OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Eighth-ranked Texas A&M is Elite-Eight bound for the first time in school history after defeating Duke, 77-63, in the regional semifinals of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship held Sunday night before a favorably Aggie crowd of 10,032 at the Ford Center.
The Aggies, whose previous best NCAA Tournament run was a Sweet 16 appearance in 1994, will take on top-seeded Tennessee in the regional finals on Tuesday, April 1 at 6 p.m. (CT) on ESPN2.
One of the hottest teams in the country, the second-seeded Aggies tied a school record with their 12th consecutive win to improve to 29-7. The victory also marked A&M’s 16th win in its last 17 outings.
Third-seeded Duke, which was making its 14th consecutive appearance and 15th overall trip to the NCAA Tournament, finishes its season with a 25-10 record.
Senior Patrice Reado (Houston, Texas) led a group of four Aggies to reach double-figure points with 17 and also pulled down a team-high eight rebounds despite having zero in either category after playing 12 minutes in the first half. Junior Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) added 15 points, while senior A’Quonesia Franklin (Tyler, Texas) and senior Morenike Atunrase (Shreveport, La.) added 13 apiece.
Chante Black led the Blue Devils with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The Aggies led the entire game with the exception of two short stretches in the first half in which Duke never managed to build more than a three-point lead.
The Aggies jumped out to a 12-5 lead at 11:38 in the first half, before Duke went on a 10-0 run to take its first lead at the 9:45 mark. A&M regained the lead at 18-17 as Atunrase hit a three pointer. Abby Warner answered with a layup to put Duke up 19-18, and Keturah Jackson tied the Blue Devils’ biggest lead of the game on a layup at 5:41 that put them up, 21-18.
Starks began an 8-0 run by the Aggies with a jumper to put A&M within 21-20. With the shot clock running down, she hit another jumper at the 3:08 mark to put A&M up 22-21 and give the Aggies a lead they would never lose.
A&M took a 29-25 lead into halftime despite being outshot 47.8 to 35.3 percent and outrebounded, 23-15. The Aggies, however, forced 14 Duke turnovers while committing only six in the first half of play.
The Aggies would have to play the second half without Oklahoma City native and defensive leader Danielle Gant. After playing every minute of the first half and posting eight points and five rebounds, the junior forward suffered dehydration and was administered nearly four bags of IV fluid during the break.
Leading 32-30, the Aggies went on a 9-2 run early in the second half. A Franklin three-pointer with the shot clock running down highlighted the rally and gave the Aggies a 39-31 lead with 14:34 remaining in the game.
The Aggies took their biggest lead at 57-41 as junior La Toya Micheaux (Missouri City, Texas) came off a screen, headed toward the basket and put up a shot after taking a lob pass from Starks at the 7:50 mark. Duke got within 10 at 65-55 with 3:47 remaining, but could get no closer as A&M improved to 3-2 against top 10 opponents, including 3-1 during their last 17 games.
Postgame Notes…For the 19th time this season, A&M used the starting lineup of A’Quonesia Franklin, Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Patrice Reado and La Toya Micheaux (15-4)…The Aggies make their first-ever Elite Eight appearance in program history, while Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair takes only his second team in his 23-year coaching career to the regional finals next to his 1998 NCAA Final Four squad at Arkansas…Starks has now scored in double figures in five of six career NCAA Tournament games played with 15 points versus the Blue Devils…Starks tied a career-high with four steals…The stifling A&M defense held Duke from scoring until the 15:59 minute mark of the first half...The Aggies also caused Duke to commit five turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game for a total of 14 in the first half alone which was one more than its total versus Arizona State in the NCAA second round (13) and equal to its total against North Carolina (14) in the ACC Championship semifinals in its last three games...The Blue Devils final 63 points were 8.4 points under their normal scoring average of 71.4 points per game...Gant did not return to the game after receiving almost four (3 3/4) bags of IV fluid for dehydration at halftime…She ended the night with eight points, five rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes of play…Reado registered a career-best in an NCAA Tournament game with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds…She had zero points and zero rebounds heading into halftime…Franklin dishes out fourth-most assists in school history in an NCAA Tournament game with six against Duke…She also recorded a personal-best in an NCAA Tournament game with 13 points…A&M currently leads all NCAA Tournament teams with a 12.7 turnover margin through three games played…The Aggies are now 3-2 this season against the top 10 and 3-1 against the top 10 (home wins over No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 8 Baylor) in their current 16-of-17 winning stretch…Duke had not lost an NCAA Tournament game in double digits since a 10-point loss to No. 1 seed LSU (59-49) in the 2005 NCAA Chattanooga Regional finals…The Aggies handed the Blue Devils their fourth-largest loss (-14) in 54 all-time NCAA Tournament games behind a 18-point loss to No. 4 seed Illinois (85-67) in the 1997 NCAA Second Round, 17-point loss to No. 1 seed Purdue (62-45) in the 1999 National Championship game and 15-point loss to No. 1 seed Oklahoma (86-71) in the 2002 NCAA Final Four…A&M is now an undefeated 10-0 in games when scoring over 70 points…A&M’s seven three-pointers were the second-most made in an NCAA Tournament game behind eight against TCU in the 2006 NCAA First Round…With the victory, the Aggies continue to lead the all-time series versus Duke at 2-0.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH GARY BLAIR
On the game and the team’s defensive pressure …
“I just have a bunch of warriors out there. Our program is built with Texas kids first. We might not be the national power to recruit nationally like Stanford and Duke, but I am so happy for my staff. One of the best things that we do is develop players and it’s so great to see what they have accomplished. Our defensive effort was outstanding tonight. Our style bothers a lot of teams. It’s hard to prepare for us. Give Coach (Vic) Schaefer a lot credit. He is so passionate about defense.”
On the main difference in the second half …
“We were not ready to start the second half without (Danielle) Gant. We got our second wind. Aqua (Franklin) started finding people and we started rebounding. That second half lasted forever. We respect Duke so much. They are the best team to put the ball on the floor and they were going to the hole on us. We were taking the three away from them. We had to have transition in the first half to be able to separate ourselves. We kept executing and executing. Duke was also playing good defense. We made plays and our defense is pretty special. It (signature A&M defense) has carried us all year, so that’s nothing new for us.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR FORWARD PATRICE READO
On her second-half performance …
“My confidence went way up (after scoring some of A&M’s first baskets of the second half), but it was all due to my teammates who contributed the ball and gave me a great second half. We just got out and took advantage on rebounding. We just tried to take control of the game.”
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR GUARD TAKIA STARKS
On the team’s defense and the fan support in Oklahoma City …
“We wanted to get after them early. We started to press them. We felt that we had the momentum. Later in the game, we just took control and had stops on defense and shots on offense. The fans really supported us and we were just amazed at the support today.”
TEXAS A&M SENIOR POINT GUARD A’QUONESIA FRANKLIN
On Duke’s full-court press …
“In the first half, I didn’t expect them to come up so quick and trap. It was hard to see Morenike (Atunrase) on the other side. Once we adjusted in the second half, we were trying to get the ball in quicker.”