March 28, 2009

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Texas A&M coach Gary Blair is one of those Texans who likes to laugh, play a little golf and talk about basketball in a colorful drawl that draws smiles from those who listen.

"Don't change your style," Blair said Saturday, a day before his second-seeded Aggies (27-7) were to play sixth-seeded Arizona State (25-8) in the Trenton regional semifinal. "Do what got you to the dance."

For Texas A&M and Arizona State that will mean only one thing on Sunday, play defense.

Of all the games being played in the round of 16 this weekend, the Aggies-Sun Devils matchup features two pressing defenses that are among the top in women's basketball. The one that does a better job will advance to the regional final on Tuesday night for a game against top-seeded Connecticut or California and a trip to the Final Four in St. Louis.

Texas A&M is surrendering an average of 54.6 points. In its wins over Evansville and Minnesota in the opening two rounds of the tournament, it allowed an average of 43.5 points.

Arizona State has allowed an average of 55.2 points this season, and only 52.2 in its two opening tournament wins.

"I'm trying to get my team in the mind-set, 'Hey if it's 40, it's 40," said coach Charli Turner Thorne, who has taken the Sun Devils to the regional in three of the last five years. "It's a situation where we are playing a great defensive team where there is no free pass, no free touch, and we just have to work hard, take care of the ball and score."

Arizona State is led by Briann January, a senior who was forced to move from the shooting guard to the point after leading scorer Dymond Simon injured a knee earlier this month.

Before the injury Turner Thorne felt the Sun Devils were the best team under the radar. After the injury she wasn't sure anymore, but her players have used their pressure defense to make up for Simon's absence.

"We have been adjusting ever since we lost her, and every game we have been getting better and better," January said. "People are stepping up and filling their roles."

Center Sybil Dosty had 13 points and nine rebounds in the upset of third-seeded Florida State last weekend, Kayli Murphy had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Georgia.

Texas A&M is led by guards Takia Starks (15.8 points) and Danielle Gant (14.2) and bruising center La Toya Micheaux, whose father Larry was 'Mr. Mean' on the Phi Slama Jama squad at Houston in the 1980s that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

Gant likes facing a similar team.

"I think with them putting a lot of pressure, there are some things we can exploit, backdoor, off-ball screens," Gant said. "It will be a tough game on offense and I think we'll have to settle down."

Blair thinks the major number for the game will be reaching 60, noting both teams will get to the foul line and score.

"Defense is fine, but both of us have some very good offensive players and I think both will find a way to score," Blair said.