DALLAS – For the Final Four, a fourth (and final) meeting this season between Baylor and Texas A&M.
Three times these teams have played – in College Station, in Waco and in Kansas City. The Lady Bears (34-2) have won three times – by three points, by nine points and by three points.
The Aggies (30-5) had a nine-point lead with 10:13 left in the second half at Waco but lost by nine. A&M blitzed to a 12-0 lead in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Championship only to have Baylor win the tournament title to go along with its regular-season trophy.
All that is history and what is past might be prelude when top-seeded Baylor takes on No. 2 seed Texas A&M at 8 p.m. in the Dallas Regional championship game at the American Airlines Center.
The well-worn sports cliché is that beating the same team three times in the same season is challenging. How about four times in one season? Since 1996-97, it's happened once in women's basketball – Oral Roberts defeated Missouri-Kansas City four times during the 2004-05 season.
With the winner headed to the Final Four, the previous three games shrink in meaning. But the experience the players and coaches have in facing their opponents could contribute to what goes down in the AAC.
“You know what they're going to run and how they want to get into offense and you know what kind of defense they're going to put on us,” Texas A&M junior guard Sydney Carter said. “The disadvantage is the vice versa - they're going to know what we're going to want to do and how we're going to want to do it.”
Baylor has won thrice despite having nearly twice as many turnovers as assists against the Aggies' pressure defense. The Lady Bears have countered their charity by outrebounding Texas A&M and making 42.7 percent of their shots while limiting the Aggies to 30 percent shooting.
Texas A&M senior Danielle Adams, the team's leading scorer at 22.7 per game, is averaging just 11.3 in the three Baylor games. She's 1-of-11 from 3-point range and 12-of-50 (24 percent) on field goals.
“I haven't taken one good shot against them,” Adams said Monday. “So, I mean, it makes it look like they're playing great defense, but it's just my shot selection.
The Lady Bears' Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope have shared time guarding Adams with 6-8 sophomore center guarding A&M power forward Adaora Elonu, who averages 8.5 points per game.
Texas A&M shoots 34.7 percent from 3-point range and averages five 3-pointers per game. In the regional semifinal victory over Georgia Sunday, the Aggies were 10-of-20 from beyond the arc. In the three losses to Baylor, A&M has made just eight 3-pointers in 45 attempts.
Green Bay was 12-of-26 against Baylor in the 86-76 outcome that set up Tuesday's Game Four.
“We've definitely got to hit shots,” said Carter, the Aggies' top 3-point shooter. “In the first half of the Big 12 Tournament we were hitting almost everything we looked at before we went cold. So hitting shots is definitely important in order for us to be successful.”
Griner is coming off a career-high 40 points in the regional semifinal victory. In the three games against the Aggies she progressively improved her scoring going from 17 to 26 to 31.
“There's definitely more on the line now,” Griner said. “We know A&M's a great team. They're going to make runs, and we just gotta withstand them, just making runs on our own.”
The schools' rivalry goes back to the Southwest Conference. The campuses are 90 miles apart and connected by the Brazos River. Baylor is trying for its second national championship (its first was in 2005 in Indianapolis, site of this season's Final Four) and second consecutive Final Four. Texas A&M, which has never been to the Final Four, has lost eight in a row and 22 of the last 25 to the Lady Bears.
Mix that in with the fourth meeting in 60 days and the intensity level should be unchartable.
“We're in Texas and they like to talk about smash mouth football,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “It will be smash mouth basketball. We've had three outstanding games with Texas A&M and down the stretch we've made more plays. This one is gonna go down to the wire and kids are gonna have to make plays to win.”
Tale of the tape, Part One
A look at how Baylor and Texas A&M compare based on season statistics:
|Points per game||79.9||78.6|
|Rebounds per game||44.6||39.8|
|Field goal pct.||47.7||45.4|
|3-point FG pct.||38.9||35.7|
|Free throw pct.||73.8||73.4|
|Assists per game||16.6||16.7|
|Turnovers per game||14.1||14.0|
|Steals per game||7.9||10.8|
|Blocks per game||7.5||4.3|
Tale of the tape, Part Two
How Baylor and Texas A&M compare in the three games the teams have played. The Lady Bears have won by scores of 63-60, 67-58 and 61-58: