South Bend, IN- The ninth-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team (25-7) unpacks its dancing shoes for a program-best fourth consecutive go-around in the month of March.
The Aggies punched their second-straight ticket as a No. 2 seed in the Trenton Regional by way of winning seven of their last nine games against ranked opponents and with one of the nation’s strongest schedules. A&M will meet 15th-seeded Evansville (15-18) in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on Sunday, March 22 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind. Tipoff between the Aggies and Purple Aces is set for 11 a.m. (CT) on ESPN2.
The Aggies will look to hold off a Cinderella and upset-minded squad which has won four-straight and will be playing about 320 miles away from home. The winner will move on to the second round and meet either seventh-seeded and 20th-ranked Notre Dame (22-8) or 10th-seeded Minnesota (19-11) on Tuesday, March 24 at a time to be determined by television. A&M will face a non-Texas school in the first round for the first time in three years. The Aggies have won their last two opening-round games to UT Arlington in 2007 and UTSA in 2008.
ON THE DEUCE
Texas A&M will showcase its talent on ESPN2 for the third time this season next to a 56-50 victory over then No. 23 Pittsburgh in the Aggies’ first-ever appearance in the prestigious State Farm Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 16 in Baton Rouge, La., and a memorable 57-56 win over then No. 2 Oklahoma on Feb. 23 in College Station. Play-by-play announcer Eric Collins and color analyst Stephanie White, who is currently an assistant coach for the WNBA Chicago Sky and a former Purdue All-American and National Player of the Year, will call first-and second-round action live from the Joyce Center on the picturesque Notre Dame campus. A&M will play before an ESPN2 national audience for only the 12th time in program history and are 8-3 all-time on the deuce.
The Texas A&M versus Evansville game on Sunday will be televised in its entirety in each schools’ home-marked protected areas which includes the entire state of Texas and parts of the state of Indiana. The rest of the country will view ESPN2’s national whip-around coverage which will allow the viewer to see to the most compelling action from multiple games. The game will be carried locally in the Bryan-College Station area on Suddenlink Channel 28 and to satellite customers who subscribe to DirectTV (Channel 211), ESPN FullCourt (Channel 721), Dish Network (Channel 145), Dish ESPN FullCourt (Channel 456), AT&T (Channel 611) and AT&T ESPN FullCourt (Channel 4502). For high definition subscribers, if you are tuned to your ESPN2HD channel, you will receive the national telecast that will allow the viewer to see the most compelling game action. If you wish to watch your local home market protected game in its entirety, you must tune into your regular Standard Definition ESPN2 Channel.
AGGIES IN NCAA TOURNAMENT PLAY
The Aggies are 6-5 all-time in postseason play and are making their sixth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance. Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair has now led 15 of his all-time squads at Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas and A&M combined to the Big Dance with an 18-14 career record in NCAA Tournament games. The Aggies are one of eight top seeds in the 64-team field including top seeds in Connecticut, Duke, Maryland and Oklahoma as well as two seeds in Baylor, Auburn and Stanford. Last year, A&M reached the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time in school history, but fell in the Oklahoma City Regional finals to eventual national champion Tennessee, 53-45. Historically, six No. 2 seeds have gone on to win a national championship title including Tennessee in 1987, Louisiana Tech in 1988, Texas Tech in 1993, Connecticut in 2004, Baylor in 2005 and Maryland in 2006.
THE AGGIES’ DANCE CARD
With the second-and fifth-toughest schedule in the nation according to the Jeff Sagarin/CBN Women’s College Basketball Ratings and CollegeRPI.com, A&M had three non-conference opponents earn NCAA Tournament berths including third-seeded Florida State, fourth-seeded Pittsburgh and 10th-seeded TCU. The Aggies were one of six Big 12 schools to dance in March along with OU, Baylor, fourth-seeded Iowa State, fifth-seeded Kansas State and sixth-seeded Texas. They went 10-5 against ranked opponents this season including a pair of victories over Oklahoma, Texas, K-State and Oklahoma State in addition to Pitt in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic and TCU and New Mexico in their non-conference slate. The Aggies have been ranked among the top 10 teams in the country in both national polls for most of the balance of the season with a current No. 9 national ranking in the AP and Coaches.
