Aggies have to keep Terps off the boards in NCAAs

ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas shoots.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Texas A&M coach Gary Blair sounds excited by the challenge of facing Maryland except for one small thing.

"It's going to be a tremendous ballgame - if we can keep them off the boards," he said Saturday.

That's the question for the reigning national champion Aggies. They're back in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the fourth time in five years, but they'll have to figure a way to keep one of the nation's best rebounding teams off the glass if they want to move forward.

"It's an attitude," Blair said. "It's moving without the ball. Instead of waiting for the miss, you expect the miss. Learn how to use your body and move."

The third-seeded Aggies (24-10) haven't always done that this year. They've been outrebounded in seven of 12 games coming into the Raleigh Regional semifinals, including by 15 in the tournament opener against 14th-seeded Albany.

Texas A&M has lost five of those seven games, and Blair said his team can't afford to miss boxouts and give up easy scores on stickbacks against the second-seeded Terrapins (30-4).

"We work on it every day," Blair said. "But it has to be the little things. When you're blocking out on the free throw, you have to do that right. That's just something we've worked on all year.

"We cannot make those mistakes, we cannot give teams easy baskets. Make them earn their basket, make them take 25 seconds on the shot clock."

Maryland ranks second nationally in rebounding margin, pulling down about 14 more boards per game than opponents. Behind Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Alyssa Thomas and Tianna Hawkins, Maryland has been outrebounded just twice all year. The last time came against Duke on Jan. 22.

"It's a huge emphasis," Thomas said. "That's what we're known for. Every game, we want to out rebound teams by plus-15, plus-10. Once we outrebound teams, it gives us more opportunities to score and it limits other teams from scoring."

The 6-foot-3 Hawkins averages nine rebounds while the 6-2 Thomas - a sophomore Blair said was WNBA ready with her physical style - is averaging about eight.

Junior center Kelsey Bone leads Texas A&M in rebounding at about seven per game, while 6-1 forward Adaora Elonu averages about six. Bone said the entire team will have to be focused on doing their part to keep the Terps under control on the glass.

"Our coaches were really on us after getting outrebounded by Albany, that we had to keep Arkansas off the glass" in the second round," Bone said. "It's something we have to do again because they're a big team at all five positions. They have a few height advantages against us, so I think that's where we rely on our techniques and we're focused and we just go get the ball."

Blair compared Maryland's rebounding ability to top-ranked Baylor, which outrebounded Texas A&M by at least nine in all three meetings.

"Just like we're scouting them, they're also scouting us," Hawkins said. "I'm pretty sure their main focus is to keep us off the boards. Each game we can't go in and say, 'Oh, we have an advantage.' We have to stick to what we know and rebound the basketball."

The Terrapins are in familiar surroundings. They went 5-1 in games played in North Carolina this year, including three wins in the ACC tournament in Greensboro about 90 minutes west of here. Seniors Lynetta Kizer, Anjale Barrett and Kim Rodgers all played as freshmen in PNC Arena during the Terps' run to the regional final in 2009.

Maryland won in Raleigh on Feb. 26 at North Carolina State's campus arena just a short drive from the regionals site, so coach Brenda Frese sounded comfortable in this setting.

"We're excited to be back here," she said. "We've played in this arena before with our past team in '09. Anytime you get to come back here and go to Firebirds and Bonefish Grill, we have some familiar restaurants we love to eat at, so that's also a great thing."