Tale of two Sydneys leads Aggies
Sydney Carter sparks defense, while Sydney Colson gives crucial minutes off bench
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Saturday's game was a walk in the park for Texas A&M and sophomore point guard Sydney Carter. Assuming, of course, that the park is Denali National Park in Alaska. And it's the middle of February. And you don't have a compass or a map. And you're barefoot.
What ended as a deceptively lopsided 58-44 win for No. 15 Texas A&M against No. 14 Texas, giving the Aggies a sweep of the season series, was a game that could easily have gotten away. Just ask the officials, who, it could be said, adhered to the letter of the law but perhaps missed the spirit of fairness during a strange late-game situation. A 14-minute delay resulted in their taking two free throws off the board for the Longhorns because of a scorebook error that had incorrectly put the visitors in the bonus -- but only after time had elapsed on the game clock and without giving the ball back to the Longhorns.
It was that kind of day for the home team when Texas jumped to a 15-4 lead in the first eight minutes of the game. The kind of day when Texas A&M's three leading scorers -- Tanisha Smith, Danielle Adams and Tyra White -- combined to hit 12 of 43 shots and commit seven turnovers.
As the officials huddled over courtside monitors for minute after minute in real time with just less than four minutes to play on the clock, the two teams had combined to score either 89 or 87 points -- either way, it was fewer than the Aggies alone had scored in a 91-70 victory against the Longhorns in Austin in early January.
"It was a hard game to play, to coach and to officiate," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "So before all of us start jumping on the officials, let's give credit, first, to the defenses on both teams."
In other words, it was the kind of day when the Aggies desperately needed a point guard to take control, lest they find themselves taking a standing eight-count from all the blows the Longhorns landed.
Although they had Sydney Colson's services for just 12 minutes as she continues to battle a leg injury, that's exactly what they got in 36 minutes from Carter, the sophomore who had started all of one career game before Feb. 3, when a fibula injury forced Colson out of the lineup except for one cameo against Nebraska.
"If [there was] anybody that needed to go into boxing, it would be her," Blair said of Carter. "Her feet [are] so good, I'd match her up against Muhammad Ali's daughter but she's got too pretty of a face to ever mess up.
"But this kid is such a great athlete. Her feet are so good, and her drive and her heart. And that's what makes a point guard sometimes. You know, she missed a couple of layups; she's been doing that all year. But she's creating layups and she's creating opportunities. And she's our best defensive player. So you always find room for defense and somebody that has a heart like she has."
Smith scored the biggest baskets of the game, hitting a jumper that gave the Aggies the lead for good, 33-31, in the second half and scoring 10 of her 13 points after the break. But Carter was just about the team's only constant, scoring seven points in the first half and seven more in the second to lead the team.
If [there was] anybody that needed to go into boxing, it would be her. Her feet [are] so good, I'd match her up against Muhammad Ali's daughter. This kid is such a great athlete. Her feet are so good, and her drive and her heart. And that's what makes a point guard sometimes.” -- Aggies coach Gary Blair on Sydney Carter
Equally important, she turned over the ball just twice against a strong defensive effort from Texas. In Texas A&M's last three games, all wins after a stretch that included four losses in five games, Carter has played 107 minutes and turned over the ball just four times against 15 assists.
"Always look at the assist-to-turnover ratio," Blair said in reference to both Carter and Colson, who managed three assists and one turnover in 12 effective minutes off the bench. "We only turned it over 11 times against that pressure. We missed a lot of shots but we did a good job of not making a turnover leading to a wide-open basket."
The same couldn't be said of the Longhorns, who played inspired but inevitably flawed basketball. Maybe it wasn't Denali, but time and again, Longhorns guards looked a little like they were lost in the wilderness when the team tried to run any sort of half-court offense, dribbling from one side of the court to the other without ever finding a path to reach the basket via pass or penetration.
The Aggies substituted quantity for quality on offense, launching 64 shots (not to mention 19 free-throw attempts) to compensate for 34.4 percent shooting. The Longhorns shot an equally frustrated 31.4 percent but managed just 51 field goal attempts.
Texas turned over the ball 22 times, leading to 22 points off turnovers for the Aggies. Carter wasn't solely responsible for that damage, but she was a big part of it.
"I got in trouble last time I said this in the media, but I'm going to say it again," Smith said with the defiantly sly grin of one convinced she speaks the truth. "She pisses other point guards off when she's guarding them.
"She's one of the best defenders that I know -- on-ball defenders. And so she knows how to read what a point guard is about to do. I think she did a great job on that. Her working made us work. You know, she was out working hard on point guard; we was working hard in denying the wings. And our post players did a great job of fronting, and we had great help-side [defense]. Our defense is what brought us to this victory."
If Texas A&M is to become the Final Four team it looked like early in the season -- its ranking suggests many still feel it has a chance -- it's going to need Colson available for at least as many minutes as she played Saturday, and probably more. Blair didn't sound overly optimistic about that happening in what little time remains this season. She hadn't practiced for two weeks before doctors advised Blair on Saturday that she had responded to treatment well enough to be available, and it might be a game-to-game situation the rest of the way.
With both Sydneys on the court, the Aggies have two players who can take care of the basketball and force defenses to respect them as shooters or slashers when they're off the ball.
As Blair said of Colson, "She can create offense."
But for the second time in a week, seven days after scoring a career-high 24 points in a 69-63 win against Kansas State, Carter was the key to surviving the present.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.