- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2011

DALLAS (AP) - If Baylor is going to get to the NCAA Final Four for the second year in a row, Brittney Griner and the top-seeded Lady Bears are going to have to figure out how to beat Texas A&M for the fourth time this season.

While Baylor (34-2) has won eight games in a row against its Big 12 rival, the three games this season have been by a combined 15 points.

So, Aggies coach Gary Blair, is it better to be the team trying to win for the fourth time or the one trying to break through for the first time when it matters the most?

“Shoot, what would some of the big-timers do with that question? I can just hear Bobby Knight. But I like my chances,” Blair said. “We didn’t struggle against Baylor, we had three damn good ball games.”

The much-anticipated matchup when the NCAA brackets came out three weeks ago is here. The Big 12’s top two teams play in the Dallas Regional championship Tuesday night.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey cringed when her Big 12 champion Lady Bears and Texas A&M were made the top two seeds in the same bracket.

“It was a shock to me that they would do that to us. It was a shock. And Gary knows it was a shock to him,” Mulkey said Monday. “When we shook hands at the Big 12 tournament, we were like we can get there, we’re telling each other we’ll see you in the Final Four. That’s basically the conversations that were taking place between me and him and the players.”

Except the familiar foes are now in each other’s way. Baylor is trying to get to its third Final Four in seven seasons, and the Aggies (30-5) are trying to get there for the first time.

The Lady Bears had to overcome a nine-point deficit midway through the second half at home last month to beat Texas A&M. They then had to come back from Texas A&M’s 12-0 start in the Big 12 tournament championship game three weeks ago.

“You just have to have a lot of respect for A&M. Every time we’ve played them it’s just been close,” Bears senior guard Melissa Jones said. “Every game has been a battle. And that’s what we’ll expect again this time around.”

Since their 61-58 loss in the Big 12 championship, the Aggies have won their three NCAA tournament games by an average margin of 34 points. They had a 79-38 rout against Georgia on Sunday, just before Baylor had to hold off feisty Green Bay 86-76 in a game when Griner had a career-high 40 points with 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.

And now the Aggies have the matchup they were hoping for with another chance against Baylor.

“We’ve looked for this opportunity since we lost to them in the Big 12 championship,” Aggies leading scorer Danielle Adams said. “I mean, the first three times we played them, we weren’t quite there, and we played them close.”

Adams certainly hasn’t been herself against Baylor.

While Adams averages 22.7 points a game and is shooting 49 percent from the field for the season, those figures are cut in half for the three games against Griner and Co. The 6-foot-1 senior is 12 of 50 (24 percent) from the field and had three of her four lowest-scoring games of the season _ 13, nine and 12 points _ against Baylor.

“A lot of it is Danielle has rushed her shots, even though 90 percent of the time she’s been guarded by Destiny Williams or Brooklyn Pope. But Griner is nearby,” Blair said. “Just like in the men’s game, when you would have Chamberlain or Alcindor, they would influence the game because in the corner of your eye you see them coming.”

Baylor will be trying to accomplish something rarely done in men’s or women’s basketball.

Since 1996-97, the only time a women’s team defeated another four times in the same season was Oral Roberts over Missouri-Kansas City in 2004-05, according to STATS LLC. The only time it’s happened on the men’s side during that span was Michigan State over Wisconsin in 1999-2000.

Don’t expect any trickery from Mulkey or Blair, who was an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech when Mulkey was the point guard and they won two national championships in the early 1980s.

“Well, the challenge is what are either of us going to do differently. He’s not going to change what got him here. I’m not going to change what got us here,” Mulkey said. “The players aren’t going to change. You might tweak an inbounds or tweak a way you’re going to guard Griner or throw a zone out there. You’re going to do what you do best.”

Blair expects a fun and entertaining game, predicting already that “it will be the best basketball game, women’s game, that’s ever been played in Dallas or maybe in Texas. … It’s going to be something special.”

Only one of them gets to go to Indianapolis, which is where Baylor won its national championship six years ago.

“We’ve gone five times against (Baylor with Griner) now. I’ve lost all five,” Blair said. “But I keep knocking on that door and I’m getting closer and closer. And if it doesn’t happen this year, it’s going to happen next year and we’re going to keep going.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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