BERKELEY, Calif. -- Texas A&M coach Gary Blair delivered a strong message to the Aggies after they overcame one of their worst offensive games of the season: Get better and do it fast, or else.
"We scored two points on fastbreaks and that's not going to cut it," Blair said after Texas A&M (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) needed a late run in the second half to beat Southern Illinois 72-58 in the Colliers International Classic on Saturday.
"Every time we go out, we're going to have a bull's-eye on our back because this would have made their year," he said. "Tomorrow, we better have our 'A' game or we're going to leave our heart in San Francisco."
Tanisha Smith scored 20 points, Adaora Elonu added 14 points and five rebounds and Danielle Adams added 14 points and six rebounds for the Aggies (5-0), who struggled offensively throughout the game against the rebuilding Salukis.
Texas A&M plays California (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) on Sunday in the championship game while Southern Illinois plays Colorado State in the consolation game.
First-year Southern Illinois coach Missy Tiber's team, which has nine newcomers and one returning starter, was in position to pull off one of the biggest wins in school history before collapsing down the stretch against the faster, bigger and more talented Aggies.
The Salukis were within 46-39 in the second half but managed just two baskets over the final 11 minutes and committed 27 turnovers overall to remain winless. Those are the growing pains Tiber expected in her first season coaching Southern Illinois after a four-year run at Division II Tusculum College.
"I've really seen us in the last two weeks get better as a team," Tiber said. "You hate to accept moral victories but when our kids give as much as they did for 40 minutes, that's probably as [much] as we're going to get out of this team this year. They fought the entire game."
The Aggies, the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, were coming off a 106-56 win over Stephen F. Austin on Thursday, but were out of synch offensively and defensively much of the afternoon in Blair's 200th career game coaching at Texas A&M.
The Aggies led by 12 at halftime, but Southern Illinois pulled within 46-39 after Oliver's fourth 3-pointer 6 minutes into the second half.
Smith then hit a 16-foot jumper, Adams made a pair of short one-handed shots and Smith added a 3-pointer to give the Aggies a 55-39 lead.
"I don't think we came out and overlooked [them]," Smith said. "I just didn't think we came out here with the passion that we had when we played against Auburn or Duke. Defense always sets the tone for us and we didn't get after it tonight."
Smith, who scored a career-high 30 in the win over Stephen F. Austin, was 8 of 16 from the field against Southern Illinois.
Teri Oliver scored 18 points and Christine Presswood had 16 points and four assists to lead Southern Illinois.
Tiber, who guided Tusculum to a pair of appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament, has just three seniors on her roster while trying to rebuild a program that went 9-19 in 2008.
The Aggies, meanwhile, have 10 returners including two starters from last year's squad that finished 27-8.
The difference showed but not until late in the second half when Texas A&M put together its best run of the game while the Salukis' offense stalled out.
"I thought their kids played harder," Blair said. "They just kept beating us to the ball and we kept helping them out at the free throw line. Most of the time it was just us being careless and reaching and not moving our feet. Did we overlook them? Probably."
It was the first meeting between the two schools since Nov. 24, 1978.
Texas A&M led 37-25 at halftime but needed a late run to pull away from the winless but pesky Salukis.
Southern Illinois closed within 22-21 on Oliver's second straight 3-pointer with 5:43 remaining before Texas A&M closed out the half with a 15-4 burst.
Smith got the Aggies going with back-to-back midrange jumpers before Elonu scored all six of her first-half points during the run, while the Salukis went 0-for-5 from the field and made two turnovers before Presswood's layup at the buzzer.