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The Battalion

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

The Battalion

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Aari McDonald proves too much for A&M in Arizona’s upset win over the Aggies

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Courtesy of C. Morgan Engel, 2021 NCAA Photos

SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 27: The Texas A&M Aggies against the Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament held at the at Alamodome on March 27, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a matter of 80 minutes, both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds of the Mercado Region were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
Immediately following four-seed Indiana’s upset of No. 1 seed NC State, two-seed Texas A&M fell victim to Arizona’s upset bid.
Close games and comeback battles had been the story of A&M’s NCAA Tournament run thus far, but the Aggies were unable to overcome a 13-point fourth quarter deficit on Saturday, falling 74-59.
Faced with three-seed Arizona’s double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Aggies’ desperation turned into mistakes as turnovers, late fouls and missed passes kept the game just out of A&M’s reach.
A&M coach Gary Blair said it was disappointing to not come out with a win in front of A&M’s fans.
“When I looked up in the stands knowing 90 percent of the fans were Aggies up there, I felt like, gosh, we wanted to give it to them so much,” Blair said. “A lot of people drove from all over the state of Texas and other places to come see this ball game. We wanted to be that little team that could. We just didn’t get it done. Just like NC State in the first game, didn’t get it done.”
Following the Aggies’ third loss of the season, Blair had just two words for his team.
“When I got to the locker room, we didn’t talk about the game itself,” Blair said. “We talked about what this team had overcome and gone through, just like other young ladies in other locker rooms or dugouts or football fields, what we’ve all gone through. That was my message, just a ‘thank you.’”
While sophomore guard Jordan Nixon had gotten the Aggies out of similar situations in their two previous NCAA Tournament games, she wasn’t able to get many shots up all night, finishing the game just 1-of-6 against Arizona’s aggressive defense.
“We were America’s team for a while,” Blair said. “But as soon as you start patting yourself on the back, that’s when somebody’s going to make up, they were not going to give [Nixon]. She had one open shot the whole game. That’s what she hit the step-back three. Other than that she probably forced a few more. What a young lady to have coming back. Very similar to Johnny Manziel when he got all that attention for beating Alabama back then. Then we still had the rest of the season to play.”
Guarding Nixon most of the night was Arizona’s leading scorer Aari McDonald, who put up 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting.
McDonald led the Wildcats’ dominant three-point shooting effort, contributing six of their 13 made shots from behind the arc. The Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year, McDonald’s 31 points Saturday were a season high for the senior guard, who entered the matchup averaging 19.3 points per game.
Though they finished the game shooting 47.1 percent from the field to Arizona’s 45.9 percent, the Aggies couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats’ 44.8 percent three-point shooting, making just 25 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
While the Aggies were able to combat Iowa State’s three-point prowess thanks to a win in the turnover battle, that was not the case on Saturday. A&M committed 19 turnovers to Arizona’s six, with 12 of those coming in the second half. The Wildcats took advantage of A&M’s mistakes, scoring 28 of their points off of A&M’s turnovers.
“Turnovers can kill you,” Blair said. “You can overcome the missed free throws or the blown layups, but you cannot overcome the turnovers.”
Four turnovers, in addition to four fouls, late in the third quarter set Arizona off on a 9-0 run, allowing the Wildcats to take a 59-44 lead over A&M with two consecutive three-pointers from McDonald.
Senior guard Aaliyah Wilson tried to get the Aggies out of their tough spot, giving A&M its first points in nearly three minutes and blocking a three-point attempt at the end of the third quarter.
Though Wilson finished the game as the Aggies’ leading scorer with 17 points, her efforts were ultimately not enough to help A&M escape with the win.
Wilson and A&M’s other senior starters, center Ciera Johnson, forward N’dea Jones and guard Kayla Wells, combined for 50 points, with all but Johnson scoring in double digits.
The Aggies conclude the season with a 25-3 overall record.
Despite the end result, Blair said he is still hopeful looking to the future of Texas A&M women’s basketball.
“Did our kids enjoy playing together as a basketball team? Did our kids enjoy the bonding that they had to do separately with the four walls that surround them either in the hotels or their apartments or their dorm rooms?” Blair said. “I mean, that’s tough. I’m not sure if I could have done it at that age. But these kids, they found a way. That’s what makes the future of these kids so well. I’ve got five of them working on their masters. We graduate kids, we recruit good kids. Hopefully this coaching staff can realize how much work we have to do to replace the ones that go on [in] another direction. But if they decide to come back, I guarantee I love every damn one of ’em. We’ll toss it up and do it again.”

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