OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Cowabunga Aggies! The second-seeded and eighth-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team (29-7) continues to make history by riding the waves to its first-ever NCAA Elite Eight appearance in the 34-year existence of the program. The Aggies have made a big splash on the national scene winning 16 of their last 17 including a school-record 12 straight against the best of the best in all of women’s college basketball.
A&M has gone a perfect 5-0 against nationally-ranked opponents in its current stretch including 3-0 against the top 10. Tradition-rich and top-seeded Tennessee (33-2) looms ahead as A&M will look to keep its momentum going with a trip to the 2008 NCAA Women’s Final Four in Tampa, Fla., hanging in the balance. The Aggies and the third-ranked Lady Vols will battle for the right to do so in the Oklahoma City Regional finals set for Tuesday, April 1 at the Ford Center. The game will be televised live on ESPN at 6 p.m. (CT).
This will be the second all-time meeting between A&M and UT as the Lady Vols have been the defending national champion in each. The sky’s the limit for the always defensive-minded Aggies as they have held opponents to 51.3 points per game which is tied for third-best in the NCAA Tournament thus far. With a 14-point victory over third-seeded Duke (77-63) in the regional semifinals, A&M has proven that they belong among the nation’s elite and are not afraid to crash the beach party at any given time or any given place.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
The NCAA Tournament field has stayed true to form with all four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds reaching the Elite Eight. All eight schools either finished first or second in their respective league’s final standings except for Texas A&M which tied for third with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Conference regular season. The Aggies, however, went on to claim its first-ever Big 12 Tournament title with a 64-59 win over OSU to clinch the league’s automatic bid on March 15. They are joined in the elite group by LSU (SEC regular season champion), Tennessee (SEC Tournament champion), Connecticut (Big East regular season and tournament champion), North Carolina (ACC regular season and tournament champion), Stanford (Pac-10 regular season and tournament champion), Maryland and Rutgers. A&M has the fewest tournament appearances (5) among the eight traditional powerhouses who combine for a grand total of 16 national championships. Seven of the eight schools have reached 29-or-more wins this season except for Rutgers (27-6). Historically, the No. 1 seed is 54-22 (.710) when playing in the regional finals, while the No. 2 seed has advanced to the Final Four on 18 occasions.
MUST SEE AGGIE TV
For a school-record 16th time this season, the Aggies will appear on national television as all 63 games of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship will be aired exclusively on the ESPN Networks. The Aggies have shined in the national spotlight as they are 12-3 when playing on the tube this season and have won their last 10 nationally-televised contests on either ESPN2 or FSN. A&M will make only its second all-time appearance on ESPN on Tuesday next to an NCAA First Round matchup versus UT Arlington in 2007. Pam Ward (play-by-play), Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman (color analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline reporter) will call the Oklahoma City Regional finals game live on ESPN. Check your local listings. Call them a pair of lucky charms, the Aggies have won 12-straight since Ward and Lieberman last called A&M’s “Think Pink” Breast Cancer Awareness game against Texas Tech on Feb. 17 on ESPN2.
THE 4-1-1 ON TENNESSEE
Considered the standard in women’s college basketball, defending national champion Tennessee looks to add more hardware to its stocked-up trophy case which already includes seven prized beauties. The Lady Vols reached their 27th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance by way of a 78-52 second-round rout of ninth-seeded Purdue on March 25 which gave Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt her 100th NCAA Tournament victory. She became the first coach to do so in either the men’s and women’s game. UT boasts the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense averaging 78.8 points per game and has outscored opponents by a margin of 19.2 points per game. The Lady Vols are one of only three teams in the country with fewer than two losses on the season next to UConn (35-1) and North Carolina (33-2). They are led by two-time All-American Candace Parker who is averaging a team-leading 21.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and is best known for being the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game and the first woman to dunk twice in a college game. She set both milestones as a redshirt freshman on March 19, 2006 and is engaged to former Duke All-American and current NBA player Shelden Williams who hails from Oklahoma City. The only two teams to knock off the Lady Vols this season are NCAA Elite Eight participants LSU (61-55) on Feb. 14 and Stanford (73-69 OT) on Dec. 22.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
No. Name 2007-08 Stats
10 A’Quonesia Franklin, G, 5-3, Sr. 7.9 ppg, 4.8 apg
3 Takia Starks, G, 5-8, Jr. 16.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
55 Danielle Gant, G/F, 5-11, Jr. 14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg
24 Patrice Reado, F, 6-0, Sr. 8.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg
12 La Toya Micheaux, C, 6-3, Jr. 3.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg
No. Name 2007-08 Stats
00 Shannon Bobbitt, G, 5-2, Sr. 9.8 ppg, 3.5 apg
14 Alexis Hornbuckle, G, 5-11, Sr. 10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
33 Alberta Auguste, F, 5-11, Sr. 5.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg
3 Candace Parker, F/C/G, 6-4, Jr. 21.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg
55 Nicky Anosike, C, 6-4, Sr. 9.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg
2007-08 Category TAMU UT
Overall Record 29-7 33-2
Conference Record 11-5 13-1
Points Per Game 66.4 78.6
Scoring Margin +11.5 +19.0
Rebounds Per Game 37.4 41.2
Rebounding Margin +2.8 +5.9
Field Goal Percentage 41.6 45.7
Field Goal% Defense 39.0 38.7
Three-Point FG% 33.4 36.8
Free Throw Percentage 66.8 70.7
Turnovers Per Game 15.0 16.7
Assists Per Game 13.7 16.8
Blocks Per Game 4.3 6.1
Steals Per Game 10.2 11.9
The Texas A&M versus Tennessee all-time series is limited to one prior meeting during the 1997-98 season under former head coach Candi Harvey. The Aggies lost in the semifinals of the Northern Lights Invitational to the top-ranked Lady Vols in Anchorage, Alaska. In fact, the 1997-98 Tennessee squad is considered as one of the greatest teams in women’s college basketball history as they went 39-0 en route to their third consecutive national championship. UT is still one of only 14 A&M opponents all-time to score more than 100 points in a single game (105-81). However, A&M’s 81 points would end up being the most an opponent would score on the Lady Vols during their undefeated run to the national title.
