BATON ROUGE, LA -- They don’t call it March Madness for nothing. Second-seeded Texas A&M (27-7) will look to hold off an upset-minded Hartford (28-5) squad in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship to be held on Monday, March 24 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La. Tipoff between the Aggies and Hawks is slated for 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Both teams have won 10 straight and have not lost since mid-February road losses at Oklahoma and Vermont respectively. With a veteran-driven ballclub, A&M is vying to reach that “next-level” that sets teams apart from the rest of the tournament field with a coveted spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Aggies last did so 14 years ago in 1994, while the 10th-seeded Hawks have yet to advance past the second round. Both have ridden a wave of success leading into the tournament with A&M winning 14 of its last 15 including a 91-52 rout of 15th-seeded UTSA in the first round, while Hartford has won 19 of its last 20. Over their last two NCAA Tournament appearances, the Hawks have proven that they can hang with the bigger conferences in the early rounds.
They upset seventh-seeded Syracuse from the Big East (59-55) in first-round action Saturday, while also stunning sixth-seeded Temple from the Atlantic 10 (64-58) as a No. 11 seed in the first round in 2006. The in-your-face style of defense that the Aggies like to play has held opponents to under 59 points in its current 10-game stretch, while the Hawks have held seven of their last 10 opponents to fewer than 46 points.
The winner will move on to the Oklahoma City Regional semifinals on Sunday, March 30 and face the winner of first-round Easter Sunday matchups between sixth-seeded Arizona State and 11th-seeded Temple and third-seeded Duke and 14th-seeded Murray State.
The regional semifinals and finals will be played at OKC’s Ford Center and hosted by the Big 12 Conference.
TEXAS A&M NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
The Aggies are making their fifth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance next to 2007 (NCAA Second Round), 2006 (NCAA First Round), 1996 (NCAA First Round) and 1994 (NCAA Sweet 16). The Big 12 Tournament champions are now 4-4 in postseason play and have advanced past the first round for the second-straight year against two Lone Star State schools in UT Arlington in 2007 and UTSA in 2008. A&M earned an automatic NCAA Tournament berth for the second time in school history next to winning the final Southwest Conference Tournament title in 1996. A&M’s No. 2 seed is its highest to date and eclipsed a previous program-best No. 4 seed in last year’s Dallas Regional. Historically, six No. 2 seeds have gone on to win a national championship including Tennessee in 1987, Louisiana Tech in 1988, Texas Tech in 1993, Connecticut in 2004, Baylor in 2005 and Maryland in 2006. The No. 2 seed has also posted an 88-12 record (.880) in the second round since 1982, while the No. 10 seed has gone 3-23 (.115).
IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT
For a school-record 14th time this season, Texas A&M will showcase its talents to a national audience as all 63 games of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship will be aired exclusively on ESPN Networks. The non-camera shy Aggies are used to playing in the limelight as they are 10-3 when playing on the tube this season and have won their last eight nationally-televised contests on the deuce or FSN. A&M will make its ninth all-time appearance on ESPN and its sister network ESPN2 on Monday. Eric Collins (play-by-play), former college and WNBA coach Carolyn Peck (color analyst) and Allen Hopkins (sideline reporter) will call A&M’s second-round game live on ESPN2. Please note that in the home markets of competing teams, ESPN will primarily televise the game of local interest while fans outside of the state of Texas will experience the network’s whip-around coverage in the first two rounds of the tournament. Check your local listings. Viewers who want to watch all early-round games in their entirety can receive them through ESPN FULL COURT, the out-of-market pay-per-view package which is available to cable and satellite customers. Call your local or satellite provider to subscribe.
