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Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published March 23 2014

Texas A&M eliminates UND from women's basketball tournament

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Yes, University of North Dakota players were glad to be here – competing in the program’s first-ever NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.

Truth be told, Texas A&M was probably glad to see UND leave Reed Arena on Sunday night, where the Aggies – as expected – downed North Dakota 70-55 in the first round of the tournament.

UND’s initial game on the national stage was impressive. As a No. 14 seed, UND wasn’t expected to push A&M, a No. 3 seed.

But UND trailed only 30-26 at halftime, a surprise to most of the 6,075 fans on hand. And UND didn’t fold after the Aggies gained control.

In the end, however, it was A&M’s superior height advantage, athleticism and quickness that helped the Aggies to a blistering second-half start. A&M outscored UND 16-2 in the first four-plus minutes of the second half, a spurt that decided the game and advanced the Aggies to Tuesday night’s second-round game against James Madison.

“What you saw here today was a basketball team that came out of transition from Division II to Division I that plays with a lot of heart,” said UND coach Travis Brewster. “There was about a four-minute span to start the second half where A&M made their run at us. They got into transition. We tried to match that, but that’s not our game.

“We’re not the type of people that relish any type of moral victory, either. We had every intent of going out and trying to have some success. Today, we just ran into a team that’s better than us.

“It hasn’t happened a lot this year for us, but at the same time I’m very proud of this season and the way we played.”

UND led once, 3-2, on a Mia Loyd 3-pointer, and stayed with the Aggies for the first 20 minutes. North Dakota’s zone defense and ability to withstand A&M’s pressure kept UND in contention.

With the game tied at 26, A&M’s Courtney Walker scored twice in the final 37 seconds of the first half.

That ignited the A&M faithful for the first time.

It also was liftoff that A&M used to start the second as the Aggies turned up the defensive pressure and scored in transition.

Walker (19 points) and Tori Scott (14) did the most damage in the run as the two athletic guards were a handful for UND.

“At halftime, we said, ‘All right, we’re right in this,’” said UND junior Emily Evers. “But we came out a little flat to start the second half.”

UND did steady its play after A&M’s burst, however.

Madi Buck, playing her last game at UND, finished with a game-high 22 points.

Largely due to Buck’s persistence, UND dug itself out of a 25-point second-half hole and cut the deficit to 10 late.

UND had only six turnovers in the first half, but had 10 in the second. Most came in the early stages of the second half.

“Credit them,” said Brewster. “They cranked it up and used all of their strengths to their advantage.”

Against A&M’s length and quickness, UND struggled to get good shots. As a result, UND shot only 31 percent (17-for-55). And they were outrebounded 49-36.

But a 15-point loss against a team from the Southeastern Conference ranked No. 15 in the final women’s national poll served as some consolation for UND.

“We came into the season with this being our ultimate goal,” said Buck. “At times, it seemed like it would never get here but we’ve accomplished something that’s never been done at UND. We had nothing to lose.”

UND (22-10): Szabla 2-6 4-4 8, Loyd 3-9 2-2 9, Buck 8-14 2-2 22, Knox 0-6 0-2 0, Wall 0-2 1-2 1, Burck 0-2 2-2 2, Dyer 0-6 4-4 4, Evers 4-9 1-2 9, Kiser 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-55 16-20 55.

TAM (25-8): Williams 3-13 3-4 9, Scott 5-8 4-4 14, Jones 3-8 0-0 8, Walker 8-16 3-4 19, Gilbert 5-9 4-4 14, Knox 1-2 0-0 2, Terry 0-1 0-2 0, Jennings 1-2 0-1 2, Mitchell 0-4 0-1 0, Ade 1-7 0-0 2. Totals 27-70 14-20 70.

Half: TAM 30, UND 26. 3-point goals: UND 5-15 (Szabla 0-1, Loyd 1-2, Buck 4-6, Knox 0-3, Burck 0-1, Dyer 0-2), TAM 2-7 (Williams 0-2, Jones 2-5). Total fouls: UND 19, TAM 17. Rebounds: UND 36 (Buck 9), TAM 49 (Walker 8, Gilbert 8). Assists: UND 10 (Knox 4), TAM 18 (Jones 11). Steals: UND 7 (Buck 2, Knox 2), TAM 11 (Williams 2). Turnovers: UND 16, TAM 12. A: 6,075.

Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald