Women's BB Scouting Report: Texas A&M

It took awhile, to be honest, but Vanderbilt's women's basketball team finally stands face to face with the demon known as Adversity. The Commodores can't score right now… and their reward is a date with a Texas A&M team whose identity is based entirely on shutting down its foes.


The task is at once simple and daunting: Vanderbilt needs to score more points. The hard part is that the Dores are fighting themselves and a deteriorating sense of confidence, all while prepping for an opponent that relishes the chance to play lockdown defense. Offense is certainly a matter of technical cleanness and systematic efficiency, but that's not the whole story. Offense in basketball is still predicated on energy, with the key being that the energy must be finely channeled into the flow of action, with each movement having a purpose behind it and not merely being "movement for the sake of moving around." Vanderbilt needs to find poise, purpose, and – most of all – a regained sense of confidence when it shoots the ball. It's easy to say.

It will be hard to do.

Yet, if Vanderbilt is worthy of a higher NCAA tournament seed and wants to make the second weekend of the Dance – as we mentioned at the beginning of the SEC season – it will find a way to get the job done against the Aggies.

TEXAS A&M AT-A-GLANCE

When a young Texas A&M team lost four games before Christmas to teams that were not at the top of the national rankings, it was easy to think that the Aggies were not going to be at the top of the SEC entering the month of February. Yet, here they are. We really shouldn't be all that surprised. Gary Blair forged one of the most special accomplishments of the past half-decade as A&M's head coach, leading the Aggies to the national championship amidst the parade of Baylor Final Fours and Connecticut-Notre Dame national semifinals and Connecticut national titles. The way A&M competed and went about its business in 2011 is still the way it approaches the sport today. Blair's teams do not allow opponents to breathe. They don't produce gleaming offensive performances, but they attack the glass and defend with unmatched energy.

This is entirely a compliment – the imagery is not supposed to be any kind of backhanded slap at all: A&M is ferocious. The Aggies, like Rafael Nadal in full battle mode on a tennis court, are at their best when they're a little bit angry and bring an edge to the court. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich – in a memorable sound clip from the 2012 NBA Playoffs – told his team during a timeout, "I want some nasty."

Texas A&M gives Gary Blair "some nasty" on a regular basis.

In this SEC season, Blair and his players have figured things out, correcting what went wrong in non-conference play. The Aggies have found their identity, and the proverbial "one bad day at the office" in a blowout loss to Tennessee should not significantly alter one's perceptions of how good this team really is. Vanderbilt will be in for a battle royale on Sunday afternoon.

Starting Lineup

Center – Karla Gilbert –
Senior, 6-5; 2013-14: 9.6 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game

Gilbert will bring to mind the problems Vanderbilt faced against South Carolina. She's physically imposing with her height near the rim. VU has been losing ground the past week, but there's no time to sit around and lament – the Dores need to attack Gilbert and not back down from a challenge.

Forward – Achiri Ade – Junior, 6-1; 2013-14: 8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg

Ade is a Gary Blair player – so much of her game (and her contributions to the Aggie roster) comes from her work ethic and an insistence on getting to that 50-50 ball before the opposition does. Blair-coached teams win because of their doggedness and persistence – as long as they're not severely outclassed in terms of pure skill and shotmaking, they reel in opponents with their relentless approach to defense and rebounding. Ade is at the heart of that identity for this A&M team.

Forward/Guard – Courtney Williams – Sophomore, 6-1; 2013-14: 13.2 ppg, 6 rpg, 2 apg

Williams gives the Aggies a third strong rebounding presence, but she manages to do a little more with the ball than Gilbert or Ade. She will occasionally shoot the three – she's not great at it, but her 34.1-percent mark is certainly credible, and it's part of what boosts her scoring average despite a fairly pedestrian 42.7-percent overall shooting rate.

Guard – Jordan Jones – Sophomore, 5-6; 2013-14: 6.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.5 steals per game

Jones is only a sophomore, but she is in many ways an extension of Blair on the floor. Blair loves the kinds of players who can significantly influence a game's flow and progression without scoring, and Jones fits the bill. She's the team's best facilitator and perimeter defender. Quick feet and quicker hands will make her a pest for Vanderbilt's guards, despite her lack of size.

Guard – Courtney Walker – Sophomore, 5-8; 2013-14: 13.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.5 steals per game

The future is bright for A&M because, as you can see, there are three sophomores on this roster. Walker might have the most blended game, more so than the other members of this backcourt/wing trio. She scores the way Williams can (and is a slightly better three-point shooter at 36.4 percent), but she's more involved on defense and as a facilitator, albeit not by much. Williams is a better scorer-rebounder, but Walker's game branches out into more aspects of gameday competition.

Bench

A few players get anywhere from five to eight minutes per game, but there are only two primary reserves Blair relies on for added production: forward Tavarsha Scott and guard Curtyce Knox. Scott averages 6.1 points per game, Knox 4.2.

Keys to the Game

1) Solid screens, crisp cuts.
It's back-to-basics time for Vanderbilt. Two poor offensive performances demand a focus on the essentials, rebuilding both confidence and attention to detail. You don't reinvent the wheel when you're struggling. You focus all your attention on making the wheels move smoothly, with precise turns and control of the machine, be it a bike or a car. Athletes often require tunnel vision, the ability to block out nagging or depressing memories from recent days and allow their minds to deal only with the task at hand. A rededication to offense is needed at this point in the season, more than anything else. When that's the case, you don't really focus all that much on what the opposition does. You worry about your own performance and emphasize the idea that if you play well, everything else will take care of itself.

2) Matching A&M on the glass. Three Aggie starters average at least six boards per game. The challenge is there for Vanderbilt, especially its bigs but truly everyone in coach Melanie Balcomb's rotation. The Commodores have to be ready to beat A&M at one of its strongest points.

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