Texas A&M hosts tourney newcomer Wichita St.

With a coaching background that includes stop at Louisiana Tech

and Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M coach Gary Blair loves to root

for the underdogs in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, that support doesn’t extend to those teams when

they’re facing his Aggies, like one is on Saturday when No. 3 Texas

A&M hosts 14-seed Wichita State in the first round of the

tournament.

”That will be the first thing we talk about are the upsets,”

he said. ”You better be ready because the other team is playing

with nothing to lose.”

The Aggies, who won a national championship in 2011, are making

their eighth consecutive NCAA appearance and the Shockers their

tournament debut.

Sixth-seed Nebraska looks to end 11-seed Chattanooga’s 19-game

winning streak in the other game at A&M on Saturday.

Wichita State has had the most successful season in school

history, setting records for wins (24) and Missouri Valley

Conference wins (15). But the Shockers are facing daunting odds in

the tournament where a team from their conference hasn’t won a game

since 2002.

Wichita State has noted some of the upsets in this year’s

tournament with keen interest.

”It definitely gives us motivation,” Wichita State star

Jessica Diamond said. ”That’s why it’s called March Madness.

Anything can happen … we’re going to show that when we

play.”

Without any tournament experience to rely on, the Shockers will

lean on a staff led by coach Jody Adams, who won a national title

as a player at Tennessee in 1991, and assistant coach Bridgette

Gordon, a member of the 1987 and 1989 Lady Volunteers national

championship squads.

Adams often pulls from her playing experience when trying to

motivate her team, and has shared stories of playing for coach Pat

Summitt as the Shockers prepare for the Aggies.

She relayed a story she told her point guards this week.

”Pat threw me out of the practice before we went to the SEC

tournament,” Adams, a former point guard, recalled of her playing

days. ”It was because of the lack of communication, and at this

time, communication with your point guard is huge. You can’t hear

your head coach from the sidelines and you can’t depend on your

head coach. You should know at this time how to lead your team and

what plays to call.”

Many of the Aggies have tournament experience, but Texas

A&M’s starting lineup features two freshman, who will

experience it for the first time.

”We have a lot of contributors on our team that have never been

here before, so as leaders on this team it’s our job to get them

ready to go,” Texas A&M junior Kelsey Bone said. ”It’s still

going to be a little nerves before that first game. It’s the NCAA;

it’s what we all dream about.”

Blair knows the key to A&M’s success in the tournament will

be Bone’s play. The 6-foot-4 center leads the Aggies with 16.9

points and 9.6 rebounds a game. She is playing her second season at

A&M after sitting out a year following her transfer from South

Carolina.

This season, Blair has seen a marked improvement in Bone, who

was the second-rated high school player behind Baylor’s Brittney

Griner in 2009.

”People expected her to be Brittney Griner, the second coming

of Brittney Griner – and she wasn’t,” Blair said. ”She wasn’t in

the shape that she needed to be. I think she was trying to live up

to a ghost, and sometimes that ghost was her.”

”Her leadership is so much better this year,” Blair continued.

”She’s matured. She’s grown up a lot. This is her time to move the

next level up.”

In the other game in College Station, Nebraska is hoping to

bounce back from last year’s first-round exit in the tournament

when the Cornhuskers a Chattanooga team looking for its first NCAA

win since 2004.

”We did not come into the NCAA tournament healthy,” Nebraska

coach Connie Yori said of last season. ”That takes nothing away

from what Kansas did in beating us last year, but at least we are

healthy now. We do feel better about that.”

Yori raved about senior guard Lindsey Moore and her importance

in this game. Moore is averaging 15.1 points a game.

”I’ve coached a long time and she’s the best point guard I’ve

ever coached,” Yori said. ”She’s got a great savvy on the floor.

She’s a leader by example first. She does everything she needs to

do in a practice setting to make herself and her teammates

better.”

Chattanooga is in the tournament for the 11th time and the first

since 2010 after winning its record 14th Southern Conference

tournament.

Still, the experience doesn’t get old for coach Wes Moore, the

Southern Conference coach of the year, who has led Chattanooga to

nine of its NCAA tournament berths.

”We had a police escort to the airport. Three police vehicles

rushing ahead blocking off intersections,” Moore said shaking his

head. ”I got a kick out of it more than the players. Then we step

on a charter flight – I mean, come on, when we say charter, they

think bus. This is big stuff for us … this is what it’s about,

the little guy having the chance to knock off the perennial

power.”

Upsetting one of the women’s basketball powers wouldn’t be

anything new to Chattanooga, which opened this season with an 80-71

win over Tennessee and hasn’t lost since Jan. 7.

”There is no doubt with our kids,” Moore said. ”If you can

play with Tennessee, you can play with any team in the country. I

think that confidence has helped us when times have gotten tough

and we’ve had to fight through something. Hopefully it will help us

tomorrow.”