- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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You could call one the "Candy Man" and the other the "Music Man." Both are two of women's college basketball's best salesmen.
Texas A&M's Gary Blair and Kentucky's Matt Mitchell faced off Monday with their teams locked in a battle with Tennessee atop the SEC. The No. 8 Wildcats' 70-66 victory over the No. 10 Aggies gives us a pretty good idea of what the SEC tournament could be like next month.
Just when you think you're sure what's going to happen, you find yourself saying, "Oh, hold on a minute "
It looked as if Kentucky was about to run away with it in the teams' second matchup of the season, as the Wildcats were up by 14 with just less than 9½ minutes left. But the Aggies rallied to push it to the final seconds, when Kentucky guard Bria Goss secured the victory with two free throws.
Blair, an ambassador for the women's game since the 1970s, has been known to toss candy into the stands to thank fans for their support. Mitchell is a music buff who doesn't mind flexing his vocal chords, dancing, playing the guitar and having a lot of fun goofing on himself and his giggling players on his coach's show. Both coaches have done a great deal to boost women's basketball attendance with not only their affable personalities, but also by the winning teams they put on the floor.
This is Texas A&M's first season in the SEC. In the Aggies' first meeting with the Wildcats on Jan. 10 in Lexington, Kentucky slowed Texas A&M's offense in the second half and won 65-62. Aggies junior center Kelsey Bone had 27 points and 15 rebounds.
"In that game, we got off to a really good start and played good for 30 minutes," Bone said ahead of Monday’s matchup. "But then instead of everybody looking to score, it was probably too much of just trying to get the ball to me. We have to do a better job of keeping everybody involved."
On Monday in College Station, the other Aggies were more in the scoring mix, led by freshman Courtney Walker's 20 points. But Bone, bothered by cramps that limited her in the second half, had just nine points on 4-of-8 shooting.
It was a gutsy road win for Kentucky, who overcame senior guard A'dia Mathies' foul trouble. She still finished with a team-high 13 points.
After letting a win get away by falling to Georgia at home, 75-71 on Feb. 3, Kentucky has won four in a row -- three of those on the road. The Wildcats, who were the preseason SEC favorite, are 23-3 overall and 11-2 in the SEC. Tennessee is 11-1 in the conference -- their surreal Feb. 3 loss at Missouri is the lone blemish -- but must finish the regular season against Texas A&M (in Knoxville, Tenn.) and Kentucky (in Lexington)
Kentucky has three games left before the SEC tournament: at LSU, at Mississippi and then the finale showcase against Tennessee. That game (March 3, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU) already is an advance sellout at Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M -- (20-6, 10-2) -- has four regular-season games left: at home vs. Mississippi, on the road at Vanderbilt and Tennessee, and at home against LSU.
The Aggies started this season with three consecutive defeats: close losses to Louisville and Penn State, but then a blowout to Connecticut. Blair said the Huskies "put on a clinic" that probably helped the Aggies a lot, especially Bone, who was embarrassed by how thoroughly the Huskies dominated them.
Blair really hoped to prevail in the rematch with Kentucky, but the Aggies still have a lot they can accomplish in their inaugural SEC season. And the conference tournament -- March 6-10 in Duluth, Ga. -- is going to be quite an entertaining battle.