COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Texas A&M is in the exact situation it was a year ago and playing in the same place. And it’s determined to engineer a different outcome.
The third-seeded Aggies host 11th-seeded James Madison in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday night. They try not to dwell on the past, but they can’t help but think about last year’s loss to Nebraska in the second round on their home court.
“Last year was just such a letdown for (us), getting knocked out at our own place in the second round,” senior Karla Gilbert said. “So that’s definitely going to be in the back of our minds that we cannot allow that to happen again.”
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair doesn’t shy away from bringing up that tough loss with his team and is expecting another difficult test for the Aggies on Tuesday.
“It’s pressure and you’ve got to love pressure and you’ve got embrace it,” he said. “That’s what we want. I’d sure rather be playing here than at James Madison.”
Texas A&M started off slow before using a big run to pull away from No. 14 seed North Dakota for a 70-55 win in the first round. James Madison beat No. 6 seed Gonzaga 72-63 to set up its first-ever meeting against Texas A&M.
A win would put the Aggies in the round of 16 for the sixth time and first since 2012, and if James Madison advances, it would be its fifth trip and first since 1991.
James Madison thinks it should have been a higher seed, adding to its motivation for the matchup with Texas A&M.
“We are just excited about the opportunity to prove ourselves,” James Madison coach Kenny Brooks said. “We’ve been doing that all year long. We’ve been fighting for respectability a lot.”
Five things to know about Tuesday’s James Madison-Texas A&M game:
WIN AND GET A PIN?: Brooks has a pin sitting on a counter at his house for each of his three trips to the first round of the NCAA tournament. His 8-year-old daughter Gabby saw them while he was shaving on a recent day and had a simple question. “She asked me: ‘Do you get a pin if you go to the second round?’ And I said: ‘I don’t know baby. I have to see,’” he said. When he called her not long after his team’s first-round win on Sunday night, he wasn’t surprised by her first question. “She said: ‘Did you get your pin for the second round yet?’” Brooks said. He hasn’t received it yet, but loved his daughter’s enthusiasm. “They ground me a lot,” he said of Gabby and his two older daughters.
SENIOR CITIZEN SWAG: When Texas A&M point guard Jordan Jones was asked what she liked best about the 68-year-old Blair when he recruited her in high school, her answer drew more than a few giggles. “It had to be his swag,” Jones said. “Not dress swag, but his demeanor and personality. He was just the type of coach that knew that his program was elite and knew that he coached elite players.” Blair looked sideways at her when she mentioned swag, but was smiling at the end of her comments and gave her a hug. “I love you girl, I think I’ll start you tomorrow night,” Blair joked to his sophomore, who has started all but one game this season.
FAMILAR FACE: Brooks is very familiar with Texas A&M’s Archiri Ade. She signed with James Madison out of high school but ended up attending junior college instead. This is her first year with the Aggies after starring at Midland College for two seasons. “We recruited her, recruited her hard,” Brooks said. “She signed with us, things didn’t work out, but I think she’s happy here at A&M.” Ade is averaging 7.3 points and 7 rebounds a game.
BLOCK PARTY: The 6-foot-5 Gilbert had five blocks in A&M’s first-round game to give her 64 this season and make her the first player in school history with at least 60 blocks in a season. Her five blocks on Sunday night were her second-most this season after she had eight in a win over UTEP on Jan. 2.
ALMOST PERFECT: James Madison’s Kirby Burkholder, the Colonial Athletic Association player of the year, made 17 of 18 free throws against Gonzaga, a school record for free throws made in a single game. She’s been great from the line all year and leads the team with an 88.7 free-throw percentage.
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