COLLEGE STATION -- The Aggies are alive, if not dancing.
A year ago, the Texas A&M women's basketball team celebrated the national championship with coach Gary Blair doing the “Dougie.” This year, the Aggies are just happy to be in the Sweet Sixteen.
A&M beat Arkansas 61-59 to advance to Raleigh, N.C., for next week's regional where it will play second-seeded Maryland.
Though it is the fourth time in five years A&M has advanced to the round of 16, it is a surprise to some that the third-seeded Aggies have made it this far.
The Aggies are underdogs despite being defending champions. Even President Obama, who hosted the Aggies at the White House in October, picked A&M to lose to Arkansas in his bracket.
“Obama don't give us up on us yet, baby,” Blair said. “You're still our man. ...Don't give up on us. We've got a little bit of fight left in us.”
There is a reason, or 10, the Aggies aren't anybody's favorites.
Of the Aggies' 10 losses, two were upsets by rival Texas; second-ranked UConn beat A&M by 30; and the Aggies' three losses to No. 1 Baylor were by an average of 17.7.
Still, at the end of Monday's game, the Aggies acted like they still have big dreams. They were very business-like, refusing to celebrate with much more than high-fives.
“We don't think anybody expected us to win this game but us,” A&M center Kelsey Bone said. “That was the thing: We were supposed to win that game in our minds. So no, there wasn't a big celebration, because in our minds that was what we were supposed to do.”
The Aggies, who are 97-9 at Reed Arena the past seven seasons, needed every bit of their home-court advantage to stave off the Razorbacks.
A&M blew a 14-point lead in the second half as Arkansas guard Lyndsay Harris hit a prayer with 1:20 left to give Arkansas a 59-58 lead. It was the Razorbacks' first lead since 4-0. It also was their last.
A&M guard and senior leader, Syndey Carter, didn't have her best game, going 0-for-4 from the field with two turnovers, but she saved her best for last. She drove into the paint and drew a foul, hitting both free throws to put A&M back up for good.
The Razorbacks' last chance for victory fell short when Quistelle Williams missed a jumper inside the paint with 5 seconds left. Tyra White grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 1 second remaining.
“We got the shot we wanted, but it didn't fall for us,” Arkansas guard C'eira Ricketts said. “We couldn't ask for a better look than what we got.”
A&M won without its stars being at their best. Besides Carter's off night, Bone was only 3-for-12 from the field, missing seven shots in the paint, and had only eight points, and White had only three points with eight turnovers. Forward Adaora Elonu was the Aggies' only player in double figures with 23.
Williams, one of four Arkansas players in double figures, had 14.
“You couldn't have told me that if Sydney, Tyra and myself went 4-for-18 that we'd still get a win,” Bone said. “But Adaora played the game of her life. Other people just stepped up tonight, and that's what it was about.”
It was a special victory for Blair, who coached Arkansas from 1993 until A&M hired him in 2003 and led the Razorbacks to the Final Four in 1998. Arkansas coach Tom Collen coached for Blair from 1993-97.
A&M and Arkansas will be SEC rivals beginning next year when the Aggies leave the Big 12.
“We've started a tremendous rivalry with Arkansas,” Blair said. “This is the way it's going to be all the time.”