Texas A&M prepares for experienced Marquette in 2nd round
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — In his 14th straight season leading Texas A&M to the NCAA Tournament, coach Gary Blair doesn’t often worry that his team will be overmatched in the experience department.
As the No. 4 Aggies (25-7) prepare to meet Marquette in the second round on Sunday, a bit of worry in that area has crept in.
“I’ve got so much film on them and I’ve watched them all year just thinking this was a team that I really didn’t want to play because they play with five seniors,” Blair said.
The Golden Eagles (27-7) are led in scoring by senior Natisha Hiedeman, who averages 18.2 points a game, and their other top four scorers are also seniors. Marquette is in its third straight tournament, and the team believes it was that veteran leadership that allowed it to rally from a nine-point deficit with less than three minutes left in overtime to get a win over Rice in the first round Friday.
“It was just our composure,” Hiedeman said. “There have been games we’ve been close but haven’t been able to finish it out. It (Friday’s game) shows our maturity, that we were able to finish it ... (so) I think that moving forward, I think maturity is probably the biggest thing.”
That concern about Marquette’s experience doesn’t mean the Aggies aren’t confident entering Sunday’s game where they have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight season and eighth time overall. They’ve remained upbeat this season despite feeling like they’ve been underestimated all year.
“This whole team has sort of played this year with a chip on our shoulder because of the no respect card,” Blair said. “And to get this team to the Sweet 16 would validate what we’ve done ever since I’ve been here. We compete for championships.”
While reaching the round of 16 has become a regular thing at Texas A&M under Blair, the Golden Eagles are looking to get there for the first time in school history.
“With the majority of the team being seniors, it is just we don’t want it to be our last college game,” Hiedeman said. “We know that we have the potential to make it to the Sweet 16. That’s been our goal since we got here. So we want to be the first team in program history to do that, and we’re really striving for that goal.”
The Golden Eagles took a moment on Saturday to celebrate the fact that they set a school record for wins with their victory over Rice.
“I think it is just a special feat that we have in showing how much better we’ve done each year that we’ve been here,” Allazia Blockton said.
That doesn’t mean they’re satisfied.
“We want more, 28, 29, 30 wins,” Hiedeman said with a smile.
Some things to know about Sunday’s game between Marquette and Texas A&M:
POWER POINT GUARDS
Both the Golden Eagles and Aggies are led by star point guards who lead their teams in scoring in Hiedeman and Chennedy Carter. A&M’s star led the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 22.6 points a game and scored 27 points to help the Aggies rout Wright State in the first round.
Blair and Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger know that the team which finds a way to slow down these women will probably come out on top.
“Carter is probably one of the best guards with the basketball I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Kieger said. “So for us, just to try to stop her is going to be a battle.”
Blair had similar praise for Hiedeman.
“She’s very left-handed, very good,” he said. “You try to take away the left ... she’ll still beat you, she’ll go far to the left and she can still get off her shot.”
WHAT ABOUT DEFENSE?
While much of the talk leading up to this game has revolved around the offensive stars, both squads were quick to point out that they have pretty good defenses, too.
“I do feel like our defense is underrated,” Carter said. “I feel like we’re a great defensive team. We have a lot of guards that pressure the ball, and we contest a lot of shots. I feel like we make it tough on teams to score at times.”
And after a tough day on offense against Rice, Kieger knows that it was her team’s defense that won Friday’s game. The Golden Eagles held Rice without scoring for a stretch of almost 7 minutes in the fourth quarter and overtime to rally for the 58-54 victory.
“I don’t think in years past that we would have won that ballgame only scoring 58 points,” she said. “I’m really proud of our defense this year.”
Carter returned on Friday after sitting out since surgery to repair two breaks in her right pinky finger less than three weeks ago. She said it didn’t bother her against Wright State, but admitted that it wasn’t feeling great on Saturday.
“It is a little swollen right now,” she said, holding up the puffy digit. “It is a little bigger than usual. I would say it is a little sore. Got to get a lot of treatment and recovery. But I’m feeling fine. It is nothing I haven’t played through before.”