COLLEGE STATION (AP) Gary Blair and his Texas A&M Aggies are the defending national champions, yet they aren’t even favored to win the Big 12 this season.
That’s fine with Blair and his overachieving Aggies. They weren’t expected to win it all last season, but knocked off Baylor to get to the Final Four before beating Notre Dame for the title. “We like staying under that radar,” Blair said.
Blair knows that his team will be a target this year because of what they accomplished last season. “If we lose a game this year, before they get to the dressing room, those assistant coaches will be dialing their recruits
(saying) we just knocked off the national champion,” Blair said. “Don’t worry, my assistants will be doing the same thing if the shoe was reversed.”
The Aggies finished 33-5 last year for their first-ever 30-win season and made their school-record sixth straight appearance in the tournament. This year, they will compete with Baylor one last time before leaving for the Southeastern Conference next year. The Lady Bears and star Brittney Griner are picked to win the Big 12, with the Aggies chosen right behind them in a preseason vote by league coaches.
Texas A&M has the difficult task of replacing star Danielle Adams, the versatile forward/center who averaged 22.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game last season. Adams scored 30 points in the championship game, the second-highest total in a title game in NCAA history.
The good news for the Aggies is that they will have sophomore center Kelsey Bone, a McDonald’s All-American out of high school who played one season at South Carolina before transferring to A&M and sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The 6-foot-4 Bone was tabbed as the Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year after averaging 14 points and 9.2 rebounds as a freshman at South Carolina. Blair said has to remind Bone that she doesn’t have the range of Adams, who was second on the team with 42 3-pointers last year.
“Bone will be able to fit into it, but what I have to tell her every day: She’s not Danielle Adams and get away from that 3-point line,” Blair said. “But she still thinks she wants to slide out there. And I’ll ask her about her stats at South Carolina, and I’ll ask her about do you want to shoot 60 percent? Then stay within eight to ten feet of the basket and knock down a couple of 15-, 16-footers, you be the best that Kelsey Bone can be.”
The Aggies also lost point guard Sydney Colson, who averaged eight points and more than six assists a game last season. They do return their other Sydney in fellow guard Sydney Carter, who is coming off a season where she scored 10.4 points a game and shot better than 86 percent from the free throw line.
Carter said dealing with fans since winning the championship has been an adjustment. “It’s kind of like kind of celebrity status,” Carter said. “Students are wanting to take pictures with you even though you go to school with them. You have the little girls that run up to you all the time that want your autograph. So it’s just been nice … and I’m kind of just soaking in the moment right now.”
A&M’s leading returning scorer is Tyra White. The 6-0 White was named to the preseason All-Big 12 team after averaging almost 14 points and more than five rebounds last season. She made the winning basket in a 63-62 win over Stanford that put the Aggies in the title game.
White had to miss four weeks of offseason work because of a sore foot, but has recovered and is ready for the season. “She’s a very special young lady,” Blair said. “Very conscientious of the team aspect of the game on how she’ll give up the ball and everything like that and she’ll take the right shot. That’s why her shooting percentage is so good all the time. Not because of the high release, but because she never takes a bad shot.”
Forward Adaora Elonu is A&M’s other returning starter. She appeared in all 38 games for the Aggies last season and scored in double figures in 14 of those games.
Blair says replacing Colson at the point guard position is still a work in progress, but he expects junior Adrienne Pratcher and freshman Alexia Standish to share the job. Standish was chosen, along with Cassie Peoples of Texas, as the preseason freshmen of the year. Standish averaged 23 points, six assists and four steals last year as a high school senior.
If Standish and Pratcher don’t work out at point guard, Blair said he would consider moving Carter to the position.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)