Written by Marvin Parker Jr.
Everything’s in the books now; the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the ladies in this years tournament have come and gone with many tears of both despair and elation. None of the teams that came out of College Station, where I had coverage, made it to the final game, but here’s a closer look at them.
This bracket consisted of 11-seed James Madison, six-seed Gonzaga, 14-seed North Dakota and, the host, three-seed Texas A&M.
James Madison, led by senior guard Kirby Burkholder, grabbed my attention from the start. Not saying that Gonzaga did not come prepared, but they clearly seemed to have underestimated the Dukes from Virginia in James Madison because it was clear who wanted this first, first-round game more. The Dukes were all over place; grabbing loose balls, capitalizing on the second chance points, you name it, James Madison did it.
The supporting cast was great, but Kirby Burkholder had 18 rebounds against Gonzaga. I repeat; Kirby Burkholder had 18 rebounds against Gonzaga! Not only that, but she went 13-14 from the charity stripe, what else could you ask from a player! This is no Britney Griner out there or anything like that, just a self motivated, decorated three-guard out there hustling.
All in all the James Madison team, coached by Kenny Brooks, kept Gonzaga off the boards, put their star players Sunny Greinacher in foul trouble and were so physical they knocked another leader on the Bulldogs roster — Haiden Palmer — out of the game with an ankle.
The final score was 72-63 and I got to ask Kenny Brooks about his team’s active defense and scrappiness in the post-game interview:
“I think the second thing I put on the board was, ‘be you’. Do everything with confidence. Shooter’s shoot, rebounders rebound, defenders defend. We’ve been that way all year long. This is the scrappiest group I’ve ever had. We came up with the motto, ‘we,’ which is we’re going to win. This group plays together; they have each other’s back. If one falls down, we all pick them up; when one makes a mistake, someone usually comes over and helps them out. We’ve been playing like this all year long. I think we had one or two games that were single-digit wins, and it’s because of our scrappiness. We go out and we never let up, regardless of the score or what the situation is. They wanted this win so bad. I kept telling them to relax. We’d be up by one or three, and they’d be mad because they wanted it so bad. Once they started doing that, they were able to push the lead out and have a really good run towards the end of the game.” –
The third-seeded Aggies and 14-seed North Dakota wasn’t much of a contest as most people expected. But everyone in College Station was very much excited for James Madison and the Aggies to square off. A&M had size; a lot of size at that compared to the Dukes, but a lot of people thought the fight of James Madison would lead them to an intriguing game. An intriguing game it was, but the Dukes just could not get over the height of 6’7 Rachel Mitchell and 6’5 Courtney Walker. A&M pounded the boards, scored down low at will and drove the line when they wanted to more and more as the game went on. Everyone for the Aggies shined in this match up. The Aggies went on to lose to UCONN later on in the tournament, not so bad considered UCONN went on beat undefeated Notre Dame in the championship game to have a 40-0 undefeated record of their own, so no shame there on A&M’s part.
Collectively it was a successful weekend in College Station for women’s basketball, and great exposure on my part representing KTSW in March Madness.