DULUTH, Ga. — Texas A&M flipped the script on Tennessee on Saturday.
The Aggies utilized the balanced scoring and potent rebounding that’s been so useful to the Lady Vols this season.
“That’s a good formula,” UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood conceded.
In this case, it was good enough to end Tennessee’s 10-game SEC women’s basketball tournament win streak. Courtney Williams’ baseline jumper with 35 seconds left was the difference in A&M’s 66-62 semifinal victory at Gwinnett Arena.
The fourth-seeded Aggies (23-9) had four double-figure scorers, led by Courtney Walker’s 18 points. The freshman guard capped a game featuring 11 ties and 11 lead changes by making two free throws with six seconds left. Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone bounced back from a knee injury on Thursday to score 15 points. Point guard Adrienne Pratcher also had 15.
Kristi Bellock scored 12 points. The senior forward’s 12 rebounds led a 42-31 advantage on the boards.
Despite a career-high 33 points from Taber Spani, top-seed Tennessee (24-7) lost for the first time in the tournament since 2009 and the first time this season when leading with 10 minutes left.
Texas A&M erased a 10-point deficit in the final 12½ minutes, scoring points on nine of its last 11 possessions.
“Our back was back against the wall down 10 in the second half,” Walker said. “Somebody just needed to turn it up until everybody got going. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Other than Spani, Tennessee’s only other double scorer was Meighan Simmons with 10 points. But the junior guard shot just 4-for-12 from the floor and committed a team-high four turnovers.
“My frustration showed a lot today,” Simmons said. “In games like this, I can’t get frustrated, I’ve got to move on to the next play.”
Tennessee had five double-figure scorers and a 44-27 rebounding edge in the teams’ regular-season meeting, which translated into an 82-72 victory that clinched the conference regular-season championship.
Texas A&M began the rematch with a concerted effort to reclaim the boards. The payoff not only was an early advantage but also first-half foul trouble for UT forwards Bashaara Graves and Cierra Burdick.
In particular, the Aggies’ 18 offensive rebounds galled Burdick.
“That can’t happen,” said Burdick, who had one rebound and no points in 14 minutes. “We have to rebound from all positions. We can’t rely on two or three players. That hurt us.”
Spani’s uncanny shooting saved the Lady Vols for a half. Her 3-pointer beat the buzzer and sent them to the locker room, trailing just 35-33.
The senior forward, who shot 11-for-13 from the floor, continued her Annie Oakley exhibition after the break. She surpassed the 1,000-point career milestone by beating the Aggies up the floor for a layup and converting a traditional 3-point play.
At that point, Tennessee led 48-40. A Jasmine Jones rainbow jumper a minute later pushed the lead to 50-40 with 12:48 left.
Tennessee vs Texas A&M, March 9, 2013
Thereafter, Spani attempted just two more shots. Her final four points came on two free throws and a rebound basket to tie the game at 62 with 54 seconds left.
“They applied hard denial,” Burdick said. “It was kind of hard to get it to Taber. But we kind of went away from her. That can’t happen. We have to get it to the hot hand.”
Tennessee’s final chance to tie was in the hands of Kamiko Williams. The senior guard missed a driving shot right at the rim with 11 seconds left.
“I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “It’s a shot I normally take. I got a step on (the defender). I went up. I don’t know what the ball did.”
It kissed off the glass and bounced off the front rim, leaving Tennessee with no shot.