COACH BLAIR vs. TENNESSEE
Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair is 1-11 against Tennessee in his 23 years as a Division I head coach. All of his previous meetings with the Lady Vols occurred when he served as head coach at Arkansas. Blair’s first and only victory against UT was a 77-75 home win over the sixth-ranked Lady Vols at the Barn on Dec. 29, 1996 which made national headlines. It still remains the Arkansas’ women’s basketball program’s only win over Tennessee in 20 tries. That very night, Blair’s former sports information director Dr. Bill Smith and his wife, Libby, gave birth to daughter, Ashley Fae. Libby’s water broke just as the game ended and Smith was called out of the postgame press conference. Blair and his wife, Dr. Nan Smith-Blair, are the godparents of the now 11-year-old who is the starting post for her youth basketball team in Fayetteville. On the court, defense was the difference as former Arkansas standout and current Georgia Tech assistant coach Sytia Messer (similar to Morenike Atunrase) shut down Chamique Holdsclaw, then a freshman, to her first single-digit game of her career with a single field goal and only seven points. Arkansas was also led by a combined 42-point effort from Christy Smith (the heart-and-soul of the team similar to A’Quonesia Franklin) and Kimberly Wilson (similar to Takia Starks).
The Aggies posted an undefeated 8-0 mark in the month of March and will extend their season into the month of April for the first time in school history. Texas A&M will play in its 37th overall game of the year against Tennessee on Tuesday which will tie the 1977-78 squad for the second-most games played in 34 seasons of Aggie Basketball. A&M played a school-record 44 games during the 1978-79 season. Additionally, A&M is one of only 10 Division I schools that has won 29-or-more games this season next to Connecticut (35), Tennessee (33), North Carolina (33), Marist (32), Stanford (33), Maryland (33), Old Dominion (31), LSU (30) and Chattanooga (29). The Aggies currently boast a program-best 29-7 record which marks the most victories ever in school history. Coach Blair has now led three teams to 29-or-more victories in a single season. His 1987-88 Stephen F. Austin squad posted a 29-5 mark and advanced to the NCAA Second Round, while his 1988-89 SFA squad went 30-4 and reached the NCAA Sweet 16. Blair last guided a team to the Final Four in 1998.
PLAYING IN FRONT OF THE HOME CROWD
Oklahoma City native Danielle Gant and her A&M teammates received a warm reception by the crowd of 10,032 who packed the Ford Center on Sunday night. The crowd was made up of mostly maroon-clad Aggie fans as well as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State fans rooting on one of three remaining Big 12 Conference schools (KU men in NCAA Final Four and Colorado women in WNIT) in postseason play. Gant, a local product out of Putnam City West High School and former Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year in 2005, saw action in all 20 minutes of the first half against Duke, but did not play for the remainder of the game. During halftime and much of the second half, Gant suffered from dehydration as medical personnel had to administer nearly four IV bags to the team’s second-leading scorer (14.8 ppg). The All-Big 12 First Team selection is also tops on the team in rebounding (7.2 rpg) and ranks fifth-best in the league in field goal percentage with a 53.5 shooting accuracy from the floor. One of the most versatile players in the Big 12, she also leads the Aggies in blocks (35) and steals (79). She recorded eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in one half of play versus the Blue Devils. Gant is currently averaging a team-leading 15.7 points on 21-of-29 shooting from the floor (72.4 percent) in three NCAA Tournament games played.
