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The Battalion

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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A&M gears up for opening round against Troy

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Photo by Abbey Santoro

Senior guard Aaliyah Wilson leads the Aggies in points per game and steals per game.

The No. 2 seed Texas A&M women’s basketball team will take on No. 15 seed Troy in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64. A&M enters the big dance for the 15th consecutive time under coach Gary Blair and for the 17th time in program history.
Leading one of the more experienced teams in the tournament, senior guard Aaliyah Wilson said the Aggies are focused and keeping with the mantra they have had all season: playing one game at a time.
“Everyone looks forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament and making a run,” Wilson said. “I think our biggest focus is knowing we can make that run. We know that we deserve to be on the biggest stage so I think for the most part the focus is just … One game at a time. One practice at a time. Focus on what we can.”
In its last two tournament appearances A&M has qualified for the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Notre Dame in both instances. Wilson, who leads A&M in points per game and steals per game this season, said the Aggies will use their experience to their advantage.
“What’s helped us a lot is that we have a lot of veterans, and it comes with experience,” Wilson said. “I believe just that experience itself gives us the upper hand for those seniors — the girls that have played in the tournament and had that experience playing in the Sweet Sixteen playing against those top teams. I think that will definitely carry over as far as it being able to help us.”
Troy enters Monday’s games with a lot to prove as the Trojans look to win their first game against a ranked opponent in program history. The Trojans are currently one of the most prolific scoring teams and rank third nationally in points per game, fourth in steals and 10th in assists.
“They won their tournament, they won their conference so you can’t really put anything past anybody,” Wilson said. “This whole year we’ve really focused on going one game at a time so just focusing on their defense and their offense and knowing we can’t take this lightly we have to make a point that Texas A&M is here and we’re ready to play and make a run in the tournament.”
Senior forward Alexus Dye highlights Troy’s roster as the nation’s leader in double-doubles with 22, four more than any other player in the tournament. Blair, who led the then-No. 2 seed Aggies to a national championship 10 years ago in 2011, said the key for lower seeds getting upsets in the tournament is playing without fear.
“If you come in thinking, ‘This team is No. 1’ or ‘This team is No. 2,’ then you don’t stand a chance,” Blair said. “But if you come in with a no-fear attitude and just play your game, Cinderellas happen all the time in the tournament.”
For the first time in NCAA history, the entirety of the national tournament will be played in one state, with all of the subregional games taking place in central Texas and the regionals, final four and national championship being played in the Alamodome.
Senior forward N’dea Jones, who leads A&M in career rebounds and double-doubles, said the tournament being hosted in the greater-San Antonio area could prove to be an added bonus for the Texas teams.
“We know how it can be feeling like you [don’t] have a home court advantage,” Jones said. “This is the first year where we kind of have a home court advantage because we’re playing in San Antonio but we also know how it feels to be the underdog. I think with those experiences and proving people wrong and knowing what it takes to make it far will help this year.”
A&M’s depth has been a key to the team’s success throughout the season and Blair said the Aggies have several options for gametime scenarios.
“We trust our bench. The game is not going to be won or lost in the first quarter so if I have to protect Ciera Johnson if she makes a silly foul early I will protect her. You want to make sure your best players are going to be there for an extended third and fourth quarter. That’s up to my bench; I can play small ball or I can go and put Anna [Dreimane] in … or I can bring Ella [Tofaeono] in.”
The Aggies’ focus for the tournament, starting with Monday’s matchup against Troy, is building momentum early, Jones said.
“We’re in a different environment so our starts do need to be a lot better,” Jones said. “A lot of teams are going through what we are going through so we really have no excuses to start slow. The coaches have emphasized to us that is you have a slow start it could end your season and lose the game.”
A&M’s NCAA Tournament run begins at 5 p.m. on March 22 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.

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