A LOOK AT THE SOARING HAWKS
Led by one of the greatest point guards in NCAA women’s basketball history, American East champion Hartford earned an NCAA automatic bid after defeating Boston University (61-45) on March 16 for its third championship title in four years under former Connecticut All-American Jennifer Rizzotti. The ninth-year head coach has built a mid-major basketball power in Connecticut’s state capital just 40 miles west of Storrs where she starred for the Huskies. She also spent some time in Houston playing professional ball with the WNBA’s Comets and won a World Championship in 1999 alongside Cynthia Cooper who now coaches Prairie View A&M, a team the Aggies defeated 73-54 on Nov. 15. Like A&M, the Hawks pride themselves for their defense and rank among the top 10 nationally holding opponents to 53.6 points per game. They are 1-1 against top 25-ranked opponents this season with an upset of then-No. 24 Michigan State (54-51) on Dec. 22 and followed it up a week later with a loss at then top-ranked UConn (70-24) Dec. 29. The Hawks finished five places out of the top 25 receiving 16 votes in the final AP Poll and their 28 overall wins for the season is a program-best.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
No. Name 2007-08 Stats
10 A’Quonesia Franklin, G, 5-3, Sr. 7.8 ppg, 4.8 apg
3 Takia Starks, G, 5-8, Jr. 16.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg
55 Danielle Gant, G/F, 5-11, Jr. 14.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg
24 Patrice Reado, F, 6-0, Sr. 8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg
12 La Toya Micheaux, C, 6-3, Jr. 3.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg
No. Name 2007-08 Stats
23 Lisa Etienne, G, 5-6, Jr. 6.7 ppg, 3.5 apg
33 MaryLynne Schaefer, G, 5-10, Jr. 7.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg
4 Jamie McCabe, G, 5-10, Sr. 5.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg
24 Danielle Hood, F/C, 6-1, Sr. 15.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg
32 Erica Beverly, F, 6-0, So. 8.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg
2007-08 Category TAMU UH
Overall Record 27-7 28-5
Conference Record 11-5 14-2
Points Per Game 66.1 65.2
Scoring Margin +11.0 +11.6
Rebounds Per Game 37.7 38.9
Rebounding Margin +3.2 +2.6
Field Goal Percentage 41.6 41.1
Field Goal% Defense 39.1 36.1
Three-Point FG% 33.5 31.5
Free Throw Percentage 66.5 69.5
Turnovers Per Game 15.3 14.8
Assists Per Game 13.6 14.3
Blocks Per Game 4.4 3.2
Steals Per Game 10.1 7.8
A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
A first time meeting awaits both teams on Monday as Texas A&M has never met Hartford in the program’s 34-year history. However, the Aggies are 1-1 all-time versus America East schools having only met Boston University in 1979 (L, 53-59) and 2003 (W, 61-53). In fact, A&M has made a first time meeting with an opponent on four occasions in the NCAA Tournament against Florida in the first round in 1994, Purdue in the Sweet 16 in 1994, Kent State in 1996 and George Washington in 2007. This season, the Aggies went 6-1 against first time opponents with non-conference home victories over NCAA participant Auburn, Indiana, NCAA participant Florida State, Michigan, New Orleans and North Carolina A&T along with a loss to Wake Forest at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Both the A&M and Hartford rosters boast a handful of marksmen when it comes to shooting accuracy. Texas A&M’s Danielle Gant is shooting a team-leading 52.6 percent from the floor which ranks among the top 50 in the country followed by Patrice Reado (50.2) and Takia Starks (43.5). Hartford’s Diana Delva leads the America East with a 60.9 accuracy along with Erica Beverly (51.0) and Danielle Hood (49.5). Gant shot 72.7 (8-of-11) percent from the field against UTSA in the NCAA First Round Saturday. She has shot better than 60 percent in 11 of 33 games played and 50 percent or better in 21 contests. Reado has turned in nine games with a 60 percent accuracy, while Starks has six over 50 percent.
EAST COAST vs. THE SOUTH
Both the Aggies and Hawks are two similar ballclubs who grew up playing a different style of basketball. The Southern influenced-A&M squad has played only one opponent this season hailing from the Northeast region in a 66-65 overtime loss at then-No. 22 ranked George Washington on Dec. 20 in Washington, D.C. Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair described the differences in the postgame press conference on Saturday. “Eastern style of ball is a little different than in the south,” he said. “We might run a little bit more. Hartford is a very smart team which is a reflection of their coach. The kids up east know the game very well. They are just junkies and gurus of the game. I respect their brand of ball and their coaches first, because of their knowledge of the game.”
THAT’S A LOT OF BASKETBALL!
Texas A&M will play in its 35th game of the season on Monday which would rank as the third-most games played in a single season in 34 years of Aggie Basketball. A&M played a school-record 44 games during the 1978-79 season and 37 games in the 1977-78 season. A Blair-led squad has never played in 35 games or more in a single season. His 1988-89 SFA team played in 34 and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 and his 1998-99 Arkansas team played in 34 and won the Postseason WNIT a year after the Lady Razorbacks reached the Final Four in 33 games played. A&M is one of about 15 Division I schools that have won 27-or-more games this season next to second-round opponent Hartford (28), LSU (28), Tennessee (30), UTEP (28), Chattanooga (29), Connecticut (32), Marist (32), Tennessee (30), North Carolina (30), Stanford (31), Utah (27), Liberty (28), Old Dominion (29) and Maryland (30).
MAKING EVERY GAME COUNT
The Aggies have made every game in March count with an undefeated 6-0 mark in the month. A&M has only won six or more games in the month of March on one prior occasion during the inaugural 1974-75 season (7-4). After the first day of NCAA Tournament play, three Texas schools scored the most points of all 32 teams who played on Saturday. A&M scored a season-high 91 points against UTSA, while UTEP notched 92 versus Western Kentucky and Baylor 88 over Fresno State.
