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.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH GARY BLAIR
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.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR POINT GUARD A’QUONESIA FRANKLIN
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.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR FORWARD MORENIKE ATUNRASE
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.”