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TOM MILLER: UND's young guards will be under pressure against Texas A&M

 COLLEGE STATION, Texas — UND women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster and Texas A&M head man Gary Blair took in a friendly chat Friday afternoon on one of the practice courts at the Cox-McFerrin Center on the Aggies’ campus.

“Blair’s a heck of a coach and a good person,” Brewster said of Blair, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member and Texas A&M coach since 2003.

Despite any chummy moments two days before the two teams play, UND knows the Aggies are going to try to overwhelm the Green and White.

No. 3 seed Texas A&M of the SEC will take on UND at 7 p.m. Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The game, North Dakota’s first appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament, will air on ESPN2.

No No. 3 seed has lost to a No. 14 seed at the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.

“Texas A&M is going to try to speed us up,” Brewster said. “They’re an athletic team. Part of their game is playing quick, so we’d like to be more methodical.”

Will UND be able to handle the type of pressure the Aggies can apply?

“We’re only going to find out one way,” Brewster said.

UND is known for high turnover numbers. UND is dead last in the Big Sky Conference (11th) with an average of 19 turnovers per game. UND was the only team in the conference to average more than 17 turnovers.

But the UND coaching staff has lived with some of those turnovers, especially the kind that are a result of attacking the basket and playing physical — two areas the team utilizes to succeed.

However, UND can’t afford to turn the ball over in the backcourt against the Aggies.

“This team is strong and fast, and they’ll pressure us,” UND freshman point guard Leah Szabla said. “We need to value possession.”

Behind the improved play of Szabla and sophomore junior college transfer Kelsey Knox, UND took care of the ball better during the Big Sky Conference tournament than during the regular season.

UND finished with 15 turnovers in the runaway victory over Montana in the Big Sky title game.

“That’s something we’ve tried to focus more on,” Szabla said. “We have to be smarter with it. It’s a team thing, too. It’s not just the point guard, but it’s the wings and everyone. We’ve been doing a better job. That’s a real good thing, and it’s helping us a lot.”

Texas A&M last faced a Big Sky opponent in the first round in 2010. The Aggies beat Portland State by 31.

Montana is the only Big Sky team to win in the NCAA tournament (four times), although the Griz haven’t won since a 57-46 victory over San Diego State in 1995.

Brewster is aware the odds favor the Aggies.

“You play the game because you want to be that team and get that opportunity,” Brewster said. “We’ve been an underdog all year, and we want the chance to play.”

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 13 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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