Jan. 24, 2009

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - Consecutive losses are no longer the norm at Texas A&M now that Gary Blair has his program humming along.

So when the Aggies got knocked off in back-to-back games, it was time to get back to the kind of suffocating defense that got them to the brink of the Final Four.

Danielle Gant had 22 points and 12 rebounds, Takia Starks scored 15 points and No. 9 Texas A&M survived a late comeback attempt led by Andrea Riley to beat No. 24 Oklahoma State 60-50 Saturday night.

The Aggies (15-3, 3-2 Big 12) held Oklahoma State to a season-low in scoring, limiting the Cowgirls (12-5, 1-3) to a miserable 4-for-23 shooting in the second half.

Texas A&M shot 33 percent, but that was just enough to squeak by in a rematch of last year's Big 12 championship game.

"When you see the two of us play, it's not just beautiful chemistry and motion and all that pretty stuff. It's two of the hardest-working teams you've ever seen," Blair said.

Riley brought the Cowgirls back within 51-50 after her fourth straight free throw with 1:23 to play, but the Aggies went 9-for-10 from the foul line and held Oklahoma State scoreless the rest of the way for their fifth straight win in Stillwater.

Riley tried to make it interesting, but she missed a transition basket and a step-back 3-pointer before grabbing her own rebound and then firing another 3 that was also off-target. The preseason All-American finished with 21 points to lead the Cowgirls, but shot 4-for-19 and committed seven turnovers. Taylor Hardeman added 13 points for Oklahoma State, which was without injured center Megan Byford.

"Every time we play against them, it always comes down to the last minute or two. That's the best defense we've played since Big 12 started, and they always have that tough, hard-nosed defense," Cowgirls senior Shaunte Smith said. "It was a tough game."

The Aggies have won 10 of 11 in the series, including a 64-59 victory in the Big 12 title game last season. They went on to reach the round of eight in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, losing to eventual national champion Tennessee.

After losing back-to-back games against No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 5 Baylor, the focus was getting back to their trademark style of in-your-face defense.

"Last year, we were known for our defense. So, this year, that's what we're trying to get back to - having good defense," Gant said.

Riley went 1-for-12 in the second half, but the Cowgirls kept it close by going 18-for-21 from the foul line after halftime. Riley, the Big 12's leading scorer, went 11-for-13 on free throws in the second half, but that was perfectly fine with Texas A&M.

"Most of her shots came from the free-throw line," Starks said. "We want her to earn it."

Both teams got off to a slow pace offensively, combining for five baskets in the first 10 minutes, before Oklahoma State got hot from 3-point range. Hardeman hit back-to-back 3s and then Kristin Hernandez connected on one of her own for a 9-0 spurt that put the Cowgirls up 21-15.

The Aggies, though, were the only ones who could put together anything resembling an offense in the second half. They charged ahead with an eight-point burst capped by Starks' jumper that made it 29-26, and shot 39 percent after halftime.

Hardeman's two free throws put Oklahoma State up 43-42 with 5:34 to play, but Tanisha Smith answered with a 3-pointer on a second-chance shot to give the Aggies the lead for good. Oklahoma State didn't make a field goal in the final 8 minutes, missing its final 11 shots.

"That's our bread and butter, and we stuck with that tonight, and I think that contributed to our win," Starks said.

The two coaches had a heated exchange after the game, but Blair apologized in his postgame comments and said, "We're the best of friends." Budke only said he wished Blair and the Aggies "good luck."

"I apologize if I called a timeout with 10 seconds to go in the game. That's not me, but at the same time I want to make sure I finish the game right," Blair said. "If you remember, I didn't finish Baylor right and we didn't execute. We're going to make sure we execute down the stretch and do things right.

"I apologize to Kurt and Oklahoma State for calling the timeout."