- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS (AP) - Texas A&M is the first women’s program to earn a No. 2 seed in four consecutive NCAA tournaments.

The Aggies would love to finally take advantage of the favorable seeding and reach the Final Four for the first time.

Texas A&M (27-5) plays McNeese State (26-6) on Sunday in Shreveport, La., the first step toward what the Aggies hope will be a program-defining run to Indianapolis.

Coach Gary Blair, in his eighth season, has built A&M into a national power and a perennial contender in the rugged Big 12. But the Aggies have taken a step backward in each of the last two NCAA tournaments since reaching the regional finals in 2008.

They lost to Arizona State in the regional semifinals in 2009, then bowed out to Gonzaga in the second round last year after winning the Big 12 tournament championship.

“It’s very important for us to live up to who we’re supposed to be,” Blair said Wednesday.

A&M’s experienced starting lineup, with five upperclassmen, also senses the urgency to make a breakthrough this year.

Senior point guard Sydney Colson has seen 109 victories, the most in any four-year span in school history. She’s proud of that, yet also unfulfilled by the team’s early exits from the tournament.

“It’s motivation, because we’ve always been told that we have a team that’s good enough to make it,” Colson said. “We haven’t done that yet. We know we have the talent, we have all pieces. We just haven’t been tough enough to win those games and make it to the next level.”

A&M is averaging 78.6 points per game, second in the Big 12 to Baylor, and led the league in turnover margin (plus-8.7) and offensive rebounds (16.5 per game).

Senior Danielle Adams enters the tournament as the Big 12’s leading scorer (22.7 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (8.6 per game) and Colson leads the league in assists (6.4 per game).

The statistics are impressive, but if they’re going to translate into postseason success, the Aggies say they have to quickly learn how to finish games better.

In early December, A&M led Duke 58-57 with two minutes left and lost 61-58. In mid-February, A&M led Baylor 56-53 with under four minutes to go in Waco, and was outscored 14-2 the rest of the way.

And in the Big 12 championship game, the Aggies built a 12-0 lead against Baylor, led by one with nine minutes left and lost 61-58.

“We just really haven’t been making good decisions down the stretch,” junior guard Sydney Carter said. “We’ve been working on that in practice. That’s one part of our game we’re really trying to fix before we get into the tournament. We’ve let too many (games) slip away.”

That includes last year’s second-round game against Gonzaga, in which A&M rallied from 13 points down to take a 71-70 lead in the final minute _ only to lose by one. The Bulldogs were the No. 7 seed, and Colson conceded that the Aggies felt overconfident after beating Gonzaga handily earlier in the season.

Colson promises that the Aggies won’t make that mistake this time. They could play Rutgers in the second round _ a team they beat by 29 points during the regular season.

“We went into the Gonzaga game last year thinking they would just roll over, and we would be able to get a pretty comfortable victory,” Colson said. “That didn’t happen. We got down early, and we didn’t do enough to get over that hump and win. We can’t do that again.”

If A&M reaches the regional final, a rematch with top-seeded Baylor (31-2) in Dallas probably awaits. And speaking of validation, the Aggies cannot think of a more fitting opponent _ a team that’s beaten them in three close games this season _ standing between them and their elusive goal.

“If we see them again, then we need to make sure we capitalize on the opportunity,” Carter said. “But we have a team that has the confidence to play Baylor. We know that if we played them that close three times, we know we can win.”

Beyond Baylor, Colson said the bigger goal is leaving a legacy for all future teams to follow.

“It would be good for us to finally say we made it to the Final Four,” she said.

“Once you get to the Final Four, that becomes your goal the next year,” Colson said. “It makes you that much hungrier, that much more focused in the offseason. Once you get a taste of that greatness, you always want to get back to that.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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