A QUICK LOOK AT EVANSVILLE
Evansville may be the only team entering NCAA Tournament play with an under .500 record, but the Purple Aces are on a roll winning five of their last six games by a margin of seven points or less against league foes in Wichita State, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Bradley. They became the first No. 9 seed to claim the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title with a 47-45 victory over second-seeded Creighton on March 15 to earn the league’s automatic bid. Evansville is making its second-ever appearance in the Big Dance next to a 1999 berth. The alma mater of current NBA Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan, UE’s current four-game win streak is its longest of the season. Four players are averaging double figures in scoring including senior guard and MVC Tournament MVP Ashley Austin at 13.3 points per game for the Aces.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
No. Name 2008-09 Stats
51 Sydney Colson, G, 5-8, So. 6.5 ppg, 3.1 apg
3 Takia Starks, G, 5-8, Sr. 15.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg
22 Tanisha Smith, G/F, 6-0, Jr. 10.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg
55 Danielle Gant, G/F, 5-11, Sr. 13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg
12 La Toya Micheaux, C, 6-3, Sr. 2.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg
No. Name 2008-09 Stats
1 Ashley Austin, G, 5-9, Sr. 13.3 ppg, 3.0 apg
23 Amy Gallagher, G, 5-10, Jr. 10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg
34 Stephanie Bamberger, G, 5-10, So. 5.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg
42 Robyn Jennings, F, 5-11, Sr. 10.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg
24 Shannon Novosel, C, 6-1, Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg
2008-09 Category TAMU UE UND UM
Overall Record 25-7 15-18 22-8 19-11
Conference Record 11-5 4-14 10-6 11-7
Points Per Game 67.7 62.1 71.5 62.4
Scoring Margin +12.4 -2.6 +9.8 +3.5
Rebounds Per Game 37.5 39.4 39.9 34.2
Rebounding Margin +1.4 -0.4 +2.8 -0.6
Field Goal Percentage 42.9 36.8 43.4 39.7
Field Goal% Defense 36.6 40.0 38.3 41.4
Three-Point FG% 33.3 32.0 33.3 33.7
Free Throw Percentage 67.7 70.2 70.0 71.9
Turnovers Per Game 15.1 17.3 15.8 15.5
Assists Per Game 13.0 11.4 14.8 12.9
Blocks Per Game 3.8 3.2 4.0 1.9
Steals Per Game 11.4 7.3 9.9 9.0
AGAINST THE MVC
Texas A&M is 4-4 all-time when facing a Missouri Valley Conference opponent including Creighton (1-1), Missouri State (1-2), Southern Illinois (0-1) and Wichita State (2-0). The Aggies’ last meeting against a Valley school was a 70-36 rout of Wichita State in the 2007 Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This will be the second time in the 35-year history of Aggie Basketball to face a MVC school in postseason play next to a 62-60 loss to Missouri State (formerly SMS) on its home court in the Postseason WNIT Quarterfinals in 2005.
A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The Aggies met three opponents this season for the first time in program history and will add a fourth in Evansville. They went 3-0 against non-conference first timers in Pittsburgh, Penn State and New Mexico. Evansville first-year head coach Misty Murray isn’t unfamiliar with the Aggies. Prior to her appointment with the Purple Aces, she served as an assistant coach and associate head coach to Greg Williams at Rice University from 2005-08. A&M went 1-1 against the Owls during Murray’s time in Houston.
SCOUTING THE IRISH
Notre Dame is making its 14-straight and 16 overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Fighting Irish put together a 10-6 record against Big East competition despite the loss of Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory to season-ending ACL injuries this season. They currently rank ninth among NCAA Division I attendance leaders with an average of 7,228 fans per game which has resulted in an 11-2 home record at the Joyce Center. UND currently ranks 28th nationally in scoring offense averaging 71.5 points per game.
No. Name 2008-09 Stats
23 Melissa Lechlitner, G, 5-7, Jr. 10.5 ppg, 3.4 apg
24 Lindsay Schrader, G, 6-0, Sr. 12.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg
20 Ashley Barlow, G, 5-9, Jr. 12.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg
32 Becca Bruszewski, F, 6-1, So. 10.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg
52 Erica Williamson, C, 6-4, Jr. 5.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Minnesota is making its eighth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance and is looking for its fifth 20-win season under head coach Pam Borton. Golden Gopher guards Brittany McCoy and Emily Fox combine for 241 of the team’s 386 assists on the season. Fox was named an All-Big Ten Conference Second Team selection averaging a team-leading 12.8 points a game. Minnesota compiled an 11-7 mark against league opponents to earn a No. 5 seed, but lost to fourth-seeded Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament (79-64) on March 6. The Golden Gophers have had a little over two weeks to prepare for their first-round game against Notre Dame.
No. Name 2008-09 Stats
12 Brittany McCoy, G, 5-10 Jr. 6.8 ppg, 4.1 apg
4 Emily Fox, G, 5-9, Sr. 12.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg
35 Katie Ohm, G, 5-11, Jr. 9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg
21 Ashley Ellis-Milan, F, 6-2, Jr. 11.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg
45 Jackie Voigt, F, 6-1, Fr. 5.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg
Should the Aggies advance past the first round, they would take on either host Notre Dame or Minnesota. A&M leads 1-0 in the all-time series with the Fighting Irish, while the Golden Gophers hold a 3-2 advantage over the Aggies. A&M and Notre Dame’s first and only meeting was an 88-84 overtime victory under former head coach Candi Harvey in the Kona Classic on Dec. 3, 1995 in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i. Minnesota last faced the Aggies in the Bahamas at the inaugural Junkanoo Jam in Coach Blair’s first season in 2003-04. A&M’s two wins in the U of M series occurred back in 1989 and 1995.
