Texas A&M are the new queens of SEC women’s basketball.
In their first year in the league the Aggies, behind center Kelsey Bone, defeated Kentucky 75-67 in the championship game of the SEC tournament on Sunday at Gwinnett Arena. Bone, a junior who transferred from South Carolina after her freshman year, was named the tournament’s most valuable player after scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
“It’s a storybook ending for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the SEC when I was a little girl and I always wanted to play in the SEC. That was a lot of the reason why I made my initial decision. Going back to the Big 12 and then, boom, I’m back here in the SEC. That doesn’t happen to everybody who transfers.”
It was the Aggies’ fourth conference title and third in the past six seasons. The previous two (2008, ’10) came when the Aggies (24-9) were in the Big 12. Kentucky (27-5), which has made it to the tournament final three times in the past four years, will have to wait until next year to try to add a second SEC tournament title to its 1982 championship.
The win secures an NCAA tournament bid, something the Aggies already had locked up according to most mock brackets, and avenged two losses to the Wildcats during the regular season.
A&M coach Gary Blair credited those losses, which came by a combined seven points, and something said by Wildcats player Samarie Walker for his team’s motivation.
“It’s hard to beat us three times,” he said. “Here is the difference: Kentucky played 40 minutes both games. We played 37 both times we lost. I know …. Walker said, ‘We knew if we played 40 minutes they couldn’t stay with us.’ Good for her to say, bad for us to read.”
With Bone on the bench because of foul trouble for the final 8:54 of the half, Kentucky’s defensive pressure started to affect Texas A&M. Twice the Wildcats created turnovers that led to points and a 36-34 halftime lead. Kentucky had 12 points off seven turnovers in the half.
Bone said she wasn’t worried.
“It’s a testament to my team and to the depth that we have that I can sit on the bench for eight minutes and we are only down by two points,” she said. “We felt like we had taken their best shot and we hadn’t thrown our best punch yet.”
The Aggies answered with an 11-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half to take a 45-38 lead. Bone scored four points during the run.
Kentucky’s A’dia Mathies said she and the rest of the guards didn’t do a good job preventing passes to Bone in the post.
“She got a lot of deep positions and easy buckets,” she said.
On offense instead of attacking Bone, which was proving ineffective after she blocked two shots early in the second half, the Wildcats began focusing on long jumpers. It was a strategy that didn’t work. The Wildcats missed eight of their first 10 3-point attempts in the half with eight minutes left in the game. They were never able to get close than seven the rest of the game.
“That is coaching,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “There’s no other way around it. We couldn’t get a bucket. Our post players aren’t at a point where they can get on the post and score. I should have done a better job at this point in the season of being better able to manufacture some offense. I feel really badly about that.”