The No. 12 Texas A&M women’s basketball team breaks from an 11-day hiatus to participate in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Nov. 28-30. The Aggies face Memphis (3-2), Syracuse (5-0) and their long-time arch-rival, the Texas Longhorns (3-1).
All three games are broadcast live on YouTube, and on the radio in College Station. Thursday's contest against Memphis is on WTAW 1620, while Friday and Saturday's games are on KZNE 1150. Saturday's game on KZNE 1150 might be joined in progress due to A&M Consolidated's playoff football game at 4 p.m.
“Going to the islands is something that we like to do at Thanksgiving,” said Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair. “It lets our kids have a chance to get away and enjoy the islands and good weather, but we only go where there is good competition. The Paradise Jam, year-in and year-out, is the best tournament that is played off the Mainland. It seems like there is always one team in the field that makes the Final Four.”
“With how well the players are treated on the island, it’s like a basketball team going to a bowl game,” said Blair.
The Aggies (3-0) have the nation’s top defense entering the tournament, holding the opposition to a paltry 42.0 points per game. That has helped Texas A&M to their seventh 3-0 start in eight seasons, a start made more impressive because the Aggies have won twice away from the friendly confines of Reed Arena.
This is the Aggies’ second appearance at the Paradise Jam, after a second-place finish in 2007. Danielle Gant and Takia Starks earned All-Tournament honors, helping the Aggies to a 2-1 finish. Texas A&M has a five game winning streak when playing in the Caribbean, dating back to the 2007 Paradise Jam, with wins in Cancun, Mexico (2010) and Freeport, Bahamas (2011) since then.
The tournament kicks off on Nov. 28 with a matchup against Memphis, who is off to a 3-2 start in 2013-14, dropping close calls in a two-point decision to Samford and an overtime defeat to UALR. The Lady Tigers have made four consecutive postseason tournaments under Melissa McFerrin, including last season’s WNIT.
“Memphis is a program I’ve always had a lot of trouble with before, even before I came to Texas A&M,” said Blair. “It’ll be a fast-paced game.”
Syracuse is 5-0 to start the season, and is receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Orange qualified the NCAA Tournament in 2013, and have made six straight postseason tournaments. The Nov. 30 matchup is the first for the Aggies against an opponent from the ACC since the 2012 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 matchup against Maryland.
“Syracuse plays one of the best zone defenses in the country, similar to what their men play under Coach Jim Boheim. I’m looking forward to playing the Orange,” said Blair.
Undoubtedly, Texas A&M faces tough tests in Memphis and Syracuse, but much of the outside attention will fall on the Nov. 29 matchup with Texas. The Aggies and Longhorns, who have been rivals since the latter’s founding in 1883, have not met in women’s basketball, and only have five head-to-head matchups in all sports since Texas A&M entered the Southeastern Conference last season. Traditionally, the schools’ matchup in football took place on either Thanksgiving Day or the day after Thanksgiving, like this matchup is.
“I’m looking forward to renewing the rivalry with Texas,” said Blair. “I’m hoping that playing Texas in a neutral site might open up an avenue for the two schools to get together and play in other sports. I think we should continue the rivalry, like in-state rivals such as Louisville-Kentucky, Florida-Florida State, and South Carolina-Clemson have, because it’s good for the fans and the players.”
On the court, the Longhorns have started the season 3-1, with a valiant 63-54 loss to No. 6 Stanford on Saturday. Texas is receiving votes in the most recent Associated Press poll.
“When I get back on Sunday, I want to look back at the film of the three games and say that we got better,” summarized Blair.