Updated at: 03/23/2013 7:39 PM
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
(AP) COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Kristi Bellock is comfortable talking about her team. Not so much when the questions shift to her game.
After spending much of her first three seasons at Texas A&M on the bench, the senior is adjusting to the spotlight.
Bellock tied a career high with 18 points and the third-seeded Aggies beat Wichita State 71-45 in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
Afterward, she squirmed uncomfortably when asked about her role in the victory.
"Um," she said. "I just want to go out there and play hard. It’s my main thing for the whole season. It’s my last year and I just want to know I gave all that I had, and don’t hold anything back is my mindset."
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said it’s understandable that she shies away from the limelight after averaging less than a point last season.
"She sat on the bench for three years and all of the sudden it’s here," Blair said. "It’s like Christmas for her. There’s a lot of good things happening."
Playing in front of a hometown crowd, the Aggies used a big run at the end of the first half to erase a one-point deficit and take a 13-point lead into halftime. A 12-2 spurt early in the second half extended the lead to 52-29, and Texas A&M cruised from there.
Texas A&M (25-9), which won the national championship in 2011, is in the tournament for the eighth consecutive season. It was the first trip for Wichita State (24-10), which got 12 points from Michelle Price.
The Aggies will play Nebraska in the second round on Monday night.
Bellock also had six rebounds, two assists and two blocks, and freshman teammate Courtney Williams added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. Adrienne Pratcher helped with seven assists, seven rebounds and six points.
Leading scorer Kelsey Bone had all 10 of her points in the second half after getting into foul trouble before the break. She came in averaging 16.9 points a game.
"I have to understand that teams are going to have game plans against me and I help them by picking up silly fouls," she said. "Hopefully I can learn from that and not put myself in that situation next time."
The Aggies helped themselves by making their first 15 attempts from the line. Pratcher had the first miss with about 3 1/2 remaining, so they had to settle for making 16 of 18 foul shots for the game.
Texas A&M, which has three players 6-foot-4 or taller, also took advantage of their height advantage to outrebound Wichita State 41-25.
A&M led by 13 with about 17 minutes remaining before Bone scored six points in the 12-2 run that put the game out of reach. The Shockers’ offense went cold in that decisive stretch and they couldn’t hit much of anything, including missing two layups.
Wichita State looked right at home early on, taking a 20-19 lead on Chynna Turner’s layup with 7:45 left in the first half. Williams kept the Aggies afloat with nine of their first 19 points.
Texas A&M eventually got going, with Bellock scoring six points in a 16-2 run that made it 35-22 at halftime. The Shockers missed 10 shots and had three turnovers in that span, and didn’t score for the last 4 1/2 minutes of the half.
"Us not scoring really affected us defensively," Wichita State coach Jody Adams said. "They made it tough from there on."
Foul trouble hampered the Aggies for much of the opening 20 minutes. Bone was whistled for her second midway through the half and stayed on the bench until halftime. Karla Gilbert replaced her, but was soon sitting next to Bone on the sideline when she got her second foul with 4:22 left.
Bellock, who entered averaging 10.2 points a game, credited Bone for much of her success this season.
"I just have to thank Kelsey because she brings a lot of attention and makes my life a lot easier because they kind of don’t guard me," Bellock said. "So I get open shots and I just have to know how to knock them down."
When reminded that Bone was on the sideline when A&M made the big run in the first half, Bellock repeated the sentiment that many of the Aggies shared on Saturday.
"When she is on the bench I know that someone else has to score and I’m just the next person up, and I’m happy that today was a good game for me," Bellock said.
The loss ends the most successful season in school history for the Shockers, who set records for wins (24) and Missouri Valley Conference wins (15). Before Creighton upset Syracuse on Saturday, the Missouri Valley Conference hadn’t won a game in the women’s tournament since 2002.
Making the tournament was a major step for Wichita State, which was one of the worst teams in the Missouri Valley Conference when Adams, now in her fifth season, took over.
"The tone has been set, the bar has been raised, the expectations are to win championships now," she said.
It was a tough day for Wichita State’s Jessica Diamond, who was held scoreless after entering the game leading the team by averaging 12 points a game.
Blair removed his starters with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining and the Aggies up 65-40.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)