OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.—Through the first season under head coach Gary Blair, the Texas A&M women's basketball team suffered eight straight losing seasons. Now, he's got Aggies talking about another eight—the Elite 8.
The second-seeded Aggies knocked off the third-seeded Duke Blue Devils on Sunday night in impressive fashion, advancing to their first regional final in school history. The 77-63 win is the biggest win in Texas A&M's history, and it's the second time in Blair's career that he's picked up landmark victories over the Blue Devils.
"My biggest win at Arkansas was against Duke in '98 to go to the Final Four and this has been our biggest win right now," Blair said after the game. "But we didn't come here to just win one ballgame. We came here because we've earned the right, and I think our style of defense bothers a lot of teams because it's hard to prepare for us because they cannot simulate it during practice."
That defense was the difference in the game as the Aggies came out firing on all cylinders in the first five minutes of the game, forcing eight missed shots and three turnovers in Duke's first 11 possessions. The Aggies jumped out to an early 9-3 lead during the span.
A&M forced 14 first-half turnovers by Duke, which finished the game with 19.
The Blue Devils went on a 10-0 run to take a 15-12 lead midway through the first half, but the Aggies' relentless defense and unmatched effort made it a temporary lead. The two teams slugged it out for the final 10 minutes of the first half, which saw four lead changes. But A&M took the lead with 3:08 to play in the first half and never trailed again.
The Aggies had a scare after the second half, when leading scorer Danielle Gant became dizzy due to dehydration. She went back to the locker room and took four bags of intravenous fluids before returning to the bench, but she did not return for the Aggies.
"Our trainer came up and said, ‘Coach, I think you need to hold her out for a minute,' and I said, if she's dizzy, I'm sick."
When Blair heard the news that Gant was going to require a third bag of IV fluids midway through the second half, he was clearly agitated on the sidelines, but he was able to joke about it after the game.
"I was about to fire my trainer then," he said with a smile. "Finally he came back and said, ‘We're going to have to put a fourth IV in, and I don't think you're going to have her.'"
But teammate Patrice Reado stepped up in her absence, scoring 17 points and hauling down eight rebounds in the second half—after zero points and zero rebounds in the first half.
"I got on Reado at halftime," Blair said. "I can get on her more than any other kid on this team because she's a Houston kid that can handle anything that I can give her or her mama can get her. She came out there and gave me the game of a lifetime for her."
Takia Starks added 15 points, A'quonesia Franklin and Morenike Atunrase each finished with 13 points.
Duke outrebounded A&M 23-15 in the first half, but turned the tide in the second half, outrebounding the Blue Devils 25-17, thanks in large part to Reado's eight boards (five offensive rebounds).
The Aggies will square off against the winner of the game between Notre Dame and Tennessee—the undisputed Queens of the women's college basketball world—on Tuesday night in the regional final. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT.
Elite Aggies knock off Duke
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