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The Battalion

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A&M, LSU face off in SEC Tournament quarterfinals

Gary+Blair+is+in+his+17th+year+as+head+coach+of+Texas+A%26amp%3BM.
Courtesy of Craig Bisacre/Texas A&M Athletics

Gary Blair is in his 17th year as head coach of Texas A&M.

Coming off of a historic win over South Carolina in its regular season finale, the Texas A&M women’s basketball team is entering the SEC Tournament with heads held high.
As regular season conference champions, the Aggies are the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face LSU in the tournament quarterfinals. LSU, who defeated Mississippi State to advance to the quarterfinals, will look to hand A&M its second loss of the season, having already beaten the Aggies in overtime in mid-January.
Sophomore guard Jordan Nixon runs the point for the Aggies and said her team is taking the postseason one game at a time.
“We’ve worked really really hard to build a good foundation going into this postseason, so I don’t think there’s any one area where we’re like, ‘Oh, this is a weakness of ours,’” Nixon said. “Do we have any weak points? Of course. Who doesn’t? But I think it’s about focusing on those little things and really buckling down and making sure we patch those things up.”
For A&M’s 17-year head coach Gary Blair, the regular season conference championship was a long time coming.
“It seems like we’ve always been on that other side of the bracket,” Blair said. “You have to fight through. Both sides are equally tough, but it’s not the No. 1 seed so much as the SEC Championship. That meant more to me than the No. 1 seed or the No. 1 seed in the NCAAs right now. I’m just ecstatic about that championship, about our kids, getting a chance to cut the nets and our loyal fans and students that were there getting a chance to see what a net-cutting situation is all about, and doing it on Senior Day.”
The Aggies’ win over South Carolina to close out the regular season catapulted A&M into the national conversation, Nixon said.
“On the national scale, people may not have mentioned Texas A&M,” Nixon said. “We’ve kind of been hanging out in the rankings, we’ve been up there, but this win just meant a lot to us … I don’t think it’s hit any of us yet simply because there’s more work to be done … We’re just hungry for more.”
The Aggies head into the postseason with a 22-1 season record, 9-0 against conference opponents, and are riding a 10-game win streak. Led by senior guard Khayla Pointer, LSU’s season record sits at 9-12 and the Tigers enter the quarterfinals of the conference tournament as the No. 8 seed.
Blair said though A&M has already faced LSU twice this season, the Aggies have a few tricks up their sleeve for Friday’s matchup.
“I add something new every game,” Blair said. “Coach Wright adds something new for our inbounds on our sideline plays. I have a new in-the-game situation that we’ll work on usually the day before the game. Personally, I go back and look at a lot of last year’s tapes to see how a coach would handle the situation or how good or poorly I handled a situation. I want to be able to see tendencies.”
Though the Tigers are ranked No. 8 heading into the game, Blair said they are not to be underestimated.
“We will make whoever we’re playing into a No. 1 seed,” Blair said. “We will find every good thing about this team … What can we take away? You can contain them, [but] can you control them? I thought we did a great job with our defensive scheme of controlling [South Carolina’s Aliyah] Boston, and she had my vote for Player of the Year in our league because on both ends of the floor how she changes the game.”
Prior to the start of the SEC Tournament the SEC announced their picks for end-of-season accolades. Four seniors were honored by the SEC; guard Aaliyah Wilson was named to the All-SEC second team, forward N’dea Jones was named to the All-SEC first team, guard Destiny Pitts was named 6th Woman of the Year and center Ciera Johnson was named the SEC’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.
“N’dea Jones solidified how important she is to this team on a ballgame against the best in South Carolina and I think she showed it,” Blair said. “Wilson has completely shown it all year long. She’s got a right side of the stat sheet that a lot of people do not look at. Her right side and defensive side is very special.”
Although she wasn’t honored with a postseason award from the SEC, Nixon said she doesn’t feel she’s been snubbed by the conference.
“That’s not why I play,” Nixon said. “I play for my teammates, I play for myself, I play to represent my family and New York City. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that, so that’s all that matters to me.”
The Aggies fell to Arkansas last year in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals before COVID-19 cut the women’s basketball season short prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament.
“This was for the body of work that they have put in,” Blair said. “This is for all the emotional things that have happened since last February or March whenever COVID[-19] started. It’s been a toil. Us adults, we can adjust a little bit easier, but an 18- to 23-year-old, they’ve been through a lot.”
Nixon said her team will stick to its mantra of taking it one game at a time throughout the postseason.
“We’ve gone through this entire season from the first game playing Lamar through nonconference, through conference play, taking things one game at a time,” Nixon said. “I think that’s exactly what we’re going to continue to do and be who we are. That’s not going to change now.”
A&M and LSU will tip off at 10 a.m. in Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. and will be broadcast on SEC Network.

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