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Texas A&M: Aggies haven’t been there, but plan to be

Megan Golden | Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taking advantage of its eighth NCAA tournament appearance, No. 2-seed Texas A&M stepped up in the clutch Tuesday, as it defeated top-seeded Baylor for the first time in four tries this season and secured a ticket to its first-ever Final Four in Indianapolis.

The Aggies (31-5) — which lost twice in the regular season and once in the conference tournament to fellow Big 12 power Baylor (34-3) — knew all along that they were capable of beating the Bears.

Aggies coach Gary Blair admitted in a press conference call Wednesday that his team was simply unable to close out tight games.

“We were in all three games; we were leading in all three games. I was the 37-minute coach,” Blair said. “I just didn’t coach well in the last three minutes, and our kids didn’t make good decisions, and Baylor did. They deserved to win all three games.”

The Aggies approached their fourth and final matchup against Baylor with a different intensity.

“We played the socks off of them, and they know it,” Blair said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why they didn’t want to try that fourth time against us, and I think it bothered Baylor more playing us for four than it did us playing Baylor.”

Blair said he enjoyed the win against Baylor, but he has even higher expectations for his team. In the final minutes of the regional final, Blair called a timeout to remind his team how to celebrate appropriately.

“I wanted our kids to realize, when we win this thing, we don’t dog pile on the floor. Okay? Act like you’ve been there before. Give respect to Baylor, because they’ve been to Final Fours,” Blair said. “I said we’ll have time to celebrate later. But why do you want to ruin your best celebration on just getting to the Final Four? If we can get to the Final Four and win the whole thing, I’ll be on the top of that dog pile.”

The Aggies have been pretty consistent all season, minus a couple bumps in the road. Falling to Duke in just their seventh game of the season, the Aggies bounced back and went on a 12-game winning streak. Aside from the early loss to Duke and the three tough losses against Baylor, only Kansas State was able to put a black mark on Texas A&M’s record.

Led by the region’s most outstanding player in junior guard Sydney Carter, the Aggies’ rotation resembles that of a few other Final Four teams, frequently consisting of six players. Blair said he is able to rely on Carter, regardless of how tired she is, to make good decisions both with the ball and away from the ball.

“You are talking about the perfect build for a basketball player, whether she was 5’6″ or 6’4″. I mean, this kid is just built. She can be a model. She could be anything she wanted to,” he said. “You are talking about a kid that’s just fun to be around. Every day she brings it; in practice and in games she brings it. Sydney Carter is just that type of player that’s going to throw it out there on the line — everything.”

The Aggies have taken advantage of their opportunities thus far, and they hope to continue to surprise the college basketball nation.

“We’ve enjoyed being under the radar just a little; we should be under the radar,” Blair said. “I believe until you get to the Final Four, you haven’t really earned it. You’ve always been sort of the trendy team that everybody wants to pick but cannot get over that hump of getting there.”

For the first time ever, the Aggies are there. They will tip off against Stanford Sunday at 7 p.m.