Gant scores 21 to lead Texas A&M over Hartford, 63-39
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—Texas A&M is on the brink of making school history, not that anyone could tell by the businesslike manner in which the Aggies reacted to their dominant victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Gant scored 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting to lead Texas A&M to a 63-39 triumph over 10th-seeded Hartford on Monday night, sending the Aggies to the round of 16 for only the second time ever.
“We just expect to win big games,” said Morenike Atunrase, who added 13 to help the Aggies (28-7), seeded second in the Oklahoma City Regional, win their 11th straight game. “We’re not the No. 2 seed, or no one picked us as the No. 2 seed, for no reason.”
Texas A&M will look to advance to the regional finals for the first time ever next weekend. The only other time A&M, which did not have women students until 1963, advanced to the third round was 1994.
“There’s room for people to jump on this bandwagon at any time. I don’t think we have our spring football game for at least a couple weeks,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “Right now, it’s just about women. Isn’t that great? … We might even have a woman president. You never know what’s going to happen. We want to go to that next level. We don’t want to just get up there and play hard and everybody pats us on the back. We’re in this thing to win now.”
Hartford (28-6), which beat Syracuse in the first round on Saturday, saw its 10-game winning streak end and still has yet to advance beyond the second round.
“Obviously we ran into a defensive buzz-saw tonight,” Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “The pressure that Texas A&M put on us was unlike anything we’ve seen and I don’t think we would have been able to prepare for it even if we had a week.”
Danielle Hood had 13 points and nine rebounds to lead the Hawks, who shot 34 percent and turned the ball over 25 times.
It was the final game for Hood, a senior who averaged nearly 16 points this season and finished her Hartford career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer. She pulled her jersey up to her eyes to wipe away tears as her coached praised her.
“I know I’m going to make her more of a mess … but I’m just proud of Danielle and what she has done and what she has meant. She’s really been the face of the University of Hartford’s women’s basketball program,” Rizzotti said. “She’s really taken our program to a whole other level.”
Erica Beverly had 10 rebounds and nine points for Hartford, which trailed by double digits for most of the game.
Jamie McCabe’s 3-pointer early in the second half pulled Hartford as close as 34-21.
Atunrase responded by hitting a jumper, then Gant converted a fast-break layup, and the Aggies were on their way to building a lead of more than 20 points.
While playing stifling defense, the Aggies were methodical on offense, shooting 46 percent and committing a relatively low 11 turnovers. They scored 34 of their points inside while allowing Hartford only 16 points in the paint.
The 5-foot-11 Gant, who can play guard or small forward, was dominant throughout, hitting on jump shots, and drives while muscling inside for putbacks.
“I just needed to help my teammates out a lot,” Gant said. “In the first half, coach just told me to drive the ball and I seemed to have wide open lanes so that’s what I did.
She scored 11 of her points on 5-of-6 shooting in a dominant first half while A&M held Hartford to 6-of-22 shooting from the field.
Gant also had a pair of steals in the opening 20 minutes, and the Aggies converted 12 turnovers into 19 points in taking a 34-19 halftime lead.
She did so in a game that sends her squad to her hometown of Oklahoma City.
“It’s just great to go home,” Gant said. “I always play great when I’m in front of my family so we’ll see.”