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Aggies need a half to find their true grit

Aggies need a half to find their true grit

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Prior to his obligatory postgame interview with ESPN, Texas A&M head women's coach Gary Blair stared at the statistics posted on the south side of Reed Arena for what seemed like a minute. He didn't emote.

Rather, he took a moment to digest why, for the better part of 23 minutes, No. 14 seed Albany went toe-to-toe with the defending national champions. Deep down, though, he knew the answer, and it was nowhere to be found on the stat sheet.

"They brought the fight to us," Blair said.

Sure, talent and a distinct size advantage took over in the second half as the Aggies closed the game on a 37-15 run to win 69-47 and move into the second round of the NCAA tournament. But a program built on hustle and hard work, grit and relentless, appeared to lose sight of that in the first half Saturday.

"They outhustled us, got the loose balls, killed us on the boards and made all the hustle plays," Blair said.

Albany's undersized bunch didn't fear the moment, finding no intimidation in either the Aggies' home crowd or the national championship banner hanging in the rafters.

Instead, it was the home team who seemed more cognizant of last season's achievement. The Aggies showed up, rested on their laurels and watched the Great Danes take advantage of their lacksidasical approach.

"There were times we shouldn't have gotten rebounds," said Julie Forster, who led the Great Danes with 12 rebounds.

Albany totaled 48 rebounds on the afternoon, outrebounding the bigger, more athletic Aggies by 15. The Great Danes got an unthinkable 23 offensive boards. It happened because, at least for the first 23 minutes, they wanted it more.

"They were the better team in the first half," Blair said.

The 2012 version of A&M is not the 2011 version. Last year's team had more next-level players and experience, and it showed as A&M skated through the first three rounds of the big dance without exuding as much as a droplet of sweat.

This year's team isn't that. It's a group of talented players, mind you, but these Aggies will go only as far as their defense, shooting and, foremost, their hustle takes them.

In the game's final 17 minutes, A&M's pressure defense took over, converting 12 Albany turnovers into 16 points. The Aggies began to take the ball to the hoop, make extra passes, get easy shots -- play A&M's brand of basketball. And once they got going, they overwhelmed the pesky Great Danes.

"We played a great 20 minutes in the second half," Blair said.

He said after the game that the team has to remember to "keep it simple stupid."

For A&M, that means playing with the innate intensity and desire that has made this program one of the nation's most respected and accomplished. Otherwise, they're going to be defending champions no more.

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