Portland St.-Texas A&M Preview
A little more than five weeks ago, Texas A&M was laboring through its fifth loss in seven games.
The Aggies have been nearly unbeatable since ending that slump and now hope to roll into the program's first Final Four berth.
Having won nine of 10, second-seeded Texas A&M has high hopes entering its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance Saturday night in Seattle against No. 15 seed Portland State.
Despite the graduation of three four-year starters, the Aggies won 14 of their first 15 games this season, including victories over Top 25 teams Duke, California, Arizona State and rival Texas. That run propelled Texas A&M to the No. 8 ranking on Jan. 25, but poor shooting (39.4 percent) over the next month hurt the Aggies, especially during four straight road losses.
Texas A&M (25-7) ended those woes in time to earn a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. That helped the Aggies make a run to their second title in three years by topping three straight top 15 opponents, including previously unbeaten Nebraska and Oklahoma - a Final Four team last season.
Super sub Danielle Adams, a 6-foot-1 junior, earned tournament MVP honors by averaging 19.7 points over those three games on 55.6 percent shooting. The Big 12 newcomer of the year, a transfer from Jefferson (Mo.) College, has scored at least 18 in each of her team's six straight wins, and leads Texas A&M with 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Tanisha Smith contributes 15.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Aggies, who were second in the Big 12 with a 75.4 scoring average. They limited opponents to 60.2 points per game and 37.0 percent shooting.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair hopes those continued efforts at both ends of the floor will lead to the Final Four. The Aggies reached the regional semifinals in 2009 and the regional finals in 2008 as a No. 2 seed in both seasons.
"We want to make a run," Blair said. "Even though we won the Big 12 tournament, this team is hungry and will be measured by what we do in the NCAA tournament"
While the Aggies are NCAA tourney veterans, Portland State (18-14) will make its first appearance after a surprising run to the Big Sky tournament title.
The Vikings finished tied for fifth in the nine-team conference but knocked off two of the top three teams before beating Montana State 62-58 in the championship game. Senior guard Claire Faucher, the team's leading scorer (13.6 ppg), hit a school and conference postseason-record eight 3-pointers en route to her 26 points.
If there's one advantage Portland State might have Saturday, it's location. Seattle is about 180 miles from the Vikings' campus.
"We are very excited with the fact that we get to stay in the area," coach Sherri Murrell told the school's official Web site. "We have half of our roster from the state of Washington. ... To be able to stay regionally is huge for us."
The Vikings also won the only meeting between the schools in 2001, 80-78 in double overtime in Honolulu.