The best team you've never met

It's never too late to jump on the bandwagon for the A&M women's basketball team, just ask head coach Gary Blair. And there's never been a better time to get on board than this weekend. Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp gives you a guide for this weekend's Sweet 16 match up with Duke and a possible program-changing game against Tennessee next Tuesday night.

So maybe this is the first time you've set your DVR to record "Women's Basketball" on ESPN2. And perhaps you don't know how to pronounce Morenike, Atunrase, Micheaux or A'Quonesia—that's okay, I misspelled it the first time I typed it too. But now that the second-seeded Texas A&M women's basketball team is playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1994, it's time to set the TiVo for Sunday night—and check out the pronunciation guide on between now and then.

These girls are good, and despite what you may think about women's basketball, they're fun to watch. They play hard-nosed defense, forcing six turnovers in seven possessions against Hartford in their last game during a 10-2 run. The Aggies forced 25 turnovers in the game, and scored 30 points off of them thanks to their defensive tenacity.

If you liked the "40 Minutes of Hell" style of basketball that made Arkansas a national title contender in the 90s, you'll love Gary Blair's style of basketball—his defense is his offense.

And the good news for you is that you don't have to feel bad about jumping on the bandwagon this late in the game either—head coach Gary Blair welcomes all the support he can get.

"There's room for people to jump on this bandwagon at any time," said Blair, who is one of the hardest working coaches at A&M, and has 30 points in the 12th Man Team Rewards program—second only to G Guerrieri among A&M coaches. "Right now, it's just about women. I don't think we have our spring football game for at least a couple weeks."

Those words must have struck a nerve with Aggie basketball fans, who purchased the entire A&M allotment of tickets for the regional in Oklahoma City this weekend.

And while most Aggie Websider readers are in full spring football mode, Blair and the Aggies deserve our time this weekend as they face third-seeded Duke in the regional semi-final on Sunday night, before a possible faceoff with top-seeded Tennessee—one of the premier programs in the sport and winners of seven NCAA Championships in the last 20 years.

But even names like Duke and Tennessee standing between him and the Final Four, Blair says he's not going into this weekend looking for moral victories.

"We want to go to that next level. We don't want to just get up there and play hard and everybody pats us on the back," Blair said. "We're in this thing to win now."

A&M fans of all sports should love the sound of that.

But who is it that's in it to win it, exactly? Here's your Aggie Websider guide to this weekend's Sweet 16 match up.


3 - Takia Starks – First Team All Big 12 Selection – (SG, JR, 5-8) When it comes to clutch shots, Takia Starks (16.8ppg, 4.5 rpg) is the female version of Acie Law IV. She's deadly from long range and can dribble in for the mid-range jumper as well. Starks leads the team in scoring, shoots 43.5 percent from the field and 37 percent three-point range. When she gets hot, the Aggies are tough to stop.

55 - Danielle Gant – First Team All Big 12 Selection, Big 12 All-Defensive Team Selection – (G/F, JR, 5-11) Gant (14.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) may be the most underrated player in the Big 12—or the nation. She does it all for the Aggies, and leads the team in rebounding and free throw attempts and percentage. She can post up down in the paint, she can guard the other teams' big post players and she's a good shooter. She's the most versatile weapon on Gary Blair's roster, and is a force to be reckoned with this weekend. I hope we get to see Gant vs. Tennessee's Player of the Year candidate Candace Parker. Many teams have sold out to stop Starks on the outside, which has left Gant, a mismatch nightmare for 90 percent of the teams in the country, with room to work. And when she has space, she is lethal. It's also worth noting she has more offensive rebounds than defensive.

24 - Patrice Reado (F, SR, 6-0) Reado (8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) is one of those players who gets the job done and you hope that you don't hear her name a lot. She's a solid defender but she does tend to get into foul trouble, leading the team with 98 personal fouls this year. If she can stay out of foul trouble, she forms a mean trio down low with Gant, Micheaux, Buchanan and Atunrase.

10 - A'Quonesia Franklin – Second Team All Big 12 Selection – (PG, SR, 5-3) Franklin (7.8 ppg, 4.8 apg) is the oil that keeps this team going. The 5-foot-3 spark plug is always moving and is one of the highlights of the team. She's also the team leader on and off the court, always directing traffic on both sides of the court, and serves as a coach for Blair on the court at all times. If you watch her come off the court during timeouts, etc., you'll notice that her and Blair have a way of communicating without saying much. The shortest player in the Big 12, there isn't a lead guard who logs better minutes (with the possible exception of OSU's Andrea Riley) in the conference.

12 - LaToya Micheaux (C, JR. 6-3) The daughter of Phi Slamma Jamma alum Larry Micheaux, LaToya (3.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is not the most athletic center in the nation, but she seems to get the job done most of the time. She's not going to put up All-American scoring numbers, but Blair is content with that. With A&M's guard-oriented offense, Blair has said all he needs out of Micheaux is 6-8 points per game and lately she has produced. She is also a devastating screener, and that's worth a couple of buckets a game. She's a tall presence in the paint that could be fun to watch against Tennessee's Parker if the Aggies can advance to the Elite 8.


21 - Morenike Atunrase – Big 12's Sixth Man of the Year Award Winner – (G/F, SR, 5-10) Atunrase (10.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) has embraced her role this season coming off of the bench after being a starter for her first three years at A&M. She came off of a surgery on her leg in December and hasn't missed a beat. She's already been named the Big 12's Sixth Man of the Year, but she's got to be one of the top players coming off of the bench in the nation and gives Blair some serious depth. She's also got a similar ability to Josh Carter from the outside. If she's left open with time to set up for her shot, she can drain the threes all day.

51 - Sydney Colson (G, FR, 5-8) Colson (3.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg) is the future leader of this team and was voted Co-Captain of the team as a true freshman—something that has never happened before in Blair's 23-year career as a head coach. She's smart, quick and is gaining invaluable experience under Franklin, who is coaching Colson all the time. She's still inexperienced, but when Franklin needs a breather, Colson is more than able to step into that leadership role.

2 - Damitria Buchanan (F/C, SO, 6-2) Buchanan (2.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) may be the future in the paint for Blair, and is already averaging 12 valuable minutes per game, splitting time with Micheaux. She's less experienced than Micheaux, but she's a lot more athletic and is more of a threat to score, although with the Aggies' guard play and a post player like Gant, that's not her main concern. She's really come on strong down the stretch for the Aggies, and could be a critical player if the Aggies are to advance this week in Oklahoma City. The defensive play of A&M's bigs—particularly Micheaux and Buchanon—will be key this weekend. Duke (27 percent on 3's) won't try to win the game behind the arc, and Tennessee scores a lot on rebound put-backs.

So get that DVR ready, and check out the best team—that many of you—have never met.

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