Blair's Bombers Win Big XII

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KANSAS CITY – No. 11 and fourth-seeded Texas A&M captured its first-ever Big 12 Tournament title with a 64-59 victory over third-seeded Oklahoma State Saturday night at historic Municipal Auditorium.

The Aggies (26-7) earned their second all-time conference tournament championship crown next to the final 1996 Southwest Conference Tournament-winning A&M squad. The Aggies became the first No. 4 seed in league history to clinch the tournament title. Junior Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) was named Most Outstanding Player as she averaged a team-leading 14.3 points and 6.0 rebounds over the course of three tournament games. She scored 10 points and had a team-high seven rebounds versus the Cowgirls. A&M outrebounded OSU, 40-30.

Senior point guard A’Quonesia Franklin (Tyler, Texas) was named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team along with Iowa State’s Heather Ezell and Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley and Danielle Green. She notched a team-and season-high tying 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor and went 4-of-4 from the charity stripe in the last 23 seconds of the ballgame.

A&M has now won 13 of its last 14 games and its ninth-straight leading into the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies earned an automatic bid for the second time in school history next to the 1995-96 SWC season.

The Aggies and Cowgirls (25-7) traded baskets in the early going. A&M made 15 of its 33 first-half points from downtown including two threes by Franklin and senior Morenike Atunrase (Shreveport, La.). Atunrase finished the night with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from long range. A&M shot 42.9 percent from behind the arc and drained a season-best nine.

The Aggies were ahead by nine points at halftime, 33-24, but the lead changed six times in the contest including four times in the first half of play. OSU inched closer with a 6-0 run to start the second half due in part to Shaunte’ Smith and went 14-of-20 from the free throw line to stay in the ballgame.

Junior Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) converted a three-point play after being fouled by Oklahoma State’s Maria Cordero under the basket with 1:38 remaining in regulation to put A&M up 58-54. Gant was one of four Aggies to score in double figures with 11.

A&M couldn’t shake off OSU’s Andrea Riley who scored a game-high 28 points along with a three-pointer with 25.4 seconds left on the clock to put the Cowgirls within one, 60-59. OSU led by as many as three points with 16:30 to go in the first half. Franklin converted her free throws down the final stretch to seal the victory for the Aggies.

A&M will learn its postseason destination and seed in the upcoming 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on Selection Monday to be held on March 17. The selection show will be broadcast live on ESPN beginning at 6 p.m. (CT).

Postgame Notes…For the 16th time this season, A&M used the starting lineup of A’Quonesia Franklin, Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Patrice Reado and La Toya Micheaux (12-4)…Starks became the first A&M player in school history to be named Most Outstanding Player of a postseason conference tournament…Franklin became the fourth all-time A&M player on five occasions to be named to a postseason conference all-tournament team since former players Lisa Branch and Melissa Rollerson were honored on the SWC All-Tournament Team in Dallas in 1996…Morenike Atunrase knocked down a season-high four of A&M’s season-high nine three-pointers of the game off the bench…Sophomore Damitria Buchanan (Houston, Texas) brought down a career-and season-high nine rebounds and also contributed six points…A&M outrebounded OSU, 40-30…The Aggies turned in their 26th win this season which tied a school-record for most victories in a single season set during the 1978-79 season (26-18)…With the victory, head coach Gary Blair picked up his 99th career win at Texas A&M…Franklin dished out four assists to register a career-best single-season total in assists (158)…She previously distributed 155 during her freshman campaign in 2004-05…A&M became the first No. 4 seed to win the Big 12 Tournament title…It was the program’s second postseason conference title next to the Aggies’ upset of seventh-ranked Texas Tech (72-68) in the SWC Tournament championship game in 1996.



On the game …

“You just saw a heck of a basketball game. In the first half, we had every shot we wanted, but (Takia) Starks and (Danielle) Gant were not able to hit the shots. It was a tribute to our other kids who made big shots in the ballgame. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. Look at our two teams coming up from the bottom. This is what parity is all about. I would like to commend both coaching staffs for getting Coach Budke and I on this platform. I am so happy to be a part of something of this magnitude and the hospitality has been great here in Kansas City.”


On the game and the team’s chemistry …

“We are a veteran team and have been together the last four years. We’ve learned to play with each other. We’ve won nine straight and our chemistry is just great on defense.”


On the game and guarding Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley …

“We have been in big-game situations before. (Andrea) Riley is hard to guard. Sometimes she is unbelievably hard to guard.”