Just seven months removed from its first-ever NCAA Elite Eight appearance, the No. 11/10-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team (0-0) has reloaded its arsenal and is ready to keep the momentum going in 2008-09. With the loss of a five-member senior class that helped build the A&M program into its current presence on the national scene, the Aggies have replenished their talent pool with an exciting cast of veterans and newcomers who have already earned preseason Big 12 Conference nods. A&M will host Mercer (0-0) in its season home opener on Friday, Nov. 14 at Reed Arena. Tipoff between the Aggies and Bears is scheduled for 8 p.m. (CT) to accommodate fans wishing to attend both the women’s basketball game and the NCAA women’s soccer first-round match. A&M will get out of the blocks quickly with a weekend schedule that includes two games in three days. A first-ever appearance in the prestigious four-team State Farm Women’s Tip-Off Classic awaits the Aggies on Sunday, Nov. 16 on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La. A&M will be challenged early on in the season by NCAA Sweet 16 participant Pittsburgh (0-0) via an ESPN2 showdown set for 4 p.m. (CT).
The Aggies will host Fish Camp and T-Camp Night Friday at Reed Arena. Fans who wear their Fish Camp or T-Camp shirts will receive free admission to the game. Tickets are also available for purchase ranging from $5 for general admission to $11 for courtside seating at the Reed Arena Box Office on game day or in advance at the 12th Man Foundation Ticket Center or by calling 1-888-99-AGGIE.
AGGIES IN HOME OPENERS
The Aggies are 15-3 all-time in home openers and have won their last five consecutive opening day contests at Reed Arena including a 73-54 victory versus Prairie View A&M in 2007-08. A&M is 2-0 when opening up the season at home in the Gary Blair Era which includes a 77-36 rout of Saint Peter’s in 2005-06 and a 72-48 win over Pepperdine in 2006-07.
Like the Aggies, Mercer played one exhibition game prior to the season opener and were edged, 72-71, by NCAA Division II Georgia College & State University on Nov. 6. The Bears begin a four-game road swing which will also includes stops at South Carolina State, Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama, prior to their Atlantic Sun Conference slate. Mercer was picked to finish tied for eighth in the A-Sun preseason media poll looking to rebound from a 4-26 mark in 2007-08. The Bears are led by second-year head coach Janell Jones who is a native Oklahoman who previously coached at Oklahoma City University and UC San Diego.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
No. Name 2007-08 Stats
3 Takia Starks, G, 5-8, Sr. 16.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg
22 Tanisha Smith, G/F, 6-0, Jr.-Tr. None
55 Danielle Gant, G/F, 5-11, Sr. 14.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg
21 Adaora Elonu, F, 6-1, Fr. None
12 La Toya Micheaux, C, 6-3, Sr. 3.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg
No. Name 2007-08 Stats
22 Latoya Jackson, G, 5-6, Jr. 13.5 ppg, 3.5 apg
31 Courtney Ford, G, 5-7, Jr. None
21 Megan Lewis, G, 5-10, Sr. 4.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg
20 Dominique Chism, F, 6-1, Sr. None
25 Nicole Leonard, F, 5-11, Sr. 2.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg
2007-08 Category TAMU MERCER
Overall Record 29-8 4-26
Conference Record 11-5 1-15
Points Per Game 65.8 57.9
Scoring Margin +10.9 -14.6
Rebounds Per Game 37.2 35.6
Rebounding Margin +2.7 -6.4
Field Goal Percentage 41.4 37.5
Field Goal% Defense 39.2 42.1
Three-Point FG% 33.3 34.3
Free Throw Percentage 66.8 70.6
Turnovers Per Game 15.1 20.9
Assists Per Game 13.5 12.7
Blocks Per Game 4.2 2.6
Steals Per Game 10.1 8.1
Texas A&M leads 1-0 in the all-time series versus the Bears. Only two of the current players on Mercer’s 17-member roster, seniors Megan Lewis and Nicole Leonard, played in the first and only meeting between the two schools on Nov. 16, 2006 in College Station. The Aggies nearly cleared the century mark with a 95-41 result over Mercer.
