Saturday’s Sweet 16 action will conclude with the No. 2 seed Texas A&M Aggies taking on the No. 3 seed Arizona Wildcats at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
It’s been a decade since Texas A&M won their lone national title. Just like 10 years ago, the Aggies are again an experienced, upperclassmen-laden No. 2 seed coached by the ever-steady, and ever-superstitious, Gary Blair.
If the first two rounds are any indication, the basketball gods also seem to be smiling on the Aggies. After a few favorable calls helped A&M escape Troy (84-80) in the first round, Jordan Nixon delivered the shot of the tournament to secure a double-digit comeback win over Iowa State (84-82 OT) — and send the Aggies to the Sweet 16.
Of course, it was actually relentless effort and unwavering “trust” that helped the Aggies win two games by a total of six points.
Nixon, in particular, has been phenomenal. In her first season playing for A&M, Nixon already has inserted herself into Maroon-and-White lore. During the regular season, she sunk two game-winners in two games against Arkansas, thus helping the Aggies win the regular season SEC championship. She has topped that with her tourney performance. Not only did she hit the last-second game-winner in overtime on Wednesday, but she also scored a game-high and career-high 35 points, consistently hitting shots to captain the A&M comeback. Nixon also was clutch against Troy, scoring nine of her team-high 21 points down the stretch to help the Aggies hold off the Trojans.
Nixon seems to have acquired that “it” factor, possessing the cool and composure needed to come up big on tournament stage.
Arizona also has a big-game player in Aari McDonald.
The Pac-12 Player of the Year and Co-Defensive Player of the Year, who also has accumulated a number of other season-ending honors and nominations, scored 20 points in 24 minutes as Arizona cruised past Stony Brook (79-44) in the first round. In a second-round rock fight against BYU (52-46), McDonald did a bit of everything, with 17 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists.
With a victory, McDonald, head coach Adia Barnes and Arizona would continue to build upon a history-making season. For the first time since 2005, the Wildcats earned berth in the Big Dance. Their trip to the Sweet 16 is their first in 23 years, and only their second ever. Advancing to the Elite Eight not only would be a program first, but also would certify the ‘Cats as one of the nation’s premier programs.
No. 2 seed Texas A&M Aggies (25-2, 13-1 SEC) vs. No. 3 seed Arizona Wildcats (18-5, 13-4 Pac-12)
When: Saturday, Mar. 27 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome South Court in San Antonio, TX
What to watch for: Which team will win the battle of the bigs? Texas A&M has the super-solid senior duo of N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson. A double-double machine and WBCA All-Region Finalist, Jones has averaged 10 points and 12 rebounds in two tournament games, while Johnson had 16 points and 14 rebounds in round one and 19 points and eight rebounds in round two. Arizona’s starting bigs have exceeded their regular season production in their two tourney games. Junior Cate Reese has shown up offensively, scoring 16 and 12 points. After posting a season-high 18 points in the Wildcats’ first-round win, senior Trinity Baptiste attacked the boards for season-high 11 rebounds to help hold off BYU in the second round.