If you aren't Kansas State, Duke or Baylor, you haven't defeated Texas A&M this season.
The Aggies are one of the great stories of the women's basketball season. Playing in the shadows of Texas, they've put together a 28-5 record, finishing second in their conference to Baylor, and earning a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They play aggressive defense, and an uptempo, attacking offense. Coach Gary Blair's teams have been the only teams other than Stanford and Connecticut to be a number 2 seed or higher in the last four tournaments. However, for some reason unknown to most rational people, the NCAA committee elected to put them as the number two seed in a bracket with top-seeded Baylor, setting up a possible 4th matchup between the two this season (Baylor leads the series 3-0).
Coach Blair is at the point in his career where he wants the big prize more than anything else. He's won conference titles, been a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year award, but he hasn't yet gotten to the top; he's only had one Final Four appearance, and wants more. To that end, Texas A&M plays one of the toughest schedules you will find each season. In addition to their conference foes, this season A&M played tournament teams Duke, Rutgers,and Purdue, and also out of conference games with Cal, TCU, Arizona, and Michigan. Coach Blair discussed the need for a difficult schedule to help achieve his goals.
The Big 12, the Big East....you can debate for hours which is the most difficult conference to play in night in and night out. The Big East put nine teams into the NCAA tournament this year, including a #1 seed in Connecticut and a #2 in Notre Dame. The Big 12, while not putting in as many teams, matched that top seed feat though, with #1 Baylor and #2 Texas A&M. Oklahomas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas joined them, giving the conference seven teams in to the tourney. Coach Blair talked about playing in this conference.
They like to run, and their defense sets the tempo for them. Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter are dynamic, ball-hawking guards, and they have wings in Tyra White and Adaora Elonu that love to get out on the break with them. The leading scorer though, is post Danielle Adams. A skilled and and talented player with great hands, a soft touch from inside and out and an eye for the passing lanes, Adams, the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game on the team, led the conference with 22.5 ppg to go with 8.5 rpg. It's the combination of Adams and White that teams have to control according to Blair.
I also talked to the soft-spoken Adams this season. While she doesn't like to speak about herself, she did describe her game and the work she puts in to me.
Florida State is the next step for A&M, before what may be the eventual fourth matchup with Baylor. It is important not to just dismiss the results as a foregone conclusion. Baylor has won all three previous meetings, but by scores of 63-60, 67-58, and 61-58. Three games, 15 points difference...not very much at all. And you give Gary Blair a chance to prepare for a team again like this, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if the result came out different in the game that matters the most, the tournament.
For A&M to advance to meet Blair's goals this year, it'll take more than just Adams. It will take the entire A&M team being disciplined, playing their game, and staying out of foul trouble. They will need to protect the ball, and need to take good shots (and make them count). A total team effort. Adams talked about her teammates, the trust she has in them and her confidence in them.
Can the Aggies advance to another Final Four? We will find out. One thing I can say though, is that Coach Gary Blair will continue to do his own thing, scheduling as difficult a round of non-conference games as he can get, and he won't rest until he gets back to that Final Four, and gets his shot at the elusive Big Prize, a National Championship.