Aggies meet NCAA newcomer North Dakota

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - When Gary Blair took over as coach at Texas A&M in 2003, he heard about an elementary school girl in town named Karla Gilbert who he should keep on his radar.

A few years later he signed the 6-foot-5 Gilbert but she spent the first three years of her career as a reserve, stuck behind stars Danielle Adams and Kelsey Bone.

This year has been a breakout season for Gilbert, and the senior leads the No. 3 seed Aggies against No. 14 seed North Dakota, which is making its tournament debut, in the NCAA first round on Sunday.

Texas A&M is making its ninth straight tournament appearance and is playing the opening round at home for the third consecutive year.

No. 6 seed Gonzaga meets No. 11 seed James Madison in the other game in College Station.


Gary Blair, Head Coach

On first impression of Karla Gilbert:
“I heard about Karla in my first press conference when I took the job here. She was in the fifth or sixth grade. I really started following her more when she became a seventh or eighth grader and watched her play junior high kids. She is one of the most good-natured kids I’ve ever met in my life. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I can’t get her mad at me in practice, although I try like heck to. She had to wait her turn to play with All-Americans like Kelsey Bone playing in front of her. She’s gotten better and better. We’ve been surprised especially by her stamina this year and how many minutes she can play. She has a great offensive game. On defense, she set the record for blocks, and I just think she’s very good; the only thing she lacks is speed.”

On consistently being a high seed in the tournament over the years:
“It’s due to good players and home court advantage. When we won the national championship, I said we weren’t going to be a one-hit wonder, we’re going to stay at the top. Consistency is 100% recruiting and staying healthy. Think about it: we haven’t had too many serious injuries in 11 years.”

On how to make it past the second round this year, unlike last year
“Our matchup with Nebraska last year was not very good, especially since we had just gotten through an athletic rough and tumble in the SEC tournament. It’s important who you’re matched up with, on both the men’s and the women’s side. Generally you like to play someone who is similar to you in a number of ways. As a coach to get through six games in the NCAA tournament, you have to adjust your style. Sometimes when the shots are not falling, you have to adjust your game plan. Against North Dakota, it’s a different game plan. North Dakota is like no team that we played in the SEC; we played teams in non-conference games that were similar. I have a lot of respect for Coach Travis. North and South Dakota are the two most underrated basketball states in the country.”

On any concerns about the first game:
“I’m always glad that the men’s tournament starts a few days before the women’s tournament does so I can use the upsets and teams like Mercer as motivation. You talk about those instances where a low seed upsets a high seed, you want to keep in mind that it could be you that gets upset. You want to talk about your team more than your opponent in the first round. You want your team clicking on all cylinders. You do what you do best. Give credit to their team, they’re going to be doing what they do best and hopefully you have more ammunition than they do. The key is staying out of foul trouble. The other key is not playing ‘hope-they-miss’ basketball, you need to play ‘make-them-miss’ basketball. You want to play pressure defense without fouling somebody. You can’t give an open shot to a player because she may not have made that shot consistently all year – this is the playoffs! Let’s get with it. Rebounding and defense usually wins the first round. “

On having another year of experience with this team:
“I think my freshmen that are now sophomores have grown up. They’re more mature, they have a little bit of a better basketball I.Q. We came in this year with two junior college players at the forward position. We had no idea how they would blend into our offense, and they’ve done very well. Then you have Karla who played 12 minutes a game last year and now this year, plays 28-29 minutes a game. I’m as happy with our team this year as I was with our team last year that had multiple All-Americans because I think we have lived up to our expectations, perhaps even exceeded them. That’s what you get excited about. When players graduate, you want that next player to step up and carry on the tradition of excellence that is so unique to A&M. Sometimes, we can get very average on certain things that we do. What we have to do is make the adjustments in game, and not wait until halftime or practice, to counter whatever the other team is doing. My assistants are very good at that.”

Karla Gilbert, Senior, Center

On playing differently because it’s a home game against 14 seed:
“For me it’s a little bit of both. It’s my last year to be a part of all of this. As an athlete, in the back of your head you want to approach it like any other game. But as a senior it’s your last go around.”

On the value of experience:
“Being in the tournament is very valuable because you’ve been there before and your nerves aren’t as bad and you know what to expect. Being a team that already knows what’s going on and how things go in the tournament is more common. Expecting what’s going to happen makes it easier for everyone to focus and get what we need to get done.”

On home court advantage and being a senior:
“These last couple games are very valuable to me considering that I am a senior and this is my last time playing here at Reed Arena. I’m expecting us to dominate no matter what the situation and hopefully we are able to show up like we are supposed to.”

Jordan Jones, Sophomore, Guard

On two week break since SEC tournament:
“I think that two weeks off is good for us. We did go into the SEC tournament but we came up short to Tennessee, but we played hard and we were kind of fatigued at the end of the game. The two weeks off, we have had a different variety of practices. We have had a hard practice, a slight offensive practice and a hard defensive practice or a slight defensive and a hard offensive practice. I think that it will be good for us in saving our legs and helping what we need to work on. Coming into the game tomorrow, I think we should be well prepared and have fresh legs.”

On advantages over North Dakota:
“Our size and quickness are advantages. We are a pretty athletic team and we are fortunate enough to rotate three bigs with Karla, Rachel and Jada. I feel like that is our main strong point because we are a quick and athletic team and we have bigs that we can constantly rotate in. That will be our advantage; they are a little undersized so we will have to work our posts.”

Courtney Walker, Sophomore, Guard

On having a year of experience:
“A year of experience means a whole lot. We’ve played a whole year and gotten a chance to know each other. Playing last year will calm our nerves and we can get a win.”


Courtney Williams, Sophomore, Forward/Guard

On beginning her second NCAA tournament at home:
“It feels good. I just know last year we came up short and we don’t want to come up short this year, so we’re just going to prepare and try our hardest and play our hardest. We can’t take anyone for granted. The 12th Man helps a lot with home-court advantage especially. They’re going to support us. We love them, they love us. It’s a big thing.”

On having tournament experience:
“Well last year, I felt like I kind of started off slow at the beginning of season. As the season progressed, I got better and better. And this year I’ve gotten better. In the NCAA tournament last year I just took my time. I want to get my assists up and continue to do the things I did last year – to play hard and to keep getting better.”

Achiri Ade, Junior, Forward

On playing in her first NCAA tournament:
“I’m excited. Since its brand new I don’t know what to expect, but I just know to still play my game, come out and play hard and lead my team.”

On difference from NJCAA postseason:
“Well, last year, I was trying to get recruited, so I was trying to do my very best. This year I’m trying to help my team and it’s a team-thing more.”

On A&M’s postseason tradition:
“We take one game at a time and don’t take any teams for granted. Regardless of what your seed is and who you’re playing, we always go out there and play hard.”

On North Dakota:
“We’ve been watching some film and our coaches have been telling us about the. They play hard, are really good in transition. They shoot the ball well. Obviously, they’re a really good team since they’ve made it this far.”

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