OKLAHOMA CITY — Gary Blair kissed point guard A’Quonesia Franklin on the cheek — and wondered if that was an NCAA violation — talked golf and compared Pat Summitt to Candace Parker.
Just a typical news conference for Blair, the engaging and long-winded Texas A&M women’s basketball coach whom Summitt said she misses at the SEC meetings. Blair coached at Arkansas from 1993 to 2003, going 1-11 against Tennessee and the winningest coach in NCAA Division I.
“I consider him a friend in this profession, and you don’t have a lot of them,” Summitt said. “I miss him being in the conference because he was always the one to speak up. It took him quite a while to get everything said, but that was OK.”
Blair said he met Summitt at a basketball camp in North Texas in 1977 after winning a state championship as a high school coach.
“And I thought I was somebody until I met Pat,” he said, even though she “was young, just really getting started.”
He mentioned that he played a pickup game with Summitt one day and she made him look bad.
“In my eyes, she was Candace Parker,” he said, likening UT’s coach to her current star. “And she would throw the elbow, behind-the-back passes, the whole nine yards, and I thought, ‘Golly, who is this?’”
Blair still remembers the exact date — Dec. 29, 1996 — that his Arkansas team edged Tennessee 77-75 and said the win meant a lot to him.
“She’s someone you should look up to, both on and off the court,” Blair said. “But she’s not going to get me out there singing ‘Rocky Top’ in some little skirt like she had to do there. I don’t know what was worse — her singing or Bruce Pearl with no shirt on.”
Some of the Aggies felt, despite being a 2 seed, they didn’t have Duke’s respect until winning their regional semifinal game Sunday. Texas A&M is playing in just its fifth NCAA tournament and finished 9-19 — 2-14 in the Big 12 — just four years ago. The Aggies started conference play 1-4 this season.
“We’re not Duke,” Tennessee’s Alexis Hornbuckle said. “They might have come out and not respected this team, but we’ve been here and you have to respect every opponent.”
Added Parker: “You can’t overlook a 2 seed.”
Do it with defense
The Aggies are earning a reputation with their aggressive defense, which led the Big 12 and forced Duke into 14 first-half turnovers Sunday. Nebraska is the only team to score more than 68 points against Texas A&M this year.
In the second round, the Aggies held Hartford to just 39 points.
“The pressure that Texas A&M put on us was unlike anything we have seen and probably anything we would have been able to prepare for, even if we had a week,” Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said after the game.
Gant will play
All Big-12 star Danielle Gant, who missed the entire second half of the Duke game due to dehydration, is expected to play tonight against Tennessee.
“She had stomach problems again in the morning after breakfast, but she’s going to be there somehow, some way,” Blair said. “There is no tomorrow, OK? If you’ve got the flu, you play. If you’ve got stomach problems, you play. And she will find a way. Our trainer will make sure she’s ready to go. If not, I’ll be looking for a new trainer.”