Aggies fall just short in regional final

Making a bid to be the first Texas A&M basketball team in school history to reach the Final Four, the Aggies fought valiantly against perennial women's basketball powerhouse Tennessee but fell short in the closing minutes to end an exciting run in the NCAA Tournament.

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.—Texas A&M allowed just five second-half field goals by Tennessee, but it was the last field goal that hurt the most as the Lady Vols defeated the Aggies, 53-45 in front of 9,341 fans in Tuesday night's NCAA Regional Championship.

With less than a minute to play in Tuesday night's regional championship game, Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle drove a dagger into the heart of Texas A&M's Final Four hopes with a three-point basket from more than 25 feet away from the goal.

The Aggies were down by two with 1:18 to play and nearly forced a turnover by Lady Vols All-American Candace Parker, who was driving to the lane. The ball bounced out to Hornbuckle who appeared to throw up a prayer of a shot.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, that prayer was answered.

"Great players make great plays at the end of the game," said A&M head coach Gary Blair. "She was the only starter besides Parker who was doing anything on the offensive end. That was her only field goal in the second half but it was a dagger that really hurt. But that made it a five point game and we still had shots. We missed layups and outside shots."

The Aggies' stifling defense forced Tennessee to shoot just 25 percent from the field in the second half, but it was the Aggies offense, or lack thereof, that cost them their first Final Four appearance in school history.

A&M, which shot 6-of-27 (22.2 percent) from the field in the second half, missed five straight shots after Danielle Gant's steal and lay up with 6:19 to play. The Aggies didn't score another basket until the 30-second mark—more than five minutes later. But by then it was too late.

A&M's Danielle Gant and Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Morenike Atunrase combined to shoot just 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) from the field. But after the game, the Aggies gave all of the credit to Tennessee's defense for keeping A&M from getting good shots from the outside.

"Their perimeter defense was a lot better than we expected," Blair said. "Bobbitt, in the first half, controlled their defense. We did a better job of running our stuff in the second half but we couldn't score. There were a couple of times in the second half where we had the right play called but we couldn't execute."

But execution wasn't a problem for Parker and the Lady Vols, even when things seemed to take a tragic turn for Tennessee.

Parker, who finished the game with 26 points, with a 10-of-16 effort from the field, scored 16 straight points for the Lady Vols in the first half before Tennessee fans went into panic mode. The 6-foot-4 Player of the Year went for a steal and separated her shoulder with 3:50 remaining in the first half.

After going into the locker room to have her shoulder popped back in place, she reentered the game before aggravating the injury in the final minute of the half, and missed the first ten minutes of the second half. But the Aggies could not extend their lead beyond five points as the rest of Tennessee's All-Americans carried the load until she returned.

Takia Starks led the team with 12 points, A'Quonesia Franklin added 11 and Danielle Gant picked up 10 points and six rebounds in the Aggies' loss.

But despite falling short of the first trip to the Final Four in Aggie basketball history, Blair couldn't have been prouder of his players, especially the seniors who have taken this program from the lowest of lows to the cusp of the Final Four.

"There's not much more I can say, I'm just so proud of this basketball team," Blair said. "These seniors believed in the coaching staff and the quality of education at Texas A&M. They're really special. I hope a couple of them get an opportunity to play at the next level, but most importantly, I just want them to be successful.

Blair also knows that the Aggies are just getting started and as the recruits continue to sign letters of intent to play for Texas A&M, he also knows that the Aggies will be back.

"We had every intention of winning this basketball game, but sometimes you have to fail before you can succeed," Blair said. "That's what we did tonight."

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