LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Texas A&M’s Gary Blair sounded more like a carnival barker than coach as he discussed his team’s matchup with DePaul on Saturday in the NCAA women’s regional semifinals.
”Our game against DePaul will be one of the most entertaining games you’ve ever seen,” Blair said, adding that it would be like a ”ping-pong match.”
DePaul (29-6) opened the tournament with a 104-100 win over Oklahoma that set a record for combined points in a non-overtime tournament game. The seventh-seeded Blue Demons followed that with a 74-65 upset of No. 2 Duke.
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They made a total of 25 3-pointers in those two games and have hit 10 or more from behind the arc in 18 games. They’re shooting 36 percent on 3s for the season, and their 84-point average ranks third nationally.
Blue Demons coach Doug Bruno, who counts Blair as one of his best friends in the business, said he’s not sure Blair really believes his own hype about the matchup.
”I think he’s in that other locker room probably working very hard with his players to keep the score down,” Bruno said.
Third-seeded Texas A&M (26-8) beat North Dakota and James Madison in the first two rounds, holding them to a combined 34-percent shooting, including 23 percent on 3-pointers. They’re fifth in the country defending 3s, with opponents shooting 26 percent.
”Every team tries to take away our 3s, and especially coming off this Duke win, they’ll definitely be into our grills,” said Megan Rogowski, who’s shooting 46 percent from distance and is fourth in the country with 3.3 a game. ”We just have to move the ball, we can’t force anything, can’t get frustrated.”
Aggies point guard Jordan Jones said how she and her backcourt mates defending DePaul’s shooters could decide the outcome.
”It’s really up to us to contain them,” Jones said. ”We’re not just going to stop them and take them out of the game altogether. But if we do our best, follow our game plan and contain them in the system and not let them set up and do what they want, then we should be pretty good.”
Five things to know about the DePaul-Texas A&M game:
BLAIR ASKS FOR SUPPORT: Blair hopes the local fans adopt his Aggies, given Texas A&M and Nebraska’s shared history as former Big 12 members.
Nebraska fans had hoped to root for their own team this weekend until BYU upset the Huskers on Monday.
”If you give me a Cornhusker hat, I’d wear it right now. I’d put that on and say, `Gig `em, Aggies,’ and `Go, Cornhuskers’ and bow down to Tom Osborne and Connie Yori,” Blair said, referring to the Huskers’ retired football coaching great and the women’s basketball coach.
”They need somebody to rally around. OK, why not a former Big 12 team just like themselves?” he added.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: DePaul is in the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight year and in the regional semifinals for the third time since 2006. Texas A&M is in the tournament for the ninth year in a row and the Sweet 16 for the fifth time since 2008.
NEW BIG EAST: DePaul had never finished higher than a tie for second in its eight previous seasons in the Big East. The reconfiguration of the conference this season included the departures of UConn and Notre Dame, the two top teams in the nation, in addition to Louisville.
The Blue Demons swept the regular season and tournament championships this year, and Bruno said the Big East was strong top to bottom. But he acknowledged part of him misses the competition the Demons used to face.
”The butt-kickings that I thought really helped us in the old league weren’t there,” he said. ”But at the same time, confidence gets built by success also.”
BRUNO NO WESTHEAD: Yes, DePaul scores lots of points. No, it shouldn’t be confused with those run-and-gun Loyola Marymount men’s teams that averaged more than 100 points from 1988-90.
”This is not a Paul Westhead copy,” Bruno said. ”We’re not trying to just give up points to score points. We believe defensive basketball is for the purpose of getting the ball back and scoring the ball.”
UCONN LOOMS: Texas A&M’s Blair said beating UConn might be more than a one-team job.
”The other three of us (at the regional), we’re going to combine teams and play Connecticut,” Blair said, laughing. Blair joked that he asked Yori if he could borrow her star player, Jordan Hooper, as well.