The primary reason that Howard and Lumpkin were named Co-players of the game had little to do with the great numbers they put up. Yes, Anriel was high scorer with 21 points and 14 rebounds. And yes, Jasmine had 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists (which is almost a triple double!), but it’s not about those numbers that these two leaders kept the game alive until their teammates could get reset and play ball.
Rather, it was the indefatigable spirit of Anriel Howard, taking care of business, sticking to the plan, not letting humiliating play by teammates who were being outplayed by LSU get her down. That was one of the X-factors. The other was that Jasmine has always been the quiet strength who does things on defense that most people miss. Head Coach Gary Blair has said as much before in weekly radio shows at Rudy’s BBQ on Monday nights, but come next Monday night, he’ll be able to say, “I’ve been telling you all along about Jasmine Lumpkin.” Those fortunate enough to be part of the final attendance of 3506 saw how true it was last night.
It’s not basketball statistics, it’s basketball IQ that has those two key players where they are supposed to be. They’re determined, unflappable, and most of all—generous team players. It’s a win for all the team when they show up to practice and play on the court. It’s their professional office workplace and their attitude shows it.
It’s not taking away a single thing from any other player on the team going out and giving her best and still failing. It’s that Marine on the bottom of the pyramid who gives you a leg up to get over the fence, a back to put your foot on and sturdy foundation on which to carry you until you get your game back.
LSU’s game plan began by assigning two smaller LSU players to stick to Khaalia Hillsman like epoxy, and they did their jobs. Hillsman did a good job of shaking them when she could, but for the most part, LSU had double-teamed her. How this manifested itself was that the plan to get Hillsman the ball was basically taken away.
That left four other players who were responsible for getting the points on the board. But, in the first half, it was a tad shy of Ringling Brothers’ Barnum and Bailey Circus, as the chase to catch up to the turnover balls as LSU ran away down the court with so many balls made you think you were watching all the clowns getting out of the clown car and trip over each other running around the car.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, LSU had two key players who my seatmate called “Jump Shot Girls,” as they didn’t seem to miss. Raigyn Louis and Ayana Mitchell were those jump shot girls, and Mitchell was a leader in rebounding as well. The duo also named 3 steals apiece. The only thing that the Aggie women did consistently through the game was to take away LSU’s chance at the three, leaving them wanting, making only 2-17 attempts. The Aggies, though, didn’t fare much better, posting 1 for 8 stats. Clearly the Tigers took away the Aggie three, that which the Aggies didn’t take away on their own.
Chloe Jackson for the Tigers dealt 38 minutes of pure frustration to the Aggies as she got one of the team’s 2 threes, along with 14 points, an assist and a steal. Turnovers were the biggest dish of the night, with 12 by the Tigers and 14 by the Aggies. Thing is, it seemed like most of the Aggie turnovers happened in the first period of the game, and we were bound on a course to disaster, yet Howard and Lumpkin were determined not to let that happen.
The SEC provides some of the toughest competition and grittiest play, or at least those of us in the SEC fanbase seem to believe that as fact. Prior to the game, LSU came in tied with A&M at 4-2 in SEC play.
But, lately, it seems to be a rerun of “The Chennedy Carter Show,” where Carter would forgo a lot of passing and just try to carry the team on her back to the “W.” It was disconcerting to see the young freshman wearing her emotions outwardly, sitting slumped on the bench at times, towel over her head (until she later put it around her shouders), or appearing collapsed with disinterest against the scoring bench when waiting to get back in the game after a rest.
Hillsman, on the other hand, was a leader by example last night, and was ready to spring back into action, having played 38 minutes, again, with two Tigers seemingly always by her elbows. She had one technical foul, but oh well. You try playing four quarters with two Tigers on your six and not express a tad of frustration.
Kudos to redshirt junior, Caylinne Martin, whose two minutes showed a lot of promise and great attitude coming off the bench, very refreshing to see. Undoubtedly, Carter’s spirit and will to win are great attributes. The rest will work itself out in time, and that’s a coach’s thing, not a fan’s thing to bother with. What fans can do is to see the value in the unsung heroes and sing about them a bit more, so to speak.
And fans can also get up from their home TV sets and get over to Reed Arena if they are in town, because the difference a crowd makes, to each of these young women, is the true X-factor of how these players feel they contribute to Texas A&M Athletics. No athletes work harder than the Aggie women’s basketball team.
Ticket prices are very affordable; last night was $1 hot dog night. In addition to Coach Blair’s basketball skills, he’s also found a way to get someone to listen, and now water is now only $2/bottle. This makes the difference between bringing a family of four to a game, or not. Free parking for women’s games (but not for men’s games) is also another visible pro in the list of reasons to attend. And then there’s Anriel Howard, always a reason to attend in person.
