Texas A&M, Baylor meet again for Big 12 championship
They are leaving for the SEC after this school year, a decision Texas A&M coach Gary Blair wishes hadn't been made. He has loved his time in the Big 12 -- the rivalries that have been built in women's basketball because of the elevation of the program, and the friendships as well.
However, money, ego and bad blood trumped tradition and geographic common sense, and the Aggies are on their way out. But before they go, there will be at least one more showdown between Baylor and Texas A&M, the schools that have played in two previous Big 12 finals.
Baylor won both of those. In fact, the Lady Bears have won 10 of their last 11 games against the Aggies. The exception, though, was really the biggest: Last season's Elite Eight matchup in Dallas, which Texas A&M won 58-46 on its way to the NCAA championship.
"I think the committee will agree that these two teams should not have to be in the same region," Blair said of the upcoming NCAA tournament. "Last year, it worked to our advantage. This year, I would rather go see [Sydney] Colson in Poland than go to Baylor's region again."
Colson, who's playing professionally overseas, was the Aggies' high-energy, big-personality point guard last season. That job has been more by committee this year, with freshman Alexia Standish and junior Adrienne Pratcher filling the role a lot, along with combo guard Sydney Carter.
In Friday's 79-66 victory over No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, No. 3 seed Texas A&M also got a lift from another guard, senior Skylar Collins. She had 15 points as one of four Aggies who scored in double figures, led by Kelsey Bone with 16.
Bone and the Aggies will have their hands full Saturday (tipoff is noon ET) with Baylor's Brittney Griner, who scored 45 points in the Lady Bears' semifinal win over Kansas State. But Bone, who played her freshman season at South Carolina and sat out as a transfer last year, said Saturday's matchup should not be viewed as a one-on-one battle of premiere centers. Texas A&M will use all its depth at center/forward -- including Bone, Adaora Elonu, Karla Gilbert, Kelsey Assarian and Kristi Bellock -- to counter Griner.
"They are a great defensive team, and Brittney doesn't just control the paint. She controls the whole floor," Bone said. "Everybody on our team has to do their job against them."
Griner and Bone are both from Houston, but didn't face off until they were in high school, when they played twice. Bone played much more often in her prep/AAU days against two other post stars from the Houston area: Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, who on Friday led Stanford into Saturday's Pac-12 final.
"I still remember the first time Brittney and I played against each other, because it wasn't that long ago," Bone said. "There's a lot of hype that surrounds the two of us when we go against each other. But it really doesn't come down to us when we play each other at this level. In high school, it kind of did.
"But at this level, it comes down to the whole cast of players. Brittney is going to get her points. We have to contain Odyssey [Sims] a little more, Destiny [Williams]. If we can do that, we stand a chance. Brittney and I are going to battle, but it will be decided by the entire team that's the best on that day we meet."
That said, Bone acknowledges that it's neat to have this kind of marquee matchup with Griner.
"That's what you play for," Bone said. "I've been playing since I was 10, and growing up, I always saw UConn and Tennessee. There are other rivalries now. And for Brittney and I both to be playing for Texas schools and representing Houston -- that's fun. It's good for the game."
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