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Competition to rise for No. 23 Texas A&M women's basketball team in Virgin Islands
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Competition to rise for No. 23 Texas A&M women's basketball team in Virgin Islands

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The 23rd-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team will learn plenty about itself at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, this week.

The Aggies (4-0) will play Pittsburgh (4-0) on Thursday, South Dakota (2-2) on Friday and Northwestern (3-1) on Saturday with all games starting at 7 p.m. Pitt is coming off a 5-14 season and hasn’t had a winning season since 2014-15 when it went 20-12 and made the NCAA tournament. South Dakota and Northwestern, however, will be more formidable foes. South Dakota was an 11th seed in last year’s NCAA tournament and Northwestern was a seventh seed.

The neutral-site games will be A&M’s first away from Reed Arena this season. A year ago, the Aggies didn’t attend an early season nonconference tournament because of COVID-19. A&M head coach Gary Blair, who has taken the Aggies to just about every major tournament in his 19 seasons, is glad to be back traveling.

“I want to have fun, but I want fundamentals,” Blair said. “You win when you have fun and you’re able to execute the fundamentals of the game. If we’re going over there just to have a great time, we’ll get beat by three teams trying to get into the Top 25, particularly South Dakota and Northwestern.”

A&M is coming off an 82-75 victory over Stephen F. Austin on Thursday that caused concerns as the Aggies had 24 turnovers SFA converted into 27 points.

“It wasn’t the press that bothered us as much as our half-court offense, not being able to pass or screen effectively,” Blair said. “We throw the ball instead of pass the ball. We’ve got to understand we’ll have more assists if we learn to pass the ball.”

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A&M also had to work on its defense after SFA’s top three scorers combined to hit 18 of 29 field goals (62.1%).

Blair said the Aggies have had good workouts since the SFA game and carved out time to work on things they may see from their upcoming three opponents. Blair said the key to the tournament for A&M is to throw everything at Pitt, try to nail down that opening victory then ride that momentum into the next two games, hitting the film room for each of those teams.

South Dakota was picked to win the Summit League for the third straight year. Guards Hannah Sjerven and Chloe Lamb were first-team picks on the conference’s preseason team voted on by coaches, sports information directors and select media. Fellow super senior guard Liv Kornagble was a second-team pick.

Northwestern didn’t make the Big Ten Conference’s preseason coaches and media polls, which list only the top five teams, but senior guard Veronica Burton made both preseason teams.

Pitt was picked 14th in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference on both the media poll and the coaches’ poll.

“Pittsburgh is the unknown,” Blair said. “They’re going to play more like DePaul.”

DePaul, which uses a pressing, up-tempo style, lost to A&M 95-75 on Nov. 15, but bounced back to defeat Northwestern 78-75 on Sunday.

NOTES — A&M leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at 48.1%, hitting 38 of 79. A&M is tied for fourth in scoring, averaging 89 points per game, but the Aggies are tied for 174th in turnovers, averaging 17 per game.

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