Last night, everywhere you looked, Anriel was getting the rebounds that others might have retrieved, if only they had Anriel’s relentless ability to focus on her objective. Every ball is important, every play matters, and she can reset after an unfair call without it showing on her face.
Similarly, Jasmine Lumpkin on defense is so fun to watch; she was right in the face of every LSU offensive player, the omnipresent immovable force that was going to make your day perfectly unpleasant if you thought you were going to score. Lumpkin is where she’s supposed to be, guarding, and you don’t always see that if you’re focused on offense all the time. Lulu McKinney is always a dynamic addition to the game, even if her minutes aren’t always long. Her leadership skills contribute where you can’t see them on the court, and they’re important.
Per a recent press release from David Waxman, Asst. Athletics SID, McKinney was just named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s 16th annual “So You Want to Be a Coach” program, who will travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a three-day workshop, a very prestigious choice. Selection is based on academics, contributions to women’s basketball on and off the court, resume and written recommendation from their head coach.
Before the season ends, Williams’ consistency will stabilize, once the voices of so many well-meaning people, offering their opinions on how she can regain consistency subsides. Williams does not have a superstar ego, and she has a fierce work ethic and more leadership by example. First in, last out of the gym for practice.
Kayla Wells, a freshman with great promise as a key, calm shooter, played 3 minutes and got 3 key points for the team, and thanks to these two players, there’s 1000W of can-do spirit she brings to the game.
Now, that’s a bunch of numbers tossed about and yes, the Aggies won by 69–59 but it was neither easy nor pretty. At times it was ugly and to a person, three of the Aggie coaches were the most animated, vocal, and well, coaching from the sidelines loud and clear last night. The first period was the Titanic, the second period was a Carnival Cruise (with intermittent power outages), the third period was a Disney Big Red Boat ride of adventure, and the fourth period was a Princess Cruise, with slightly smoother sailing. Overall, the passengers were a tad seasick but happy to reach the dock again.
No one had seen Coach Bob Starkey jump up and down from his chair to the sidelines faster than he did last night. It was, after all, LSU, and he knew exactly what he’d drawn up and exactly what the team wasn’t doing. He “communicated” it with gusto but when the team finally did get it together, it worked smoothly.
Kelly Bond-White was next on the up and down mode; like Starkey she tried to remain calm, but again, when you know the answer and they’re not following what you told them to do, you are going to become very visible on the sidelines. She was. A lot. One can only imagine halftime speeches, but they were reportedly brief and to the point. And effective. That’s a part of the experience 99% of fans don’t get to see unless they are present for the game. TV doesn't focus that much on the sidelines. Blair has his “tells” about how the game is going; there’s trouble if the suit coat comes off before the end of the first quarter.
Generally, but not always, if the coat is placed over a chair, he’s in biz-mode. If he throws it to Mike “Radar” Ricke, he’s perturbed but determined. If he slings or throws it to his right, not caring if it reaches Radar or not, there’s going to be trouble in River City. It wasn’t a few plays before his displeasure with his team’s play revealed itself. But they won and that’s what Hall of Fame Coaches do—they communicate. And they get results.
What was wonderful to see during this game was the presence of many former student athletes who could not attend the formal alumni reunion two weekends ago because they were playing internationally. That’s another thing that Coach Blair excels in, making sure his players leave with an Aggie degree for the future, and he stays in their lives beyond the degree, recommending them for international teams. He’s one who can speak personally to what each would bring to a team, and coaches listen to him.
(Photo credit: TCV Media).
The Jumbotron found Courtney Walker in the stands and on the visitor’s sidelines courtside were Courtney Williams, Achiri Ade, and Danielle Gant, all watching the game together, undoubtedly remembering some of the halftime locker room speeches they’d heard in their years here. They’re all playing overseas right now, and that means good income for them, and they deserve it, without question.
Building champions is far from a smooth, elegant process. It takes four coaches working all the time and the operations team behind them to “make the starmaker machinery behind a popular…” team (with apologies to Joni Mitchell) of winners. Today, the coaches are all on the road, recruiting, and then they get two days off before the Aggies get back to preparing for road contests vs. Vanderbilt (Jan. 28) and Tennessee again (Feb. 1), where we get to hear “Rocky Top” far more times than many can bear, but both games are on SEC-TV so tune in.
And, on Sunday, Feb. 4, at 3 pm, when the Aggies are home to play Auburn, they deserve our attendance. Start your Super Bowl party at Reed Arena, because frankly, this team deserves full Aggie support. Last night if you weren't there, you missed the most adorable children from Rock Prairie Elementary School sing the National Anthem, and the fantastic group of dance students, from cherub to young teens, from local MCM Dance Studio giving their all in robust performances that were treasured by all. This year's team is one to watch, count on that.