• Senior All-America candidate and three-time All-Big 12 First Team selection Takia Starks (Houston, Texas) is currently the school-record holder in career field goals made, field goals attempted, three-pointers made and three-pointers attempted and is one of only four all-time A&M players to record 1,500 points and 500 rebounds in a career. She needs 17 more points to break former All-American Lisa Branch’s all-time scoring record (1,939) with 1,923 career points to date.
• Senior All-America candidate Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) is also in reach of setting a career milestone of her very own. Gant has brought down 903 career rebounds to date which was ranked third behind all-time leader Prissy Sharpe (920) and Lisa Jordan (911). She is 18 shy of the career mark.
• Senior center La Toya Micheaux (Missouri City, Texas) currently ranks fourth all-time in career rebounding (799) and needs one more board to become only the fourth player in school history to reach 800 next to Gant, Sharpe and Jordon.
THREE TIMES THE IRISH CHARM
Texas A&M and Notre Dame have crossed paths twice over the last fiscal year, but have never played each other. That may change and set-up a third meeting, this time up-close-and-personal, if both teams are victorious in the first round. Both teams reached the NCAA Oklahoma City Regional in 2008 and lost to top-seeded Tennessee in the regional finals and semifinals respectively. The Aggies and Fighting Irish also participated in the four-team State Farm Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 16 in Baton Rouge. Notre Dame defeated LSU, while A&M beat Pitt.
BROTHER-SISTER NCAA ACT
Freshman reserve forward Adaora Elonu (Houston, Texas) and her older brother, Chinemelu Elonu, a starting junior forward/center for the Aggie men’s basketball team are the only known brother-sister basketball combination who will be playing simultaneously in the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Division I Championships this week besides the coaching sibling rivalry of Western Carolina women’s basketball head coach Kellie Jolly Harper and her brother Brent Jolly, who is an assistant coach with the Chattanooga men’s basketball team. The Big 12 is a hotbed for some of the nation’s most notable NCAA hoops family ties with sisters Courtney and Ashley Paris and brothers Taylor and Blake Griffin at Oklahoma and sisters Kathleen and Kristen Nash at Texas.
Across the country, the growing athletic department trend is to have both of your men’s and women’s basketball programs dancing in March giving each school two shots at a national championship. Texas A&M is no exception and is one of 24 schools to do so this season along with Connecticut, Cal, Arizona State, Florida State, Duke, Minnesota, Michigan State, Tennessee, East Tennessee State, Texas, Ohio State, Mississippi State, Maryland, Villanova, LSU, Oklahoma, Xavier, Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Purdue, North Carolina, VCU and Louisville. The Aggies have made a program-best four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances with the winningest men’s basketball player in senior forward Josh Carter (98-36) and women’s senior classes comprised of Takia Starks, Danielle Gant and La Toya Micheaux (102-31) in school history. A&M is one of 22 women’s programs which have made four consecutive NCAA berths in addition to just one of three Big 12 teams (OU and BU) since 2006.
• Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair was one of four Division I women’s basketball head coaches who took time from their busy in-season schedules to attend the 2009 NCAA mock selection exercise held on Feb. 5-6 in Indianapolis. Blair was joined by Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw, Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale and DePaul head coach Doug Bruno. The four head coaches were joined in the exercise by print and broadcast media members from across the country.
• Coach Blair last played in South Bend while an assistant coach for Women’s Basketball Hall of Famers Sonja Hogg and Leon Barmore at Louisiana Tech from 1980-85. The Lady Techsters handed the Fighting Irish an 81-39 defeat on their home court during the 1982-83 season, a year after they won the first-ever NCAA-sanctioned title in the sport. Current Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey and Debra Rodman, sister of Dennis and former pupil of Blair’s at South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, were members of the 82-83 squad.
• The Aggies currently rank among the top 30 NCAA statistical leaders in five categories including 28th in scoring defense (55.3), 26th in scoring margin (12.4), 13th in steals per game (11.4), fourth in three-point field goal percentage defense (25.8) and fourth in turnover margin (6.4). Danielle Gant also ranks 39th nationally with a 51.8 accuracy from the field which is fourth-best among Big 12 leaders.
Baylor 72, Texas A&M 63
• For the 15th time this season, Texas A&M used the starting five of Sydney Colson, Takia Starks, Tanisha Smith, Danielle Gant and La Toya Micheaux (11-4).