Takia Starks scored a game-high 19 points to lead No. 13 Texas A&M to a 95-41 rout of Mercer on Nov. 16, 2006. The Aggies started the game off on a 9-0 run and kept the Bears from scoring a basket until the 16:08 mark. A&M would take a 44-24 lead into halftime. Starks had 11 of her 19 points in the first half. For the game, A&M shot a season-best 58.7 percent (37-63) from the floor and a scorching 73.3 percent (11-15) from beyond the three-point arc. A&M’s 11 three-pointers were one short of the school single-game record of 12 set against Brown on Feb. 8, 1996. Former player Morenike Atunrase was the only other A&M player to score in double figures with 15. Twelve of the 13 Aggies who entered the game contributed in the scoring column. Head coach Gary Blair also picked up his 50th career victory at A&M versus the visiting Bears. In the second half of play, the Aggie defense held the Bears to just 17 points. Six of those points were makes from the free throw line. It was the fewest points scored by an A&M opponent since Saint Peter’s scored 16 points in the first half in the team’s home opener on Nov. 21, 2005.
The Oklahoma ties will run deep in Friday’s ballgame as five players on the Mercer roster hail from the Sooner State. Mercer seniors Natasha Doh and Dominique Chism both have Big 12 Conference playing experience as transfers from Oklahoma State. Doh is a former Putnam City West High School teammate of Texas A&M’s Danielle Gant who was the state Gatorade Player of the Year in 2005.
A&M returns nine letterwinners and three starters from last year’s NCAA Elite Eight squad that finished a school-record 29-8 overall. Returning All-Big 12 First Team selections Takia Starks (16.3 ppg) and Danielle Gant (14.7 ppg) are the team’s top returning players with both in contention for All-America honors this season. Senior center La Toya Micheaux (5.3 rpg), junior forward Damitria Buchanan (2.4 rpg), junior forward Katrina Limbaha, sophomore Sydney Colson (3.2 ppg), sophomore Maryann Baker and senior walk-on Kiley Finstad accounted for 61 percent of A&M’s scoring production as well as 56 percent of its work on the boards.
Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair enters his sixth season in Aggieland with one of his deepest lineups which includes Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Tanisha Smith, a former JUCO All-American from Arkansas-Fort Smith, and preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tyra White, who is a returning redshirt freshman after missing the 2007-08 season with an ACL injury in her first collegiate game at SMU on Nov. 9, 2007. Smith and White are both joined by a heralded freshmen class comprised of Kelsey Assarian, Sydney Carter, Skylar Collins, Adaora Elonu and Taniqua Hollis.
THIS IS HOME
The Aggies have protected their home court well over the last three seasons with an unprecedented 44-4 (.917) overall success rate at Reed Arena. A&M posted a 14-2 mark at the venue a year ago and carry a six-game home court win streak into Friday night’s contest. The Aggies went a school-best 16-0 at Reed Arena during the 2006-07 campaign.
Texas A&M 86, Houston Jaguars 43
• Texas A&M used the starting lineup of Takia Starks, Danielle Gant, Tanisha Smith, Adaora Elonu and Damitria Buchanan.
• Smith, a junior, made her unofficial career start in an Aggie uniform as well as Elonu, a freshman, against the Jaguars. Smith and Elonu combined for 23 of the team's 86 total points in the ballgame.
• The win improved A&M to an undefeated 3-0 in the series versus the Houston Jaguars which first began during the 2001-02 exhibition season.
• The Aggies, who annually rank among the top 15 teams in the nation in scoring defense, held the Houston Jaguars to a season-low 43 points. In seven exhibition games prior to facing A&M, the Jaguars' previous low was 60 points versus UT Arlington on Nov. 4. Baylor allowed 70 points on Nov. 3 and Arizona State 61 points on Nov. 5.
