five minutes into the second half, but instead of pulling away for a 30- or 40-point victory, the Aggies had 18 second-half turnovers including eight in the final 8 minutes, 5 seconds. Williams had five of them as most happened on the perimeter.
"There were a lot of other people other than her who had trouble with the same [zone] press that we've seen all year,"Blair said. "I guarantee you we haven't turned the ball over four times in 13 games against the same press. We made the game a lot harder than we needed to, but I think you could see how good UTEP actually was."
UTEP, picked to finish second in Conference USA, scored 18 points in the second half off A&M turnovers.
"They tried to speed us up, and they did," Walker said.
UTEP had a chance to make the Aggies even more uncomfortable after pulling within 70-57 on Kayla Thornton's layup with 4:24 left, but the Miners didn't score another field goal, attempting only three. UTEP missed four straight free throws including the front end of a one-and-one to end its comeback bid.
"We also had a really costly turnover when we got within 13 because we were really on a run," UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. "But we'll build off it. They've got a good club. We've got a good club."
Despite outscoring A&M 34-32 in the second half, UTEP shot a season-low 32.8 percent from the field that led to a season-low in points.
UTEP had several open shots in the first half but missed eight in the lane including a layup.
"We had a really rough shooting night," Adams said. "We just didn't finish around the basket. We also had some fastbreak opportunities we didn't capitalize on."
UTEP came in hitting 31.7 percent of its 3-pointers and averaging 5.2 per game, but the Miners went 0 of 12 from 3-point range.
"It couldn't get any worse from the 3-point land," Adam said. "We usually shoot the ball pretty well, but give credit to A&M's defense. That played a part in it, but we had a rough offensive night."
UTEP turned the ball over only 15 times.
"Their defense creates a lot of havoc," Adams said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of handling that."
The Miners' defense forced turnovers but couldn't stop A&M from scoring, especially Williams who finished with 21 points, her eighth straight game in double figures and third straight with at least 21.
"Williams is playing within herself now," Blair said. "Her shooting percentage is better because she's passing up some of those shots that she was taking earlier."
Williams who was suspended for the opener made five of her first 28 shots. She is 42 of 78 in the last six games.
"I'm trying be more of a vocal leader on the court," Williams said. "I think if someone [plays well] the whole team follows."
She also added seven rebounds, five assists and a steal.
"I just let the game come to me," Williams said. "To take the open shot or get to the lane."
Walker ended with 18 on 6-of-11 shooting. The team's leading scorer had been held to only 35 points in the last four game, making only 14 of 39.
"I've been working on shooting a little bit more fundamental," Walker said. "I'd kind of got away from that these last couple games. I've [also] tried to be more aggressive, knowing I have to take that [midrange] shot. That gets our four players open."
Walker made all six free throws and added six rebounds despite being one of the smallest players on the court at 5-8.
"Walker looked like old Walker tonight except for her ball-handling," Blair said.
UTEP was led by 6-1 senior forward Kayla Thornton who had 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Sophomore guard Jenzel Nash came off the bench for 20 points.
A&M sophomore point guard Jordan Jones had only four points on 1-of-6 shooting, but nine assists and four steals. Jones, though, had three assists and redshirt freshman Curtyce Knox added six.