Get ready for a Big 12 reunion.
The Aggies and Cornhuskers meet in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Monday night, putting the former conference foes on the same floor once again.
Nebraska and A&M competed against each other for years in the Big 12 before the Cornhuskers made the jump to the Big 10 in 2011. The Aggies left the conference for the SEC this season.
The Aggies won the national title in 2011, and advanced to the round of 16 last season. Nebraska is looking to get there for first time since 2010.
Though many of the players haven’t faced one another, Texas A&M coach Gary Blair and Nebraska coach Connie Yori have a long history and are looking forward to renewing the rivalry.
“Gary Blair is one of the great coaches and the great characters in our game,” Yori said. “It will be interesting to go head to head against him again.”
Blair raved about the job Yori has done at Nebraska, where she is the winningest coach in school history.
“Connie is one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball,” he said. “She should be up for more awards.”
The Cornhuskers lead the series 14-9, but A&M picked up an 84-49 victory in the last meeting in 2011.
Yori knows her team will have its hands full dealing with Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone.
“They obviously have Kelsey Bone, who is a great interior scorer,” Yori said. “She also has some good guards to go around her. Typical Gary Blair team. There have been years where they have maybe been stronger at guard and not as good at the post. Right now, they’ve got good inside and outside game.”
The 6-foot-4 Bone was slowed by foul trouble in the first round and spent the last 10 minutes of her scoreless first half on the bench. She finished with 10 points in the win over Wichita State.
She’s focused on avoiding a similar situation on Monday night.
“When teams have game plans for me, lately I’ve been helping them with their game plans a little bit,” she said. “I know that they will want to get me in foul trouble again, so for me I have to be smarter. It’s going to be very important for me to spend a lot of time on the floor instead of on the bench in the first half.”
The Aggies relied on senior Kristi Bellock with Bone in foul trouble. Bellock tied her career high with 18 points. Bone said Bellock’s development this season has been beneficial to her.
“Her defender is most of the time the one who double-teams me,” Bone said. “So if she’s not capable of consistently knocking down shots, it makes my life a little bit more difficult. When she’s clicking we’re a hard, hard team to beat.”
The Aggies will have to account for Nebraska forward Jordan Hooper at all times. The 6-2 Hooper is averaging 18.1 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. She is not only a threat from outside, but is also Nebraska’s top 3-point shooter.
“She’s one of the best shooters in the country,” Yori said. “That’s her forte, that’s what she does. What makes Jordan unique is the fact that she’s 6-2, she creates matchup problems and she can rebound the ball.”
Hooper scored 18 of her 21 points in the second half Saturday. She made three 3-pointers in a seven-minute span down the stretch to help Nebraska erase a deficit and build the lead.
“We are going to have to guard her even when she doesn’t have the ball,” Bone said of Hooper. “When Lindsey (Moore) is coming down the floor we are going to have to pressure her so it makes it difficult to get the ball to Jordan. … It’s going to be a great matchup and a good thing to keep your eye on during the game.”
The Aggies, who are playing on their home court, are a confident bunch after leading by 13 points at halftime on Saturday and cruising to the easy win.
Texas A&M captured the SEC tournament title and has won four straight games after a tough stretch where the team lost three in a row.
“When everyone comes out with the right mind frame and … attitude this team can be very good and very dangerous,” Bellock said. “If I was Nebraska, I wouldn’t want to play us.”
The Cornhuskers aren’t intimidated by the Aggies after winning 12 of their last 14 games.
“We just want to live in the moment and really look forward to what we have going on,” Moore said. “We’re here for a reason and so we just have to play with that confidence.”
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