'I think it speaks volumes': Texas A&M keeps rising

After capturing the regular season SEC crown, Aggies eye bigger prizes

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The Texas A&M Lady Aggies – who’ve been a force all season long - continue to make waves in NCAAW basketball.

Fresh on the heels of upsetting South Carolina on Sunday and claiming its first SEC regular season championship, A&M rose to No. 2 in this week’s Associated Press basketball poll.

It’s their highest AP ranking in program history.

Currently, the Aggies are the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament, which starts Wednesday in Greenville, S.C., at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. A&M is the highest-ranked SEC team, boasting two first-place votes and sitting just behind No. 1 UConn.

The Aggies are a perfect 9-0 against ranked opponents, and are on a 10-game winning streak. Sunday’s win — which saw four players in double figures — was their first victory over a top five team since the Final Four in 2011. That year, they won their only championship.

“We needed this win this game to solidify who we are and what we’ve earned,” head coach Gary Blair said after Sunday’s defeat of the No. 5 Gamecocks, 65-57, before a raucous, masked and socially distanced crowd at Reed Arena in College Station. “We really wanted this. The body of work which you have to do during the regular season is so important.

“Women’s basketball needed a game like this,” Blair continued. “We’re the two best teams in the SEC and we’ve had to prove it night in and night out with different schemes thrown at us. Now it’s up to both of us to throw this season away and start all over at the SEC tournament and NCAA Tournament.”

Blair applauded the Gamecocks for “hanging and hanging and hanging” in the game and made it clear no one is counting them out for the long haul.

“South Carolina said bring on all comers they played all 16 games. Give them a lot of credit for who they are,” Blair said. “Because nobody in America has lost four games to the four teams they have lost to, and I guarantee you they are still one of the favorites to win the national championship.”

Texas A&M is led by the reigning SEC Player of the Week N’dea Jones, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds against the Gamecocks. The Lawrenceville, Georgia, native became the all-time leader in rebounds (1,010) in the win over the Gamecocks.

“I knew going into the game I needed 7 (to become all time leader) and honestly when it happened I wasn’t worrying about it, I was trying to get back on defense,” she said with a laugh. “It feels pretty good winning the SEC championship. I’m really happy that my team won. We really wanted this.”

Aliyah Wilson, who finished with a game high 17 points said despite their victory, A&M is still a mystery to many.

“Starting this year not too many people knew — and still don’t know — what to expect from this team. I think it (winning the SEC) speaks volumes to what we can do,” Wilson said. “And we didn’t play a perfect game. I think we still have yet to show what team  we are and what we can do. Hopefully we can build on this.”

A&M’s strength lies in its depth, Wilson said.

“Everyone on the team has something they are good at and can do. That is what  makes us so good. No team can just cut us off at the head because every player brings something to the table,” she said.

“From 1 to 15, everyone  has something special that they do and we keep showing that every game.  It’s not always pretty but we find a way and show our experience.”

Blair sang the praises of all his players who used their depth and a balanced effort in the win.

“Everyone thought N’dea Jones was overrated. She’s not overrated, she’s underappreciated because she does all the little things for us in the ball game,” he said. “We don’t call a lot of set plays for her. She gets  her plays based on her basketball instincts, rebounding, and hustle  plays.

“And Jordan (Nixon) played a heck of a game at the point guard,” he said. “She isn’t even ranked in top 12 of assists but she’s ranked No. 1 in leadership of her team and finding out what we need to have in a  ball game. She hasn’t met a situation she could not handle.”

Teammate Anna Dreimane agrees.

“She (Nixon) has been doing that all season as one of the team captains. She’s always so calm,” Dreimane said. “When things get out of hand and people get emotional she’s just always like” ‘Listen guys, we got this.’ She takes a step back and bring us all down. I love that about Jordan.”

So what’s next for A&M after shocking the Gamecocks and rising to No. 2? Improvement.

“Oh we can always improve,” Jones said. “We’ll go back and watch film from today to see what we need to do in order to go farther. As you go farther,  people will pick up on those mistakes and we need to clean that up. The less mistakes, the better chance we have of winning.”