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No. 7 Texas A&M women's basketball wants to dictate pace tonight at LSU

No. 7 Texas A&M women's basketball wants to dictate pace tonight at LSU

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Kentucky Texas A M Basketball

Texas A&M center Ciera Johnson (40) grabs a rebound over Kentucky forward Tatyana Wyatt (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

The seventh-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team has had several defining moments during its 12-0 start, including a trio of road victories over Top 25 teams and a win over a top 10 team for the first time in three years.

But beating unranked LSU on Thursday would be just as satisfying.

A&M has lost four straight in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Each time an unranked Tiger team found a way to beat the ranked, seemingly more-talented Aggies.

LSU (4-6, 2-2) often has been in need of a signature victory when hosting the Aggies (12-0, 3-0), and that’s certainly the case coming off back-to-back Southeastern Conference losses to Alabama and Tennessee.

“We want to make sure when we go into Baton Rouge that we’re going to give the best effort that we can possibly give, because they have outplayed us the last four years there, because they have played harder than us the last four years,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “That cannot happen Thursday night if we want to come away with a W.”

The crowd will be 1,500-1,700 less than normal because of COVID-19, but Blair doesn’t see that as an advantage.

“The crowd’s never a factor, because normally we have a pretty good crowd [behind us],” Blair said. “It’s just a different type of atmosphere you have to play in and you have to get used to it.”

LSU has owned A&M in the Maravich Center because the Tigers dictate tempo.

“We just haven’t controlled the pace,” Blair said. “Maybe we’re afraid that tiger’s going to get loose in the arena.”

A&M, which is averaging 81.9 points per game, does want a fast pace, but not one that’s out of control. LSU, which averages 57.6 points, wants a deliberate approach under veteran coach Nikki Fargas, who played guard at Tennessee. LSU’s style has prevailed with an average score of 67-63 in the Tigers’ four victories.

“We want to play a little bit faster,” Blair said. “We want the score in the 70s and they want it in the 50s.”

A&M’s been in the 50s once this season, eking out a 57-53 victory over Rice. LSU (4-6, 2-2) has won only one game allowing 60 points, a 77-69 overtime victory over Ole Miss as Khayla Pointer had 18 points, a career-high 12 assists and three steals in that game. Pointer is averaging 15.4 points and 4.6 assists per game, adding a team-high 27 steals. A&M will try to make sure the 5-foot-7 senior guard doesn’t dictate tempo.

“She’s one of the best defensive players that can combine offense as well as defense in our league,” Blair said. “She’d be a safety in football, because she’s always in the passing lanes. And she’s a finisher in transition.”

Pointer is complemented by 6-5 senior post Faustine Aifuwa (11.1 ppg, 8.8 rebounds per game), who has played well against A&M.

“Their strength is ball-screen offense, run a little bit of motion [and] match-up zone and they’ve been effective ever since [Fargas has] been there,” Blair said.

Blair has a 10-8 edge coaching against Fargas, but LSU has won five of the last eight meetings.

NOTES — A&M’s 12-game winning streak matches the longest in school history, a run the Aggies have completed five times. The 12-0 start also matches the best start in school history. The 2008-09 team opened the season 12-0 before losing at Florida State. ... A&M used mainly six players in the 74-73 victory over Arkansas on Sunday with two other players combining for 1 minute, 58 seconds. Senior shooting guard Aaliyah Wilson played 40 minutes, and sophomore point guard Jordan Nixon played 39:07. ... Sophomore guard Alexis Morris and junior guard Zaay Green, key newcomers, were both unavailable for A&M’s last two games and their status for LSU is unknown. “My players will be on deck sooner than later,” Blair said. Morris, a transfer from Rutgers who started at Baylor, had averaged 10.1 points and 13 minutes in seven games after gaining her eligibility. Green, a transfer from Tennessee, averaged seven points and 17 minutes in two games until missing the 77-60 victory over Kentucky. ... Other than the starting five and sixth woman Destiny Pitts, the rest of A&M’s bench played only 8:31 against Kentucky. “My bench is too strong, and I’ve got to rest the legs, so we can be as efficient as we’ve been in the fourth quarter all three conference games we’ve had,” Blair said. ... A&M is shooting 59.6% from the field (28 of 47) in SEC play in the fourth quarter. ... Thursday’s matchup is LSU’s annual We Back Pat Game to honor legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

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The Texas A&M women’s basketball team was named the espnW team of the week after a pair of top 15 victories over Kentucky (77-60) and Arkansas (74-73) last week. It was A&M’s first time to beat top 15 teams in back-to-back games since beating No. 2 Stanford and No. 9 Notre Dame to win the 2011 national championship. A&M beat No. 3 Baylor to reach the Final Four that year.

Bench depth, a strength for the seventh-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team, will get a boost for tonight’s game at LSU with the return of junior guard Zaay Green. The transfer from Tennessee had been unavailable for the last two games along with sophomore guard Alexis Morris who again won’t be available.

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