The No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (19-1, 10-1 SEC) might be the nation’s most underrated, but undoubtedly excellent, team. Head coach Gary Blair’s squad will seek to quietly keep plugging away on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET, when they head to Oxford, Miss. to meet the Ole Miss Rebels (9-8, 3-8 SEC).
The contest has the makings of a trap game.
First, the Aggies have had to cope with the vicious winter storm that caught their home state maddeningly unprepared for increased power and resource demands. The rare winter weather also resulted in the postponement of their game against the Missouri Tigers, which was scheduled for Thursday.
Second, the No. 21 Tennessee Lady Volunteers upset the No. 2 — and SEC leading — South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday evening, opening up the regular-season SEC championship for the Aggies. All the more, A&M is scheduled to meet South Carolina one week from Sunday in what might be the game of the season in the SEC.
This combination of past and future concerns could spell trouble for many teams. But, based on the consistency and composure the Aggies have shown over the course of the season, expect them to be ready to roll, regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
Last Sunday, Texas A&M took care of then-No. 16 Tennessee, 80-70. It was the Aggies’ eighth win over a ranked opponent, extending their record to a perfect 8-0 against teams in the Top 25.
Encouragingly, it was senior Destiny Pitts’s best offensive outing since arriving in College Station. The transferee from Minnesota scored a season-high 18 points, going 3-for-5 from 3-point range. On her efforts, Pitts suggested, “I mean, I just took what the defense gave me today. I knew they are used to playing like a traditional two big, so it was going to be a mismatch if I was playing at the four for me. So I kind of just took what the defense gave me.”
Sophomore Jordan Nixon was critical in putting away the pesky Lady Vols. Of her 15 total points, 12 came from the foul line, including 7-of-8 down the stretch. For the game, the Aggies were 25-of-34 from the line, a team-wide performance that drew praise from Blair. Afterwards, he shared, “The most important thing about shooting a free throw is wanting to be there. I’ve got a lot of kids that want to be there.”
As has been the case throughout the season, the Aggies got solid contributions from their core rotation players. Leading scorer Aaliyah Wilson had 13 points, as did Kayla Wells. Leading rebounder N’dea Jones grabbed seven boards, a total matched by Ciera Johnson.
Another all-round effort will be necessary for Texas A&M to triumph over Ole Miss.
Although they sit at 3-8 in the SEC, the Rebels cannot be considered an automatic W for superior opponents. Just ask the Kentucky Wildcats. On Feb. 4, Ole Miss upset then-No. 14 Kentucky, 72-60. Junior Shakira Austin propelled the Rebels’ upset effort with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
One week later, Austin led Ole Miss to their first win at Alabama since 2012, posting a third-straight double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds to take down the Crimson Tide, 67-62.
On Friday, the Rebels again proved their mettle in an 84-74 loss to the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks, maintaining contact with the Hogs despite the fact that Chelsea Dungee dropped 38 points. However, head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin was not satisfied with her squads’s performance, saying after the game, ”Just really disappointed with our effort tonight. We didn’t come out with the intensity from the start. We had opportunities to get in, but we had constant struggles for some reason.”
Expect McPhee-McCuin to have her Rebels ready to challenge the Aggies on Sunday afternoon.
No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (19-1, 10-1 SEC) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (9-8, 3-8 SEC)
When: Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: The Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford, MS
What to watch for: Can the Ole Miss offense outrun the Texas A&M defense? While the Aggies achieve victories with balance and steadiness, the Rebels try to win with offense. In the SEC, Ole Miss ranks second in points per game, first in assists per game and fourth in field goal percentage. Shakira Austin captains the Rebels strong shooting, converting 54.2 percent of her field goal attempts. Mimi Reid leads Ole Miss with 4.4 assists per game and a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. Nevertheless, the maxim is, “Defense wins championships,” suggesting A&M has the advantage.