Both teams may not remember, but two years ago, they played in opposite sides of the bracket in the 2006 NCAA First and Second Rounds held in Trenton, N.J. It was both program’s third all-time NCAA Tournament appearance and the Aggies’ first after a 10-year absence. A&M drew a No. 6 seed in the Cleveland Regional, while Hartford was placed in the Bridgeport Regional. The 11th-seeded Hawks upset sixth-seeded Temple in the first round (64-58), but their magical run ended with a 73-54 second-round loss to third-seeded Georgia who ironically beat Marist, another Baton Rouge site team, in the first round. A&M will be the second school in Hartford’s six NCAA all-tournament games to hail from the Big 12 Conference. The 16th-seeded Hawks lost to top-seeded Oklahoma (84-52) in the NCAA First Round in 2002 in Norman, Okla. Hartford will be the seventh non-BCS school the Aggies will have faced in their nine all-time tourney games.
EXPERIENCE IN THE POSTSEASON
After Saturday’s first-round game, A&M looks like they have been to the Big Dance before and they now have the postseason experience to back it up. The sky’s the limit as five current Aggies, including four of the starting five, have played in four all-time NCAA Tournament games which ties for the most by an A&M player next to former standouts Lisa Branch, Kelly Cerny, Lana Tucker and Bambi Ferguson in the 1994 and 1996 tourneys. Branch, Cerny and Tucker all made four starts, while A’Quonesia Franklin, Patrice Reado, Takia Starks and La Toya Micheaux are 4-of-4 in career starts in NCAA Tournament games played in 2006 (1), 2007 (2) and now 2008 (1). Morenike Atunrase is the fifth player among the Fab Five who will play in a school-record five NCAA Tournament games with their matchup Monday night versus Hartford.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Head coach Gary Blair has never faced a squad from Hartford in his 23 years as a Division I head coach. He is 2-0 lifetime versus America East schools including Boston University (1-0) and New Hampshire (1-0). Blair’s coaching career has taken him overseas as he coached Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti while serving as an assistant coach for the U.S. Jones Cup Team in 1996. Their gold-medal winning squad became the first in USA Basketball history to go undefeated at the Jones Cup tournament held annually in Taipei, Taiwan.
• Talk about a lot of Gatorade to quench a hoops junkie’s thirst with so much talent on the court in this year’s first-and second-round site in the Bayou. Texas A&M’s Takia Starks, Danielle Gant and Tyra White share a commonality with Coach Rizzotti. All four were named Gatorade Player of the Year selections in their respective states out of high school. Starks was the Lone Star State’s top choice in 2005, Gant the state of Oklahoma’s in 2005 and White the state of Missouri’s in 2007. Rizzotti was selected as Gatorade POTY in the state of Connecticut in 1992.
• The sidelines will also be packed on Monday with individuals associated with four combined national championship teams including Coach Blair who served as an assistant coach during Louisiana Tech’s two national title runs in 1982 (first-ever NCAA Championship team) and 1981 (AIAW), while Coach Rizzotti led UConn to a national title and perfect 35-0 record as a player in 1995 and ESPN college basketball analyst Carolyn Peck guided Purdue to a national championship as head coach of the Lady Boilermakers in 1999.
A&M has added the three-ball to its repertoire this season. The Aggies shot a season-high 66.7 percent from beyond the arc on 6-of-9 shooting against UTSA on Saturday. They have drained six-or-more three-pointers in seven of their last eight outings including a season-high nine against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game on March 15. A&M’s 146 total three-pointers made this year ranks third-best in a single season in the school record books. One more trey would tie last year’s total of 147 for second, while 14 more would surpass a program-best total of 159 set in 1995. Takia Starks has knocked down a team-leading 60 threes on the season followed by 44 by A’Quonesia Franklin and 28 by Morenike Atunrase who is shooting at a team-best 37.3 percent clip. The trio rank among the top 10 all-time in career three-pointers made with Franklin third (150), Starks fourth (138) and Atunrase sixth (108).
NOTHING WOULD BE “SWEET”ER
The Aggies have tasted the Sweet 16 once as former women’s basketball head coach Lynn Hickey led A&M to its first and only regional semifinal appearance in 1994. The Aggies became the first No. 13 seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance past the first and second rounds. They eventually lost to top-seeded Purdue (82-56) in the regional semifinals on March 24, 1994 in Palo Alto, Calif. The 1994 A&M squad and 2005 Liberty squad remain the only two Cinderella teams in tournament history to reach the regional semifinals as a No. 13 seed. Since the first 1982 NCAA Championship, both programs still remain the lowest-seeded teams to ever advance past the second round. Coach Blair has taken four teams to the Sweet 16 including his 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993 Stephen F. Austin squads.
