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No. 15-seed Troy gives No. 2-seed Texas A&M women's basketball an early challenge in NCAA tournament
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No. 15-seed Troy gives No. 2-seed Texas A&M women's basketball an early challenge in NCAA tournament

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Balanced scoring helped the Texas A&M women’s basketball team have its best regular season in school history and a team effort needs to continue in the NCAA tournament for the Aggies to be successful, especially in the first round.

The second-seeded Aggies (23-2), who were surprised they weren’t a No. 1 seed, will play 15th-seeded Troy at 5 p.m. Monday at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center on the University of Texas campus. The Trojans, champions of the Sun Belt Conference, average 86.2 points per game to rank third in the country behind Maryland (91.3) and Iowa (86.6). A&M is no slouch, averaging 75.2 points to rank 32st among 336 Division I schools.

“This is definitely not going to be a low-scoring game,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “We’re not going to try to keep the score in the 60s or the 50s. Of course, we don’t want it in the 100s, either.”

Watch now as Texas A&M women's basketball coach Gary Blair previews the Aggies' first round NCAA Tournament game against Troy.

All five starters for Troy average scoring in double figures led by forward Alexus Dye (16.2). The 6-foot senior, who was the Sun Belt player of the year, also averages 12.6 rebounds per game in helping Troy lead the country at 52.2 per game.

“They play the game with no fear and that’s how you advance in the NCAAs,” Blair said. “If you come in thinking this team is number one or number two, you have no chance. But if you come in with a no-fear attitude and just play your game, Cinderella happens all the time in the tournament.”

This is Troy’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance. The Trojans are looking for their first tourney victory, having been outscored by an average of 35 points in their three previous losses.

“We’re at our best when we’re fighting like underdogs,” Troy coach Chanda Rigby said.

Troy played only one team from a power five conference this season, losing at Mississippi State in nonconference, 103-76. The Bulldogs hit 14 of their first 23 shots in taking a 36-14 lead after a quarter and were never threatened. Troy’s offense is similar to 3-point happy Arkansas, which lost a pair of heartbreakers to A&M — 74-73 and 69-67.

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“We run the same fast break,” Rigby said. “We strive for a lot of the same things.”

A&M has the balance and depth to play Troy’s style. The Aggies have scored at least 80 points seven times. A&M’s five starters are averaging at least 9.5 points per game and Destiny Pitts, the Southeastern Conference’s sixth woman of the year, is averaging 7.4 ppg.

A&M has a huge edge over Troy with defense and quality of competition. A&M is allowing 60.7 ppg to rank 76th. The Aggies played eight games against SEC teams that are in the NCAA tournament and A&M allowed more than 70 points only twice.

“I think we’re playing our best [defense right now] because we’re learning to work in 9-10 players vs. six players, which is what we’ve been doing the last couple of years,” Blair said.

A concern for A&M has been slow starts. A&M shot less than 34% from the field in the first quarter in five of the last six games and 10 times overall against SEC teams.

“The kids are tired of hearing me talking about it and my assistants say I talk about it too much,” said Blair, adding that better transition offense, improved defense and taking better shots are ways to start quicker.

A&M power forward N’dea Jones said the team needs to play with a sense of urgency.

“You never really lose the game near the end of the game,” Jones said. “It’s always possessions earlier in the game that cause you to lose the game.”

NOTES — The winner advances in Mercado Region to play the Iowa State-Michigan State winner with that second-round game Wednesday at one of San Antonio’s venues. … Troy has won the Sun Belt four of the last six years under Rigby, who is in her ninth season. … Troy was blown out in its NCAA tournament appearances under Rigby — a 73-31 loss to Oregon State in 2016 and a 110-69 loss to Mississippi State in 2017. She said the program learned that in the NCAA tournament you can no longer block out while rebounding, you have to shove out and you don’t bump the cutter coming across the lane, you have to use your whole body and hit the opponent. … Both teams are loaded with seniors. Both start four with A&M having a pair come off the bench and Troy has three. “It’s definitely different knowing this is our last time for some of us participating in the tournament or having this opportunity to play together,” A&M senior shooting guard Aaliyah Wilson said. “I think our biggest focus is just make sure we don’t go home early now, take care of each opponent one game at a time.” …  This is A&M’s fifth time to be a No. 2 seed. The Aggies are 4-0 in first-round games with none of the games close. The lowest margin of victory was 31 points in 2010 — A&M 84, Portland State 53. … A&M is 16-3 in first-round games.

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