SEATTLE – Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair knows he has an excellent team, which is a good thing – otherwise there would be no reason to play the second-round NCAA tournament game tonight at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
He has that much respect for Gonzaga.
“Gonzaga would finish in the top four in any BCS conference in the country,” he said. “That’s how good they are, that’s how much respect I have for their personnel and their coach.”
Blair’s Aggies finished fourth in the Big 12 Conference, which has seven teams in the tournament – all top-six seeds and all ranked in the top 25. The Aggies are 25-7, ranked ninth nationally and seeded second in the Sacramento Regional.
Just for good measure, they also beat the Bulldogs 80-76 at a December tournament in Las Vegas.
But since that game, Gonzaga has won 19 in a row for a 28-4 record, 18th national ranking and a seventh seed.
“We were in Vegas, I lost at the tables and we won the game,” Blair said. “Seriously, we got after them early. I don’t think they were expecting that kind of pressure to start the game. We sort of got them on their heels.”
A&M shot 60 percent in the first half, 53.6 for the game. Tanisha Smith, a 6-foot senior guard, had 20 points and Tyra White, a 6-foot sophomore guard, had 18. Junior center Danielle Adams had 11.
Adams, a 6-foot-1 junior, has become the leading scorer (16.3 points per game) and rebounder (5.7 rpg) despite just 10 starts. Smith averages 15.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. White is at 10.5 ppg.
The Aggies also hounded GU point guard Courtney Vandersloot into nine turnovers with only eight assists.
“We like frustrating the other team, just knowing everything they’re going to do before they know what they’re going to do,” A&M senior Damitria Buchanan said.
“I was awful during that game,” said Vandersloot, who led the nation in assists. “It was kind of a learning experience for me.”
The Bulldogs have called that game the turning point to the season.
“I think that was the low point of our season,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “I think the second half really did do something to jump start us.”
Blair said the transformation was obvious.
“When they made their comeback, we were up 18 points with like 11 (minutes) to go,” he said. “They played with no fear. They have complete confidence in themselves.”
That was on display Saturday night when the Zags out-ran North Carolina 82-76.
“That was one of the best college basketball games I’ve seen this year,” Blair said. “I really like their team. … They’ve got an eight-player rotation that is very, very good, so you can’t go in trying to stop three players.”
Graves said the Aggies have also improved.
“Over the last three or four weeks they have played as good of basketball as any one in the country,” he said. “They really have been dialed in defensively. Offensively … you have to play this group honestly and hope they’re having an off shooting night or we’re having a great shooting night.”
A&M averages 75.6 points a game and Gonzaga is fifth nationally at 81.
“You will have a high-scoring ballgame,” Blair said. “I don’t think either of us can shut the other one down.”