In March, the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies will cross paths with Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks for their SEC regular-season finale in what should be a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 — which team is in which slot still to be determined.
Staley is currently with the Gamecocks, but her other team, the United States women’s national team, is coming to College Station, Texas, for an exhibition meeting with the Aggies on Thursday night.
Texas A&M has hosted Team USA one other time, during the latter’s 2007 college tour. Although the Aggies finished that season with a run to the Elite Eight, they fell to the eventual gold medal winners 75-24. The scores of these exhibition games don’t ultimately matter for either team, but Chennedy Carter and the Aggies will certainly want a better showing that that, especially in front of their home fans.
Carter comes into this meeting with some recent international experience of her own, starting all five games in Team USA’s silver-medal run at this summer’s Pan American Games. The junior averaged 11.4 points in 20 minutes per game.
While her performance this summer was commendable, all that extra playing time was just preparation for Carter to once again be the focal point of Texas A&M’s lineup — not to mention get back in the national spotlight. She’s on the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, Wade Trophy and Nancy Lieberman Award preseason watch lists and was named the preseason SEC Player of the Year, among other honors. If that wasn’t enough, Carter also enters the season as the active career scoring leader, averaging 23.0 points per game.
But she’s not the only junior standout on an Aggies squad that returns all of its starters. In fact, five of the six players who were major starters last season are juniors. Four, including Carter, were named to their positions’ national award preseason watch lists.
One of them, Ciera Johnson, has been an early spark for the Aggies this season after finishing with a team-fourth 12.0 points per game in 2018-19. In their exhibition game against Oklahoma City, Johnson registered a team-high 24 points and added 10 rebounds; in the Aggies’ season opener against Little Rock, she again led the team with a game-high 24 points and 13 rebounds.
While this group’s relative lack of experience will certainly work against them when facing Team USA, that this group of players has been to two straight Sweet Sixteens will only make them more intimidating to their college opponents the longer they play together.
The Aggies coasted to a win on Tuesday night, but their schedule only gets trickier after facing Team USA. They host Duke, then travel to face C-USA champion Rice and USC. For now, their sole AP-ranked non-conference opponent is No. 12 Florida State, who they’ll meet at the Maggie Dixon Classic in Fort Worth, Texas on Sunday, Dec. 1.
If Carter and Johnson — not to mention last season’s other high scorers, Jones and Kayla Wells — can make a splash against Team USA just like Stanford’s and Oregon State’s stars before them, then Texas A&M should be comfortable with its prospects for the rest of the season.
And, who knows — maybe a solid enough showing, despite her absence, will strike some early fear into the heart of Dawn Staley anyway.
No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies vs. Team USA
When: Thursday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, TX
How to watch: SEC Network Plus
USA roster updates: For the first time on the tour, all 12 players will be available. Kelsey Plum returns after missing the first two games.