• The Aggies reached the championship game for only the second time in school history (1-1) next to last year’s historic 3-0 run which included a 64-59 victory over third-seeded Oklahoma State to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and the program’s first-ever Big 12 postseason championship title.
• Takia Starks turned in her 25th overall 20-point game of her career with a team-high 22 points against the Lady Bears. She has recorded double figures in 27-of-32 games played this season. Starks is now 17 points shy of breaking former All-American Lisa Branch’s all-time scoring record (1,939) with 1,923 points to date.
• Tanisha Smith reached double figures for the third time of her career when facing Baylor. She was one point shy of tying her career-high 19 points versus the Lady Bears on Jan. 21. Smith also turned in 14 points at BU on March 7 in both team’s regular-season finale.
• Danielle Gant became the third player in school history to reach 900 career rebounds with four against the Lady Bears. She has now brought down 903 boards to date which ranks third all-time in school history. Gant joins the ranks of former players Prissy Sharpe (920) and Lisa Jordon (911). She is 18 boards away from becoming the school’s all-time leading rebounder.
• Gant and Smith join only a select few A&M players to be named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team next to former player A’Quonesia Franklin and Takia Starks (MOP) in 2008.
AGGIE NOTEABLE QUOTABLES
“There were 10 teams that had a chance at a No. 1 seed and the next six had a chance to be a No. 2 seed. We had the top 10 wins, because we beat Oklahoma twice and had the strength of schedule due to the strength of our league. I think it’s a win-win situation. Would you rather be the lowest No. 2 seed or the highest No. 3 seed? If you are the best No. 3 seed, you stay away from Connecticut. But, nothing ever comes easy for the Aggies. Last year, we were put in the same region with top-seeded Tennessee. That’s just the way it is. We have the same situation as we did last year, but before we can think about the Connecticut’s and Tennessee’s, we have to play Evansville which did a great job in the (Missouri Valley Conference) tournament. I’ve always followed them, because I love their nickname, the Purple Aces. Hopefully, we can go up there and have the same, one-game mentality like we did against UTSA and Hartford last year in the first and second rounds. The difference this year is that the No. 7 and No. 10 seeds are going to be a lot stronger than what we faced last year. Notre Dame is solid. We were in Baton Rouge (for the State Farm Tip-Off Classic) with them. They’ve lost two starters during the course of the year and they still played through it which is very similar to Baylor’s situation (without top player Danielle Wilson). Minnesota was probably the last Big Ten team to get in. They are a good ballclub and I know their coach very well. It will be a well-attended site.” – Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair on his team’s selection and seeding
“I’d rather be in Albuquerque, Lubbock or some of the other sites where there isn’t a home court advantage. At this stage, if you’re not playing well, you’re not going to dance long anyways. It doesn’t matter. What we were able to do in Oklahoma City, playing in Oklahoma’s backyard, will get us ready for the 9,000 or so up there. That’s part of it. We enjoy the atmosphere. Our kids play better in front of large crowds Two years ago, when we had to play in L.A. in front of 400 people to advance to the Sweet 16, we lost to George Washington in the second round which wasn’t fun. The NCAA did the right thing while we are building our program and are still in the grass root stages of putting people in the seats. We need to be at 16 sites. Yes, it favors those teams, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to the day when we can host here and be in it as well. But, that cannot happen until at least 2011. ” – Coach Blair on going back to 16 NCAA first-and second-round sites
“It is great to be able to continue to play and earn a No. 2 seed. We really didn’t know where we were going to be placed or seeded. We are happy about it, but now, it’s time to get back to work. It will not be an easy road, so we will have to go out and play and execute our game plan.” – Senior All-America candidate Takia Starks on the team’s selection for the second-straight year as a No. 2 seed
“Tennessee was the best team last year and we had a chance to match up with them. A lot of folks overlooked us, but we always came out and played hard. We played smart and played together as team. We gave them (the Lady Vols) a game. Basically, we will use the same game plan this year.” – Starks on what lies ahead of the Aggies in their region with top-seeded and undefeated Connecticut
“It’s a great feeling considering that we have been working hard all season and felt that we deserved a No. 2 seed. This team is much more talented than last year. We have a lot of experience and have three great seniors who can contribute to several different things on the court. We are looking forward to the tournament, but we are going to take one game at a time. It’s not about what’s going to be there. It’s about us going there and playing hard. We are going to focus on playing good basketball.” – Senior All-America candidate Danielle Gant on the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team and being seeded No. 2 both times
AGGIES ON THE RADIO
All Texas A&M women’s basketball NCAA Championship games can be heard via a radio broadcast on the Texas A&M Sports Network. Play-by-play announcer Mike Wright will call the first-and second-round action live from the Joyce Center alongside color analyst and former player Katy Pounds on KZNE 1150 AM. A live audio feed will also be available on www.AggieAthletics.com.