• A&M's 58 total rebounds for the game was more than the team's season-high total of 49 against New Orleans during the 2007-08 NCAA Elite Eight campaign.
TESTING OUT THE ROAD CONDITIONS
There is a reason why the Aggies’ RPI and strength of schedule year-in and year-out is one of the best in the nation. If competing in one of the toughest basketball conferences in the country wasn’t enough, A&M will take on a giant-size non-conference schedule with opponents hailing from the Big Ten and Pac-10 Conferences. In fact, A&M will travel to four states in the span of two weeks. The Aggies will play six of their first seven games of the season on the road at Michigan (Nov. 20), Arizona (Nov. 25), the Pepperdine Timeout 4 HIV/AIDS Tournament versus Penn State (Nov. 28) and Pepperdine or Coppin State (Nov. 29) and Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 2).
BLAIR NOTABLE QUOTABLES
“We have been to the NCAA Tournament three-straight years and this is the time of the year that we expect to be in the top 10 or top 25. The expectations are fine. We embrace all of the rankings. It is time for us to live up to it.”
“We are deep this year in regard to skill and talent. For example, you are pretty deep, when you have a chance to possibly start the year off with a freshman at the point guard position along with a McDonald’s High School All-American and junior college All-American off the bench.”
“You have to go on the road to earn RPI points and you want to schedule more home-and-home games. It is a risk-reward situation. It is a risk-reward game to play a Sweet 16 team (Pittsburgh) in your second game of the year. If you want to make that next step, you have to risk, to gain the rewards.”
“(Notre Dame head coach) Muffett McGraw is pretty quiet, but the rest of us (Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato and LSU head coach Van Chancellor) are blabbermouths. It is a combination of two Southern guys and two Northern girls who talk fast. We (Blair and Chancellor) are going to try to show them some Southern hospitality this weekend at the Tip-Off Classic.”
AGGIES ON THE RADIO
All Texas A&M women’s basketball games can be heard via a radio broadcast on the Texas A&M Sports Network. First-year play-by-play announcer Mike Wright will call the action live from Reed Arena alongside color analyst Tap Bentz on KZNE 1150 AM. A live audio feed will also be available on www.AggieAthletics.com.
EARLY TOP 10 PRESENCE FOR THE AGGIES
The Aggies received their highest preseason national ranking in school history when they were selected No. 10 in the preseason USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Top 25 Poll on Nov. 5. It topped a previous best of No. 11 prior to entering the 2007-08 season. The Aggie women were also picked No. 11 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 Poll on Nov. 1. A&M has appeared in the Coaches Poll for 41 consecutive weeks and a total of five all-time weeks in the top 10.
PRESEASON ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
1. Connecticut (44)
2. Stanford (1)
6. North Carolina
11. Texas A&M
14. Oklahoma State
16. Notre Dame
17. Arizona State
18. Ohio State
21. Florida State
25. Old Dominion
PRESEASON ESPN/USA TODAY COACHES TOP 25 POLL
1. Connecticut (26-2)
2. Stanford (35-4)
3. Rutgers (27-7)
4. North Carolina (33-3)
5. Maryland (33-4)
6. Tennessee (36-2)
7. Oklahoma (22-9)
8. Duke (25-10)
9. California (27-7)
10. Texas A&M (29-8)
11. Louisville (26-10)
12. Vanderbilt (25-9)
13. Texas (22-13)
14. Notre Dame (25-9)
15T. Virginia (24-10)
15T. Oklahoma State (27-8)
17. Baylor (25-7)
18. Arizona State (22-11)
19. Ohio State (22-9)
20. Old Dominion (31-5)
21. Auburn (20-12)
22. LSU (31-6)
23. Pittsburgh (24-11)
24. Florida State (19-14)
25. Georgia (23-10)