The battle between the SEC’s two best players is right around the corner.
On Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. inside Memorial Coliseum, the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcat’s (14-2) women’s basketball team will play host to the No. 12 Texas A&M Aggies (14-2) live on the SEC Network.
— Matthew Mitchell (@UKCoachMitchell) January 16, 2020
The feature matchup in this game will be the two players that were voted by the coaches to finish as the best in the SEC: Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard and Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter.
But before we get into what Carter brings to the Aggies, let’s start with some basic Texas A&M information.
Opponents PPG: 55.4
Texas A&M is coached by Gary Blair, a Hall of Fame member who has coached the Aggies since 2003 and led them to win the 2011 NCAA Championship. He brings back a team in the 2019-20 season that returned roughly 90 percent of last year’s production.
Over his 17 year span in College Station, Blair has created a consistent national powerhouse. Including this season, he’s posted a team record of 371-151 and has led his Aggies to 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. He’s a member of six different Hall of Fame classes and has accumulated over 800 career wins. Blair holds a 6-4 record against Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell.
Texas A&M is coming off a 57-54 loss to the LSU Tigers – the Aggies’ first conference loss of the year. They had taken down a ranked Arkansas team, 84-77, before beating Ole Miss, 79-35 in the next game. Coming into the matchup against the Tigers, TAMU had only dropped one game on the year – an 80-58 loss to then-No. 12 Florida State.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, their star player Chennedy Carter did not play the second half against LSU after sustaining an injury. They held a five-point halftime lead before losing their star player and would have likely won that game had she been healthy. Carter sprained her ankle but isn’t expected to sit out against Kentucky.
*Side note: Kentucky’s forward KeKe McKinney has also been dealing with a severe migraine that has forced her to sit out the last two games for the ‘Cats. There has not been any official word from UK on her status yet and Matthew Mitchell did not comment about her during his pregame press conference on Tuesday. As of right now, I wouldn’t expect her to play on Thursday. But thing cans obviously change.*
The Aggies only boasts a couple of impressive wins this season; the recent win over Arkansas and an early-season victory against Georgia Tech. Their strength of schedule has a similar profile to that of the Wildcats, although Kentucky has played the likes of South Carolina and Louisville, two teams that are more talented than anyone the Aggies have face this year.
But that doesn’t mean A&M should be taken lightly by any means. Carter was tabbed the Preseason SEC Player of the Year for a reason. They come into Thursday’s game with just two losses and a top-15 ranking. The Aggies are still one of the top four biggest threats out of the SEC.
So let’s start with Carter, who was a unanimous National Freshman of the Year in 2018 (just one year before Howard did the same in 2019) and is one the Aggies all-time greats in just her junior season.
Standing at a mere 5-foot-7, Carter is slightly undersized as a point guard, but she’s one of the most prolific scorers at the collegiate level. Averaging 21.9 points per game through 16 outings this season, Carter – along with Howard – was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top-25. Carter was also a preseason AP All-American.
“She [Carter] is one of the best scorers in the nation,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said ahead of Thursday’s game. “She has a high skill level, and can handle the basketball with either hand and get to the basket seemingly at will. She just has great change of pace, change of direction, great ball-handling skills that allows her to create shots at just about any time she wants to create a shot, so she is a handful. She is really, really going to be tough to guard, and we’ll have to try to work like crazy to see if we can slow her down a bit.”
Depending on her overall health, she’ll easily be the ‘Cats main focus. She’s also a pesky defender (leading her team in total steals with 30) who will play upward of 30 minutes. The Aggies go as far as Carter takes them, as evidenced by the second-half that A&M fumbled away against LSU without the star junior (they led by five at halftime before Carter’s went down). She’s finished with double-figures in scoring in 55 straight games (she put up 12 agaisnt LSU before leaving with the ankle injury).
Filling out the roster for A&M are two more double-digit scorers, 6-foot-4 junior Ciera Johnson and 6-foot junior Kayla Wells. Johnson is the team’s second-leading rebounder, hauling in 7.1 boards per outing while scoring 12.9 points per game on an impressive 56.2 percent from the field. Her 13 blocks are a team-high. Wells is the Aggies’ most-efficient outside shooter, making a team-high 24 triples on 41.4 percent shooting.
Texas A&M will feature another dominant rebounder in the post, 6-foot-2 junior N’Dea Jones, who leads the team with over 10 boards per game. Jones has recorded four straight double-doubles (and six on the season) coming into the game against the ‘Cats. Like Johnson, Jones can score inside (52.2 percent from the floor) and is second overall in the SEC in rebounding.
Rounding out the starting five is Shambria Washington, another 5-foot-7 guard who has shown the ability to knock down outside looks. While she’s shooting just 38 percent from the field overall and is averaging under six points per game, she makes her impact as a floor general, feeding the ball to Carter and working to get her open. Washington has dished out a team-high 75 assists and is fourth in the SEC at 4.7 per game.
The Aggies really only bring two players off the bench in prominent roles: 5-foot-11 junior Aaliyah Wilson and 5-foot-11 senior Cheah Rael-Whitsitt.
Neither player has started a game this season, but lead the team in minutes off the bench by a significant margin. Texas A&M only plays seven rotational players.
Wilson is 10-30 from beyond the arc this season and averages 5.5 points per game. Rael-Whitsitt, on the other hand, is not an offensive factor. She puts up fewer than two points per game and is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field.
It could be another tough night in the trenches for the ‘Cats, as Texas A&M is one of the nation’s leading rebounding teams. They rank third in the SEC, corraling 38.8 boards per outing, and have done an even better job keeping opposing teams off the glass.
They haven’t proven to be effective from beyond the arc, shooting 30.5 percent as a team. Only one Aggie shoots better than 38 percent from deep (Wells) and just three of them have hit at least 10 three-pointers all season (Kentucky has five). Texas A&M makes its living on the inside, shooting nearly 50 percent from two-point range.
The injury statuses of Carter and McKinney will be huge game-time factors that will have heavy influences on the game. Texas A&M needs Carter to put up points and Kentucky needs McKinney to keep the Aggies out of the paint.
The world needs a Howard v. Carter matchup. Let’s hope we get it later on Thursday.