A&M’s current season-best 10-game win streak is tied as the second-longest in school history. The Aggies won a school-record 11 straight from Feb. 14 through March 6 during the program’s inaugural season in 1974-75 and 10 straight from Dec. 4 through Jan. 4 in Blair’s third season in 2005-06. Additionally, A&M’s 14-of-15 stretch in a span of nearly two months is the best-ever run in program history.
Shreveport native Morenike Atunrase came off the bench and knocked down a game-high 19 points to lead second-seeded Texas A&M to a 91-52 rout of 15th-seeded UTSA in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on March 22 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on host LSU’s campus. Atunrase, making a homecoming to the Pelican State for the first time of her four-year A&M career, went 6-of-10 from the floor and 4-of-5 from behind the three-point arc to give the Aggies (27-7) their 10th-straight victory which is now tied as the second-longest winning streak in school history. The nation’s hottest team has won their last 14-of-15 games and picked up their 27th overall win of the season which set a new school record for most victories in a single season. The Roadrunners (23-10) seemed stunned by A&M’s pressure defense throughout the first half and committed 23 of their 30 turnovers in the first half alone. UTSA, making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, attempted only 15 shots in the first half as the Aggies converted 28 of its 49 first-half points off of UTSA mishaps. Danielle Gant scored 16 of her 18 points in the first half which set the tone early for A&M. She was one of four double-figure scorers for the Aggies including 14 from Takia Starks and 12 from senior Patrice Reado. Meanwhile, UTSA was led by Monica Gibbs who had 14, while leading scorer Onika Anderson was held to just three points. The win gave Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair his 100th career victory at the school as the Aggies moved past the first round for the second consecutive year.
• With the victory, the Aggies won their second-consecutive NCAA First Round game and claimed its 27th overall win of the season which set a new school record for most victories in a single season. A&M extended its season-best win streak to 10 straight which now ties for the second-longest in school history next to a span of 10-straight from Dec. 4 through Jan. 4 in 2005-06. The red-hot Aggies have won 14 out of their last 15 games.
• Fifth-year head coach Gary Blair also picked up his 100th career victory at A&M and ranks second only to former head coach and current UTSA Director of Athletics Lynn Hickey (154) in career victories at the school.
• The Aggies also set a new school record for most points scored in an NCAA Tournament game with 91 points against UTSA in first-round action. It marked a season game-high and A&M’s 49 first-half points was the second-most behind 50 first-half points against Florida State on Dec. 6. It was the first game A&M scored more than 90 points since defeating Sam Houston State (93-43) on Dec. 29, 2006.
• The Aggie defense caused the Road Runners to turn over the ball 23 times in the first half alone which was an opponent season-high in any half. UTSA (30) became the fourth opponent to commit 30-or-more turnovers in a single game this season. It marked the second time a Gary Blair-led squad forced a first-round opponent to commit 30-or-more turnovers next to an NCAA first-round game record of 34 against LSU head coach Van Chancellor’s Ole Miss team in the NCAA First Round in 1991. A&M also held the Road Runners to a season-low 16 first-half points and their 52 total points marked their third-lowest scoring output in a game this season.
• Senior Morenike Atunrase, a Shreveport native, played in her first game back home in the state of Louisiana. She came off the bench to contribute a game-high 19 points to mark her career-best output in an NCAA Tournament game behind 14 points against TCU in the NCAA First Round in 2006. It tied as the third-highest scoring NCAA game by an A&M player in eight all-time tournament games. Atunrase knocked down a season-high tying four three pointers versus UTSA. She went 6-of-9 from behind the arc to set a season-high for three-point shooting percentage in a single game (66.7).
• With her second point of the game, senior Patrice Reado recorded her 900th point of her four-year A&M career. She was one of four players in double figures with 12. In fact, A&M’s starting five outscored the entire production by UTSA’s 11 players who checked into the ballgame. They combined for 59 of the team’s final 91 including 18 by junior Danielle Gant and 14 by junior Takia Starks.
• La Toya Micheaux had straight six’s across the board with six points, six rebounds and a career-high six steals which tied an A&M NCAA Tournament individual record set by Atunrase versus TCU on March 19, 2006.
• A&M has now held its last eight opponents to 21 points or less under their normal scoring average. UTSA was held to 17.4 points below their average of 69.4 ppg.
• The Aggies shot 50 percent from the floor against the Road Runners including an 8-of-11 performance by Gant, 6-of-9 by Atunrase and 5-of-9 by Starks.
• A&M has now won the last four-straight meetings with UTSA and leads the series, 10-4.
All Texas A&M women’s basketball NCAA Tournament games can be heard via a radio broadcast on the Texas A&M Sports Network. Play-by-play announcer Tom Turbiville will call the action live from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center alongside Steve Miller on KZNE 1150 AM. A live audio feed will also be available on www.AggieAthletics.com.