OKLAHOMA CITY — With his best player on the bench suffering from severe dizziness and precariously holding a four-point halftime lead, Texas A&M coach Gary Blair couldn't help but start feeling a little sorry for himself.
"I said (to the trainer) if she's dizzy, I'm sick," Blair said.
His Aggies were making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994, only their fifth NCAA Tournament in school history. They were facing a Duke program vying for its eighth trip to the Elite Eight in the past 11 years.
Who could blame Blair for thinking he had big problems?
It turns out, everything was going to be all right for the Aggies.
With junior Danielle Gant sidelined and taking IVs, the rest of the Aggies rose to the occasion. Led by senior Patrice Reado, who had 17 points No. 2 seed Texas A&M beat No. 3 Duke 77-63 Sunday at the Ford Center.
The Aggies (29-7) play the
winner of Notre Dame-Tennessee (game was late Sunday, go to sports.tampabay.com for result) on Tuesday for the right to advance to the Final Four at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The best women's basketball team in Texas A&M history added another milestone to its legacy, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
"I've just got a bunch of warriors out there, a bunch of warriors," Blair said. "We might not be the national power in recruiting like Duke and Tennessee, but we've got good, solid players. There's a lot of self-satisfaction to see how far they've come."
The Aggies led 29-25 at halftime, after leading by as many as seven before Duke battled its way back. With Gant on the bench after the first 20 minutes, Reado, a forward, and senior guard A'Quonesia Franklin took over.
Franklin and Reado combined for 18 of the Aggies' first 24 points of the second half (including Franklin's three 3-pointers). Texas A&M opened with a 13-3 run.
"Aqua's three 3's in the second half was huge," Blair said. "And Patrice, at 5-foot-11 was handling her business (inside)."
Said Franklin: "Patrice stepped up, and we just did a great job of scoring without Danielle."
The advantage inside the paint was supposed to go to Duke, led by 6-foot-5 Chante Black (the Aggies' tallest player is 6-foot-2). And in the first half Duke used Black's size to outscore the Aggies 22-10 in the paint.
But after being "chewed out" by Blair at halftime, Reado came out on a mission. She scored three of the Aggies' first four baskets, all inside the paint. Texas A&M eventually outscored Duke 16-12 in the paint in the second half. Black finished with a team-high 17 points and 12 rebounds.
"My confidence went way up, but it was from my teammates who set up and got me the ball," Reado said.
Duke (25-10) trailed by just four at halftime, and it could have been much worse. The Blue Devils had 14 first-half turnovers, including five in the game's first 7½ minutes, and started the game by shooting 0-for-7 from the field.
The Aggies also got 15 points from Takia Starks and 13 from Morenike Atunrase.
Duke star guard Abby Waner struggled in scoring 15 on 5-for-16 shooting, 2-for-9 on 3-pointers.
With Duke out of the way, the Aggies have their sights set on making more history.
"This is our biggest win right now, but we didn't come here to win one ballgame," Blair said.
Making good: After her team knocked out Oklahoma in the second round, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw carried through on a promise to wear the Sooners' primary color to woo some of the Oklahoma City crowd. McGraw had a crimson necklace and high heels, and a crimson belt to go with her black shirt and grey skirt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]