For the fourth consecutive year, the Texas A&M women’s basketball team will play in the quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament.
As the No. 4 seed, the Aggies automatically qualified for the quarterfinals, which will take place on Friday.
The Aggies didn’t find out about their opponent until Thursday as No. 5 Arkansas topped Auburn in an afternoon game. A&M opened SEC play on Jan. 2 with a win over Arkansas, but junior guard Kayla Wells said what happened in the regular season doesn’t matter in the SEC Tournament.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we need to have that sense of urgency, we need to come out ready to play every single game, especially at this point in the season because you can go home at any time,” Wells said.
Rather than preparing for a specific opponent, A&M spent its practices focusing on the mistakes that showed up at the end of the regular season, Wells said.
“Before we know who we play, we basically work on the stuff that we need to work on, clean up some of the things from our last game that we didn’t do very well,” Wells said. “Once we find out who we play, then we start going into preparation mode.”
The Aggies are coming off of two consecutive losses to No. 1 South Carolina and Alabama to end the regular season. A&M coach Gary Blair said the team needs to refrain from focusing on the losing streak in order to have success in the tournament.
“What we need to do is play well,” Blair said. “Winning and losing will take care of itself. We were ready to make that run and then we laid an egg against Alabama.”
The two losses have left a bad taste in the team’s mouth that the Aggies are ready to get rid of, said junior guard Chennedy Carter.
“My team is ready for anybody we face, anybody that steps in our way,” Carter said. “And we’ve got to turn it around.”
With the SEC Tournament comes higher stakes, Carter said.
“I feel like every time I step on the court I’m fighting for my life at this point in March,” Carter said. “It’s pretty tough. If you lose, you’re pretty much done.”
The higher stakes are not lost on Blair.
“We are only guaranteed two games left,” Blair said. “That’s one in the SEC Tournament and that’s one in the NCAA. We’re not looking to go one-and-out in Greenville, we’re not looking to go one-and-out in the NCAA Tournament.”
Carter missed a seven-game span in which the Aggies went 4-3, though she remains the second leading scorer in the SEC with 21.3 points per game.
“It’s been a rollercoaster year for me,” Carter said. “The ankle injury has had its little way with me. I’m overcoming it and I’m finding my way as you can see against South Carolina, I’m trying to find my groove. I feel like in the NCAA Tournament you will see a different Chennedy Carter.”
With the double-bye, A&M will go four days without playing, which gives them sufficient preparation time, Blair said.
“It’s important for any team this time of the year,” Blair said. “You get a chance on Thursday to go watch the teams play that you’re [about] to play. To win a championship, it’s hard to go four days in a row.”
The extra time off also gives the team time to recover from the grueling regular season slate, Wells said.
“We play a lot of minutes so we need the rest, we need the time to prepare for our next opponent,” Wells said. “The double-bye means a lot to us because that’s resting our bodies and giving us more time off.”
Though the Aggies have only three seniors on their roster, they still have experience. Last season, A&M advanced to the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament before falling to Arkansas 58-51.
“You can’t teach experience,” Wells said. “We’ve been there and we know how the environment is and we know how everything’s going to be. The experience gives us an upper hand on everything.”
Carter said the biggest effect of the team’s experience is the chemistry it has created within the team.
“[Experience] plays a huge role in chemistry,” Carter said. “Knowing my teammates and what they bring to the table; knowing that N’dea Jones is going to come out and give me a double-double every game; Shambria, the leader of our team, the ‘floor general;’ knowing I’m going to come out, compete and play hard. We’ve got some nice pieces.”
There is another, more important benefit to experience, Blair said.
“Experience and confidence, those go hand-in-hand,” Blair said. “Going into the game that we’ll play on Friday, I want confidence. Experience is fine, but you look at a South Carolina that started three freshmen and brought two off the bench, that’s talent. I want confidence.”
The Aggies will face fifth-seed Arkansas in Friday’s quarterfinal game in Greenville, South Carolina. Tipoff is set for 25 minutes after the South Carolina-Georgia game, which starts at noon.