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Texas A&M women's basketball team on road Thursday for first time this season

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Texas A&M forward Janiah Barker (2) dribbles the ball during the second half against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Nov. 10 at Reed Arena.

The Texas A&M women’s basketball team faces a double challenge this week. After opening the season by outplaying Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Army for easy victories, the Aggies will take a huge step up in competition against Duke at 6 p.m. Thursday. The game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, also is the first road trip for first-year head coach Joni Taylor and her young team.

Duke will be a good measuring stick. The Blue Devils were picked seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference by the league’s 15 coaches and a select media voting panel. Duke was a No. 8 seed in ESPN’s Charlie Crème’s initial mock 68-team NCAA tournament bracket released earlier this week.

“We’re going to get a good test early, and that’s what we want,” Taylor said. “I’ve said it over and over again: We’re really young. Even when you look at our seniors, it’s the first time they’ve been in this position to have the expectations and responsibilities they have.”

Duke has averaged 82.7 points per game in rolling by North Carolina A&T, Charleston Southern and Davidson with the closest game against A&T 77-57.

“They run really, really well in transition for 40 minutes,” Taylor said. “There’s no let-up at all. They share the ball extremely well. It’s amazing how well they pass the ball and play together.”

Duke’s leading scorer is senior guard Celeste Taylor, who averages 12.7 points per game, but it has seven other players who have played in every game that are averaging at least 5.7 points. The Blue Devils are averaging 22 assists per game.

The Aggies mirror the Blue Devils, playing fast on both ends with everyone a scoring threat. Freshman forward Janiah Barker leads the team at 12.5 points a game, and six others average at least 5.5. A&M is averaging 15 assists per game but also 15 turnovers. Duke is forcing 22.3 turnovers per game with its pressure.

“They run how we want to run,” Taylor told her players. “When you watch their commitment to running the floor and just continue to put that pressure on you for 40 minutes, that’s what we need to look at and get to.”

The Blue Devils will have the tallest player on the court in 6-foot-6 junior center Kennedy Brown, who averages 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

“The biggest thing is they have some size, which we haven’t seen,” Taylor said.

A&M also will have to deal with opposing fans for the first time. The Blue Devils drew only 1,002 fans and 1,100 for their two home games, but that can generate a loud sound in a venue that seats only 9,314.

“Our communication [will have to improve],” A&M sophomore guard Eriny Kindred said.

A&M, even with a veteran team last season, was only 1-8 in true road games.

“Being somewhere else, it’s trusting each other that we’ve got each other’s back in order to play in that type of environment,” sophomore guard Tineya Hilton said

NO EXHIBITION

A&M didn’t play an exhibition game this year, a rarity. Since 2006 A&M had played at least one exhibition game every year except for 2020 because of COVID-19.

A&M this year had closed scrimmages against Houston and Baylor.

“I’ll take playing Houston and Baylor in a closed scrimmage any day over playing an exhibition game where we’re going to beat somebody by 60,” Taylor said. “That doesn’t help us.”

For about the last decade the NCAA has allowed Division I teams to play either two exhibition games against Division II teams, play one exhibition game and one closed scrimmage against a Division I school or play two closed scrimmages and no exhibition games.

CALLS ON HOLD

When the A&M players boarded the plane Thursday, they gave up their cell phones that will be returned to them when they board the return plane. It’s something Taylor adopted after serving as an assistant at Georgia to Andy Landers before taking over the program for seven seasons.

Taylor said players don’t have much idle time when playing at home, but on the road they have plenty of free time. Taylor doesn’t want them spending countless hours on the cell phone.

“Their mind needs to be focused,” Taylor said. “That’s not to say they don’t have laptops and other ways [to communicate], but they need to be off the phone and focused on what they’re doing. Maybe they pick up their scouting report instead. Maybe they talk to their roommate instead or maybe they do their homework.”

NOTES — Duke went 17-13 last season, including 7-11 in the ACC for 10th place. The Blue Devils failed to make the NCAA tournament. ... Duke has hit the transfer portal hard with 11 players on its roster who started elsewhere. Taylor came from Texas, junior guard Jordyn Oliver from Baylor and sophomore guard Reigan Richardson played for Taylor at Georgia. ... Crème had nine Southeastern Conference teams in his bracket led by overall top-seed South Carolina, the defending national champion. Other seeds were No. 3 LSU, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 7 Arkansas, Nos. 9 Alabama and Georgia, No. 10 Ole Miss and Nos. 11 Missouri and Florida. Crème also listed Kentucky and Mississippi State among his first four teams out.

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