WE’VE GOT SOMETHING IN COMMON
Both Texas A&M and Tennessee earned automatic berths into the NCAA Championship by winning their respective conference tournaments. Texas A&M’s Takia Starks was named Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player on March 15, while Tennessee’s Candace Parker was named SEC Tournament honors on March 9. Starks is averaging a team-leading 16.4 points per game and along with Parker is one of 40 finalists for the prestigious 10-member State Farm All-America Team. Texas A&M’s A’Quonesia Franklin and UT’s Shannon Bobbitt were both named to their respective all-tournament teams. The Lady Vols have played two Big 12 teams this season. They defeated Oklahoma (70-67) in their second game of the season on Nov. 15 followed by a 92-67 victory over rival Texas on Nov. 18. Both games were part of an ESPNU Tournament held in Tampa, Fla. The Aggies are 1-7 all-time when facing a defending national champion the year after they’ve won a national title. Their only win was against Texas Tech in 1994, the first time A&M reached the Sweet 16 after upsetting the fourth-ranked Lady Raiders in Southwest Conference regular-season play on Feb, 5, 1994. Losses included two to Texas in 1987, one to Texas Tech in 1994, one to Tennessee in 1997 and three to Baylor in 2006.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Coach Blair once sent an Arkansas Hog hat as a gift to Pat Summitt’s son Tyler, then one or two years old, and he wore it faithfully around the house and in the stands at Thompson-Boling Arena. Blair and his wife ran into the now junior in high school at a local ice cream eatery in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown over the weekend. The Blair and Summitt families would always see each other at the annual SEC meetings in Destin, Fla. Blair says that, “Pat is someone I really respect a whole lot and we got along so well playing each other for 10 years in the SEC. We always played well against Tennessee if we won or lost. We were never intimidated, we just got better because we played them.”
• Since Coach Blair’s arrival in Aggieland, A&M has played only one SEC school in five years with a 62-60 victory over then No. 14-ranked Auburn coached by former SFA assistant Nell Fortner on Dec. 15. The Aggies will do a return trip to Auburn next season and hopes to schedule SEC teams like Tennessee in the near future. As the constant marketer and promoter Blair says, “Tennessee is like America’s team. Wherever they go, they draw the largest crowd of the year at that particular site. They are the same type of team just like my hometown Dallas Cowboys.”
• Coach Blair is one of the biggest sports fans around from baseball to basketball to golf, etc. At halftime of the Tennessee versus Notre Dame regional semifinal game, he went into the stands to meet one of his childhood heroes, Dan Jenkins, a TCU graduate who was a sportswriter for the Dallas Times-Herald and most notably Sports Illustrated. When Blair introduced himself and praised Jenkins for being one of his sports heroes, Jenkins responded with, “Tonight, you were my hero.” The media friendly Blair also visited with Dan’s daughter, Sally Jenkins, another accomplished sportswriter and former Texas Tech and Hall of Fame coach Marsha Sharp.
Texas A&M annually ranks among the top teams in the Big 12 and nation in scoring defense. This season is no different as the Aggies have held opponents to a stingy 54.9 points per game which ranks among the top 15 nationally and tops in the league. Historically, A&M has held the opposition to under 58 points in a season in 2007 (53.6), 2006 (57.5) and 1981 (45.8). Led by one of the top defensive minds in the women’s game in A&M associate head coach Vic Schaefer, the Aggies have held all but one opponent of the season under 68 points. Only Nebraska (73), Oklahoma (68) and Colorado (68) have scored 68 points or more against the Aggie defense. In fact, A&M has held opponents to under 60 points on 25 occasions this season including 10 of its last 11. The Aggie defense also leads the overall NCAA Tournament field in turnover margin (+12.7) which is 6.7 more than the next two Elite Eight participants on the list in LSU (+6.00) who ranks fifth and Tennessee (+5.00) in seventh.
A&M continues to add the three-ball to its repertoire this season. The Aggies shot the lights out with seven three-pointers against Duke in the regional semifinals including three money balls from A’Quonesia Franklin and two from Takia Starks. They are shooting 40.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc in three NCAA Tournament games played and have drained six-or-more three-pointers in seven of their last 10 outings including a season-high nine against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game on March 15. A&M’s 155 total three-pointers made this year ranks second-best in a single season in the school record books. Four more treys would tie the 1994-95 squad’s program-best total of 159. Starks has knocked down a team-leading 62 threes on the season followed by 48 by Franklin and 30 by Morenike Atunrase who is shooting at a team-best 36.6 percent clip. The trio rank among the top 10 all-time in career three-pointers made with Franklin tied with former player Amy Yates for second (154), Starks fourth (140) and Atunrase sixth (110).
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 on March 30 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 (33-2) in the regional finals on Tuesday. The defending national champion Lady Vols downed fifth-seeded Notre Dame, 74-64, in the second regional semifinal game of the Oklahoma City Regional. Patrice Reado 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. Takia Starks added 15 points, while A’Quonesia Franklin and Morenike Atunrase 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 La Toya Micheaux 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• It was only the Blue Devils’ second all-time loss in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed. Duke advanced to the championship game as a No. 3 seed in 1999.
• 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 improved their lead to 2-0 in the all-time series versus Duke.
AGGIES ON THE RADIO
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 Ford Center alongside Steve Miller on KZNE 1150 AM. A live audio feed will also be available on www.AggieAthletics.com.
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