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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Where’s the love?

In the midst of a successful Texas A&M basketball season, the Aggies are still searching for respect.
A&M is not looking for recognition from the media, voters or the tournament selection committee. This team is looking for respect from their classmates and fans; a respect that is absent because the players are women.
The Aggies have showcased a balance between a talented starting five players and a deep and talented bench. The team features two All-American candidates in seniors Takia Starks and Danielle Gant and a strong supporting cast.
Statistically, the 2008-2009 A&M team is one of the best in the history of the women’s program. The Aggies rank second in scoring in Big 12 conference play, scoring-margin and field goal percentage. On the other end of the court, A&M leads the conference in steals and turnover margin and are third in field goal percentage defense.
“I just think we play hard every possession,” Gant said. “We play hard on defense and on offense. I think it’s more exciting to watch women because we play hard on both ends of the floor.”
The women’s basketball team has made major strides singe the arrival of Head Coach Gary Blair in 2003. In his second season at the helm, Blair ended A&M’s streak of eight consecutive losing seasons. Before Blair took over, the Aggies had endured 16 losing seasons and only two NCAA tournament appearances in 30 seasons.
“They have done a remarkable job,” said A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne. “If you look at where we were before Gary Blair arrived here, arguably our men’s and women’s basketball teams were the worst in the history of the Big 12 Conference.
“We never had a win in the Big 12 Tournament. We were just awful. Every year now, there are Aggies talking about post-season play in basketball. Before, that was unheard of. There has been an incredible turnaround and the culture is changing.”
The Aggies’ 8-4 record versus teams in the Top 25 marks the most A&M victories against Top 25 opponents in a season.
“I think people are looking at Texas A&M perhaps as a national power that can stay there for a time,” Blair said. “I think that’s a key that you want. We want to be talked about like the Duke’s, Connecticut’s, Tennessee’s and teams that have been there for 15 to 20 years. That’s when you really get respect.”
Despite the team’s success, A&M does not compare to the other national powers in attendance. The women have yet to fall out of the Top 15 in 2008-2009 but average only 5,256 fans a game. The Aggie men averaged an attendance of 9,438, but weren’t ranked in the Top 25 all season.
“If I had a wish, I would wish that we could have the type of student support for women’s basketball that we do for the men,” Byrne said.
With Blair making strides in transforming the A&M program into a powerhouse, the 12th Man struggled to keep pace. Of the teams ranked in the Top 10, A&M’s average attendance ranks seventh.
Despite being ranked outside the Top 15, Tennessee leads the country in average attendance. The Lady Volunteers played three home games in 2008-2009 in front of more than 16,000 spectators. The Aggies’ largest attendance of 2008-2009 was 7,143 against Kansas after the men played Oklahoma State.
Blair said it is his responsibility to build not just the program, but its popularity.
“It’s my job,” Blair said. “I am the number one marketer here. It’s me going out and selling our program on a one-on-one basis because this community watches TV, read the newspapers and the Internet, but it’s my job to put butts in the seats. I get out into the community perhaps more than other coaches because I think that is the only way we can grow the game. If I meet you, I have a better chance of getting you in the stands.”
Although they finished in fourth place in the Big 12 after the regular season, the women’s average attendance was ranked fifth in the conference behind Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech. The Lady Raiders average 8,546 fans at their games despite an eighth-place finish with a 6-10 conference record.
Starks, A&M’s leading scorer, said she wishes the student body would at least try experiencing a women’s game.
“We’ve been here doing this for four years now,” Starks said. “Come out and just give us a chance. Trust me; you’re going to like what you see. We don’t get many dunks, but we play hard and we’ve been a winning program.”
Critics of women’s basketball claim the game is too slow and lacks physicality. Though Blair agrees male players can do things females can’t, he argues the women’s game offers some things that the men’s doesn’t.
“The women’s game is played slightly below the rim but between the ears,” Blair said. “You have to have more teamwork. Screens have to be better because you cannot create off the dribble. I think the collisions and living off of turnovers are more important.”
Stereotypes and lack of support have plagued female athletes in every sport. With 10 black women on the roster, A&M’s women’s basketball players are forced to deal with obstacles on several levels.
The players however, dedicate themselves to remaining focused on the only thing that matters – winning. Sophomore Sydney Colson holds a more optimistic perspective in the amount of change that has occurred at A&M in the past couple of decades.
“It’s really exciting to see how far along A&M has come,” Colson said. “It went from being an all-white school with just men here. Then they integrated in the women and then they started having black people. I’m just excited to be part .

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