Texas A&M-UConn Preview
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) UConn and Texas A&M have met each of the past two seasons, and it wasn’t pretty either time for the Aggies.
That means nothing to A&M coach Gary Blair, whose team plays the defending national champion Huskies again Monday night with a trip to the NCAA women’s Final Four at stake.
”They’ve got five future WNBA first-round choices in their starting lineup. That’s how good they are,” Blair said Sunday. ”But for 40 minutes Monday night, why not? Why not? … I like my team, I like our chances.”
Blair said the situation reminds him of 2010-11. Brittney Griner and Baylor beat his team three times that season before the Aggies upset the Lady Bears 58-46 in the Elite Eight on their way to the national championship.
”Don’t count Aggies out,” Blair said. ”OK, we might be undermanned. I’ve got a nice team. They’ve got a great team. But the difference is it’s a 40-minute game. It’s not a season series. If it was a series, best out of seven, I wouldn’t like my chances.”
UConn (37-0), which defeated BYU in the regional semifinals, has won 43 straight games and is trying to make the Final Four for the seventh straight year. Texas A&M (27-8), coming off a win over DePaul, has made its deepest tournament run since 2011.
The Huskies and A&M have met twice previously. UConn won 81-51 in Hartford in November 2011. Last season the Huskies traveled to College Station and won 81-50 in the Aggies’ worst home loss since Blair took over in 2003.
”The fact we won by a lot down there, I don’t think that has a lot of significance this time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ”Really good players have short memories. If you ask them what the score was of our game last year, they probably wouldn’t remember.”
A&M’s Courtney Walker said the Aggies learned from the experience.
”We looked at what we did and what we did wrong and we moved on from it,” she said. ”This is a whole new season, a whole new team.”
The last two times they played UConn, the Aggies ran their offense through Kelsey Bone in the post. Walker and Jordan Jones lead a guard-oriented system that has helped the Aggies to three tournament wins, all by at least 15 points.
”We have to make sure we do a good job containing dribble penetration and make it difficult to get into the lane,” UConn’s Stefanie Dolson said. ”Even though they are different than BYU, they have Karla Gilbert. They’re extremely physical. We have to be ready for that.”
Five things to know about Texas A&M-UConn:
MORE THAN A LONE STAR: The state of Texas has produced a bevy of point guards. Three alums of the same AAU club, DFW Elite, are still playing in the tournament – sophomores Jordan Jones of Texas A&M and Moriah Jefferson of UConn and senior Odyssey Sims of Baylor.
Jefferson said she’s had no communication with Jones in Lincoln. ”It’s strictly business now,” said Jefferson, the only Texan to ever play for the Huskies.
ELITE EIGHT PHOBIA: UConn has won six straight in the Elite Eight, but Auriemma said it’s at this point in the tournament that he gets most nervous.
”It’s like when you read about people climbing Mount Everest. They get to where it’s 500-600 feet away from the top, and that’s when most accidents happen,” he said. ”You’re right there, right on the edge, and it affects different people different ways.”
ASSIST LEADER: A&M’s Jordan Jones leads the tournament with 33 assists in three games and ranks fourth nationally with a school-record 253. She has 10 or more assists in four of her last five games.
IMPROVED CHEMISTRY: Texas A&M was just 7-4 after a 72-70 loss at St. John’s in December. The Aggies are 20-4 since.
”We had a come to Jesus meeting after that loss and that helped us,” senior Kristen Grant said. ”With chemistry as a team, we didn’t really have any.”
The players began spending time together off the court, playing laser tag and bowling, and Grant said they became a cohesive group.
BEST OF THE BEST: For all the great players that have gone through UConn, Blair said this is the best of Auriemma’s 29 teams. There’s only one weakness the A&M coach can find – depth. Auriemma has playing a six- or seven-woman rotation, largely because the Huskies average only 11 fouls a game. They’ve had just two players foul out in 37 games.
”If the fouls are 20-20 (Monday), we’ll lose the game,” Auriemma said.