(AP) – Texas A&M coach Gary Blair and Arkansas-Little Rock coach Joe Foley are quite familiar with each other.
"You don’t have that very many times in coaching where you’re going to play against your best friend in an NCAA Tournament," Foley said.
The two coaches will have to put their close relationship on hold Saturday when Blair leads his sixth-seeded Aggies against Foley and the No. 11 seed Trojans in a first-round matchup.
Blair and Foley met when Blair, then at Arkansas, walked in to watch a practice run by Foley while he was coaching at Arkansas Tech.
Blair calls Foley, who is one shy of 700 career wins, a perfectionist.
"You’re talking about a guy that most people around the country could not even tell you where UALR is or who Joe Foley is," Blair said. "But the coaches that know the game realize he’s one of the best."
Blair is actually not that far behind Foley with 695 victories, including a 23-9 mark in 2014-15 with Texas A&M, which is making its 10th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies, who finished the regular season ranked 21st in the AP poll, lost to LSU in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
Foley’s season with UALR (28-4) culminated in the school’s third Sun Belt Conference tournament title and first NCAA berth since 2012. The Trojans set school records for wins in a season and in conference play (18). The 18 league wins also tied the all-time Sun Belt record.
The Aggies, who won the 2011 NCAA title, are at a disadvantage with the absence of starting point guard Jordan Jones, who tore her ACL against Missouri on Feb. 25. Texas A&M lost that game and two of three since.
Curtyce Knox has moved to the point guard position but has averaged just 3.6 points this season. Jones was scoring 9.0 per game to go with 6.5 assists.
"Jordan was more of a facilitating point guard," the Aggies’ Courtney Walker said. "So that gives us a different feel as far as running our offense goes. But we still have been working on that since the SEC tournament. We’ve had a lot of time to continue to get used to Curtyce at point. She’s a great point guard."
While the guard situation isn’t helping, Texas A&M boasts a healthy size advantage against UALR, which doesn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-1. The Aggies start a 6-5 center, a 6-1 forward and a 6-1 forward-guard. They also have 6-7 and 6-2 reserves.
"They’re going to naturally score some in there," Foley said. "But the good thing is that’s not their focal point on offense. Their focal point is guards."
Courtney Williams leads A&M with 14.5 points per game and Walker is adding 14.4. Three players average double figures for UALR: Taylor Gault (15.5), Shanity James (11.0) and Alexius Dawn (10-7).
The winner of this game will face No. 3 seed Arizona State or 14th-seeded Ohio on Monday.