Drake, Texas A&M approach matchup with confidence

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Let's just say there is no lack of confidence when it comes to the Drake Bulldogs and Texas A&M Aggies facing each other in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament on Friday in College Station, Texas.

"We're going in there to win."

Becca Hittner, Drake's leading scorer, didn't mince words. Rather the sophomore guard was stating what her teammates believe will happen when the Missouri Valley champions put their 21-game win streak on the line.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair promised that no matter what happens his players will keep working if Hittner is right and the No. 13 seed Bulldogs pull off the upset of the No. 4 seed Aggies on A&M's home court, where they are 15-3 this season.

"If we lose in the first round, I'll have my kids up selling popcorn for the second-round game, and I'll be selling it with them," Blair told the Houston Chronicle.

Blair's counterpart at Drake, Jennie Baranczyk, also exudes an air of confidence

"I know (Texas A&M) is always very well-coached; they're a very good team," Baranczyk told the Des Moines Register. "But I also know we've got a little left in us, too. We've got to continue to focus on being better.

"We know the preparation -- we understand that stuff. And then we've just got to be able to step up and get better."

For the second straight year, the Bulldogs (26-7) will be making an appearance in the NCAAs. Last season was just a blur -- in a blink of the eye Drake was headed home after losing in the first round to Kansas State.

The quick exit has helped keep the Bulldogs focused this season.

"We're not just excited to be in the tournament, we're going to be prepared," Baranczyk said. "We're going to be ready to go."

The Bulldogs had better be ready. The Aggies went 24-9 in the tough SEC. Texas A&M is ranked 16th in the nation and will be making its 13th straight NCAA appearance.

The Aggies are led by dynamic freshman guard Chennedy Carter. She leads all Division I freshmen in scoring at 21.9 points per game. Toss in 4.7 assists and it's no wonder she has received a handful of national accolades in her first year.

The 19-year-old Mansfield, Texas, native plays with experience and savvy, and never seems to be rattled.

"I'm just happy to be able to play at home with my teammates," Carter told the Chronicle, adding that she's not nervous about playing in her first NCAA Tournament. "I've played on big stages and played all over the country. I take this as a normal game -- a normal day at the office."

Both teams have explosive offenses. The Bulldogs average 82.6 points per game -- 10th best in the nation. The Aggies aren't far behind at 77.1, 29th in the country.

Texas A&M has a distinct size advantage over Drake with six players standing at least 6 feet 2. The Aggies are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, averaging more than nine boards per game more than their opponents.

Drake enters the game knowing what it's like to play against an elite team on the road. The Bulldogs traveled to Eugene, Ore., early in the season and lost 110-77 to the Ducks, who are the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region.

The Ducks outscored the Bulldogs 60-28 in the second half, but Baranczyk's squad learned an important lesson.

"(We learned) to not come in and be intimidated," sophomore Sara Rhine told reporters. "Focusing on us and what we bring and knowing our strengths. That level of competition (vs. Oregon) is great preparation. Knowing that we can go in and compete. ... We learned and have grown since that."

The Aggies also played the Ducks in a nonconference game. Oregon came out on top 83-68.