Aggies open SEC play with win over Alabama

Texas A&M’s Curtyce Knox gets Alabama’s Daisha Simmons in the air to score off of a pump fake during the first half of the Aggies’ 73-58 win to open SEC play. Knox finished with seven points and four assists in 22 minutes off the bench.

Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair has been holding auditions for a go-to player since the start of the season, but hasn’t found the right fit for the role.

Sophomore guard Courtney Williams is the latest to try out. She has fared well, averaging over 23 points during the Aggies’ four-game win streak.

Sunday, Williams became the first Aggie since Danielle Adams in 2011 to score 20 or more points in four straight games as she poured in 23 points in A&M’s 73-58 win over Alabama in its Southeastern Conference opener.

“Courtney Williams is coming into her own,” Blair said. “I’m glad people could see that she can do this against a conference team, not just a non-conference team. She played well, shooting percentage was good, free throws were good. Cut down the turnovers and I think we have something special there.”

Williams turned the ball over four times Sunday, Williams has 50 turnovers to 30 assists in 15 games this season.

But, she’s improving. During this four-game stretch, she’s had an even assist-to-turnover ratio at 14 each.

Despite her 23 points, Williams faced her toughest challenge yet of her torrid stretch — foul trouble. Williams watched from the bench as the Aggies (11-4, 1-0 SEC) went on an 11-0 run midway through the second half to put the game out of reach for Alabama (7-8, 0-2).

“I felt down,” she said. “But I’m still cheering for my teammates even when things aren’t going well for me.”

The fall semester ended several weeks ago at A&M, but Williams spent her winter break enrolled in a different sort of class with Blair and his staff.

“She’s taking basketball 101 right now and she’s doing pretty good,” Blair said. “She’s studying film, she’s getting in the gym.”

On Sunday, Williams’ family was in the gym for the first time in a few games to see her latest performance.

“They wanted to see if it was for real,” Blair said.

It is real. But you can forgive them for needing to see it for themselves.

Before this four-game streak, Williams averaged just 8.7 points per game with a season-high of 14 points against Nicholls State. Her season average is right at 13 points now, and should continue to trend upward.

Blair is happy with Williams’ play. Sure, he’d like to see her dribble less, but how could he harp on that now?

“It’s kind of hard right now to tell her to quit creating her shot because it’s going in,” Blair laughed.

Williams’ hot streak has come with school out of session. She’ll have to prove that she can continue to play at this level once classes start and friends return to campus.

Blair is hoping this isn’t another “fool’s gold” situation like earlier in the season. He knew entering the season that without a true go-to player, his team would struggle at times during their rugged non-conference schedule. And they did. A&M fell from just outside the Top 10 to out of the Top 25 rankings. After being present in the rankings for close to six years between 2006 and 2012, the Aggies have now fallen out twice in the past two years.

The Aggies have talent and depth, but have lacked rhythm and consistency. If Williams can continue to be the centerpiece that Blair desires, then perhaps the climb back into the rankings is under way.

It won’t be easy. The Aggies next three games come against ranked opponents: at No. 16 LSU; at No. 19 Georgia; and at home against No. 13 South Carolina.

But Blair has never shied away from a challenge.

“We were [ranked] up there because of reputation of who we were,” said Blair. “Now we have to earn our way back.”

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