COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Courtney Walker had 19 points and eight rebounds and No. 3 seed Texas A&M used a big run to pull away from tournament newcomer and 14-seed North Dakota and cruise to the 70-55 win on Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
The Aggies, who won the national title in 2011, were making their ninth straight appearance in the tournament and North Dakota was one of five women’s teams in the tournament for the first time.
North Dakota didn’t look like a tournament rookie early. The game was tied late in the first half before Texas A&M (25-8) went on a 14-0 run which spanned the first and second halves to go on top 40-26 with 16 ½ minutes remaining.
Madi Buck led North Dakota (22-10) with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Tori Scott and Walker made six points each in that stretch. North Dakota missed two shots at the beginning of the second half before Texas A&M’s smothering defense forced them into turnovers on four straight possessions to help the Aggies build the lead.
Karla Gilbert added 14 points with eight rebounds and five blocks for the Aggies, who won in the opening round of the tournament for the eighth consecutive year. Scott finished with 14 points and Jordan Jones had eight points and 11 assists for A&M.
Texas A&M will face No. 11 seed James Madison in the second round on Tuesday night.
North Dakota didn’t score in the second half until a jump shot by Buck with about 16 minutes left. The team couldn’t build on that though and Texas A&M scored the next six points to extend its advantage to 46-28.
Gilbert took over soon after that, scoring eight of A&M’s points in a 10-5 spurt that made it 56-34 with 12 minutes remaining.
The Aggies had a 20-point lead with nine minutes left before a 15-7 run by North Dakota, with most of A&M’s starters on the bench, cut the lead to 65-53 with less than two minutes to go. North Dakota made eight free throws in that time and Buck capped the run with a 3-pointer.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair called a timeout after Buck’s 3 and had his arms crossed and shook his head as he slowly walked toward the players during the break.
Texas A&M led by seven points early before North Dakota used a 13-8 run to get within 18-16 with eight minutes left in the first half. Madi Buck scored the last eight points of the run capped by a pair of 3-pointers.
The Aggies scored the next six points before an 8-0 spurt by North Dakota tied it at 24-all with two minutes left in the first half.
A free throw by Siri Burck tied it at 26-26 a few seconds later, but the Aggies scored the last four points of the half to take a 30-26 lead into halftime.