No. 5 Texas A&M overlooked in talk of nation’s best teams
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — No. 5 Texas A&M is tied with third-ranked Louisville for most wins in the nation, has just one loss and its eight wins over ranked opponents are the country’s most.
Despite this impressive resume the Aggies (19-1, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) don’t look to be headed for a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Gary Blair isn’t too concerned the possibility of his team being overlooked after his Aggies won their only title a decade ago after not getting a top seed.
“That’s what we were in 2011 and we found our way,” he said.
The Aggies have won seven straight games since their only loss of the season on Jan. 14 in overtime at LSU. Their winning streak has included victories over four ranked teams, capped by Sunday’s 80-70 win over then-No. 16 Tennessee.
Texas A&M has had a few schedule changes because of COVID-19 problems with its opponents but hasn’t had any issues with the virus within its program so far. In such an unpredictable season, Blair believes worrying about rankings and seedings is useless.
“When you start looking at the top 16 to 17 teams it depends on who’s had COVID, who hasn’t had COVID, who’s played their schedule, who’s won the tough games,” Blair said. “Nobody knows where we are. It doesn’t matter to us. I’m just enjoying this team.”
In 2011, Blair’s team made its march to the national championship in large part because of star Danielle Adams and her 22.3 points a game. This year’s team has found success in a much different way with no true star, but instead a bevy of talented players and a balanced scoring attack.
“This is what’s so good about this team is we do not know before the game who it’s going to be,” Blair said. “And nothing is designed for one particular person that, hey you’re going to get the majority of the shots.”
Aaliyah Wilson leads the Aggies with 13.3 points a game, but four of the team’s five starters are also averaging more than 11 points a game. A fifth starter, Jordan Nixon is scoring 8.9 points a game and Destiny Pitts and Alexis Morris are combining for 15 points a game off the bench.
“We have all the pieces,” Nixon said. “We have great depth and it’s just about finding ways to increase our efficiency and just be that team come March — be the team to beat come March. And that just comes down to doing the little things.”
Texas A&M is a veteran team and has four seniors in its starting lineup. The Aggies believe that experience has been beneficial to them in finishing off games. Five of their wins this season have come in games decided by five points or fewer.
“Coach Blair talks about how we’re so poised and so calm going into the fourth quarter going into close games,” senior Kayla Wells said. “We know what we need to do, and we’re a veteran team so kudos to that. I just think we just don’t panic when it comes to those situations.”
The 75-year-old Blair had taken the Aggies to 14 straight NCAA tournaments before last year’s event was canceled. Texas A&M reached the Sweet 16 in both 2018 and 2019 and made it the Elite 8 in 2014.
He isn’t one to compare his teams to one another, but he does often talk about how much he loves this team and how the women get along and work together to find success. He joked recently that he could probably coach until he was 90 but wasn’t sure if he’d hold up on the recruiting trail that long.
Regardless of what outsiders think about his team, he’s confident that the Aggies will continue to improve and should be tough to contend with when March rolls around.
“I’ve worked all my life to get to big-time situations,” he said. “I hire good people, I recruit good kids and the decisions this year have gone my way down the stretch. I love the moment. I live for this. It’s what I do.”
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