The Texas A&M women’s basketball team has a chance to feast on home cooking this week after opening Southeastern Conference play with a pivotal road victory over 20th-ranked Arkansas.
The 11th-ranked Aggies (13-1) will play Ole Miss (7-7, 0-1) at 6 p.m. Monday and LSU (11-3, 1-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday, looking for the program’s first 3-0 start in league play since 2014.
A&M, picked by the SEC coaches to win the league, won its eighth straight with an 84-77 victory over Arkansas.
“I think we played very well at Arkansas,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “We had a couple bad moments at the end of the game, but we’ve been finishing those things pretty well.”
A&M, which trailed after the first quarter in its previous two games away from Reed Arena, had a solid start at Arkansas. A&M took a 27-18 lead by dictating pace and hitting five 3-pointers, one more than Arkansas, which leads the SEC averaging 10.3 per game. The Razorbacks, who ended up hitting 12 of 27 3-pointers, erased a 12-point deficit and tied the game in the fourth quarter, but A&M never allowed Arkansas to take the lead.
A&M junior point guard Chennedy Carter had one of her best games of the season with 28 points, going 12 of 23 from the field. Junior power forward N’dea Jones added a career-high 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting with a game-high 14 rebounds.
“I was rotating my three post players with the pace of the game,” Blair said. “Even though we were slowing it down on offense, they were still running it down our throats, and I thought our pace was the best we had all year.”
A&M will try to build on that all-around effort against an Ole Miss team that is being rebuilt with a foundation on defense by second-year head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. The Rebels, picked to finish 13th, opened league play with a gritty 58-51 loss to Georgia.
“We kept them off-balance,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We kept changing up our defense. I thought that caused them some problems. We have some deficiencies with our size, and so we kept changing it up on them, and I thought that made them uncomfortable. We have to scheme and over-prepare, and I thought we did a good job keeping them at bay.”
Thanks to the 6-foot-2 Jones and 6-4 junior center Ciera Johnson, A&M also will have an edge inside against Ole Miss, which often starts four guards.
McPhee-McCuin, who also coached at Jacksonville five seasons, said there would be “an easy game here and there,” in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but that’s not the case in the SEC. Along with A&M’s size advantage, Carter presents plenty of challenges herself and could be the top pick of the WNBA draft, McPhee-McCuin said.
“We’re going to have to scheme against her as well,” McPhee-McCuin said.
A&M is 7-1 against Ole Miss since joining the SEC, with the loss coming in a 67-48 decision in 2017 in Oxford in the regular-season finale.
“We were looking toward the [SEC] tournament and didn’t give them enough respect, and they handed it to us,” Blair said. “It was no come-from-behind thing; they handed it to us the whole game.”
That Aggie squad had 63 less career starts than this year’s team.
“I think our kids are in such a good frame of mind; I can’t see that happening to us, particularly at home,” Blair said. “I think our kids will come out ready to play.”
A&M has won 12 straight at Reed Arena, including eight this season. If the Aggies take care of business this week, they’ll have a week off before playing at 13th-ranked Kentucky on Jan. 16.
NOTES — McPhee-McCuin was hired at Ole Miss by current A&M athletic director Ross Bjork. … A&M won its first six league games in the 2013-14 season before losing to Tennessee en route to a 13-3 record to tie the Lady Vols for second behind South Carolina (14-2). … Ole Miss was 9-22 last season, including 3-13 in the SEC to tie Florida for 12th. Ole Miss has had nine players start at least three games this season. … Ole Miss’ four-player class signed for 2020 was ranked 13th by ESPN’s HoopGurlz. Kentucky at No. 14 was the only other SEC team in the Top 20.