Los Angeles – No. 6 Texas A&M shook off a sluggish start Saturday to run past short-handed USC, 74-64.
Chennedy Carter scored 17 of her 26 points on the night in the second half to lead the Aggies, while Kayla Wells had 16 points. The visitors outrebounded the Trojans, 44-26, and had double the assists and second chance points to seal the win.
USC got out to a quick start and led most of the first quarter, as they held Carter to five points and had a two-point lead by the end. Ciera Johnson helped A&M pick up the pace in the second period, padding their lead to eight points with 2:18 to go. But an Aliyah Jeune bucket in the final seconds brought the Trojans within five points.
The Aggies increased their defensive pressure in the third quarter, and Carter scored nine points and Wells, eight, to as much as 13 points midway, and 11 points to close out. The fourth quarter saw a USC run, fueled by 11 points from freshman Endyia Rogers, who finished with 20. But the hosts got no closer than seven points midway through.
Freshman Alissa Pili added 12 points for the Trojans, who are missing four players due to injury.
A&M coach Gary Blair said the game was reminiscent of his team’s effort the previous weekend against Rice, where they prevailed by just one point.
“We’ve got to be able to finish teams off when we get a chance, and we didn’t do it against Rice and we didn’t do it tonight,” he said. “Everywhere we go we’re a target for everybody. We play the schedule to get us better for our conference.”
USC effectively defended Carter in the first half, and she was just 12-28 on the night. Blair said he had to make halftime adjustments and increase defensive pressure to draw opponents away from Carter.
“Chennedy was trying to do too much,” he said. “They were squeezing her in the middle and (causing her to have) too many turnovers. You’ve got to live and die with Chennedy, kind of like you did with Allen Iverson back in the day. She’s an All-American, but she played average tonight, which tells you what she can do. But she competed hard.”
Blair was pleased with the way the Aggies stepped up.
“I love what the rest of my team did,” he said. “When we looked adversity in the eye, we faced it and made some adjustments. We had a few good calls and we ran some stuff well.”
Wells credited the win to a total effort between staff and players.
“We came out lackadaisical,” she said. “(But this) says we know how to finish games. We have great coaches who call great plays, and we just execute them. We don’t panic. We’re experienced, and that comes with experience.”
Desiree Caldwell who scored nine points and dished a team-high five assists for the Trojans, said the team has been challenged by a series of injuries.
“We’ve had five starting lineups, so we haven’t been able to develop a chemistry,” she said.
But that didn’t stop them from preparing for their annual matchup against their friendly foes.
“We were excited for this game, and we had prepped all week,” she said. “Our main focus was to limit their offensive rebounds, and obviously stop Chennedy Carter, because she’s a really talented scorer.”
And despite the loss, young USC is encouraged.
“We can take that we have a lot of growing to do, but we know there’s a lot in store for us,” Caldwell said.