Thursday March 19th, 2009

BYU's 79-66 destruction at the hands of No. 9 seed Texas A&M was bad enough to beg the question -- or bellow it, as the belligerent Cougars fans behind me did until they went hoarse, then mute, then left: "How do you get eliminated by the same team two years in a row?"

Just like last year, the Aggies found an early rhythm. They jumped out to an 11-3 run and were sitting on a 26-8 lead by the 11:32-mark in the first half. Just like last year they dominated inside, staking advantages in rebounding (35-26) and points in the paint (38-22).

When it came to BYU guard Lee Cummard, Texas A&M kept him to 6-for-14 from the floor. His frustration was apparent when coach Dave Rose pulled him from the game at the 4:42-mark in the first. Cummard made an angry beeline for the end of the bench, plopped onto a chair and started wailing on the empty seat back next to him like a boxer on a speed bag.

But whereas Cummard's stroke failed him for most of the game and BYU could never seem to get things going offensively until it was too late -- the Cougars were done in by a 11-for-31 first-half shooting effort -- A&M seem like they'd never miss, shooting a blistering 57.7 percent from the field and an impressive 35.3 percent from behind the arc.

If A&M stays this unconscious, the field is in for a world of trouble.

1. A&M's sense of urgency is off the meter. You'd think that after ticking off six straight wins after starting the Big 12 season 3-7 that the Aggies would be relieved simply to make the tournament. They're not. "We came here to win two," junior guard Donald Sloan said. "It's all fine and dandy that we have one right now. But just to get one, that's not good enough. That's not what we came here for."

2. The Aggies set high goals and make most of them. Indeed, the Aggies were on target in every phase of their game -- but there was one area where they fell short of the mark: points allowed. Coach Mark Turgeon had hoped to hold the Cougars to 62. His defense was slightly more generous this time around, exceeding that mark by four. Not that it bothered him. "Defensively, that's probably the best 40 minutes we've played in a while," he said.

3. A&M can finish what it starts. After blowing leads of 26 points against Missouri at College Station on March 7 and 21 points against Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, there was a sense that the Aggies would let anyone get back into a game if the margin got wide enough. Not so against BYU. When the Cougars closed to within 47-38 in the second half, the Aggies didn't let them give them as much hope as they had a year earlier, when A&M went from being up 10 in the first half to down two in the second. Instead, A&M answered BYU's surge with a 7-0 run that effectively put the game out of reach. That, says Turgeon, is progress built from the motivation those many collapses provided. "All the grief we've had to take over the last seven, eight to nine days I think definitely helped us," he said.

Actually, this is a two-man award, shared by Aggies junior forward Bryan Davis and junior center Chinemelu Elonu. Both were key in the Aggies' dictating tempo early. Davis did it with his offense, making a couple of tough baseline backers to help A&M build an early lead. Chinemelu did it with his defense -- shooing away a bushel of would-be layups and otherwise staying out of foul trouble.

Together, A&M's towers of power combined for 28 points, 19 rebounds, six blocks and unabashedly exploited their size advantage over the Cougars' frontline. "We wanted to play inside out," Davis said. "We started off getting a lot of buckets inside. We were able to kick it out to the guards, and they were able to make shots [against BYU's zone]."

The Aggies had the most ridiculous pregame display of the season. In it was featured every kind of dap, shrug, bump (chest, side and aerial), choreographed handshake and mimed camera that you could imagine. It must've taken a good five minutes for all 14 members of the team to greet one another individually. It should be noted that that round of pleasantries came just before the ones in pregame introductions. And of course those were completely different.

That top-seeded UConn could come to the court without coach Jim Calhoun and still crush No. 16 Chattanooga like they were male practice players on loan from the UConn women's team gives you some idea of the level basketball the Huskies are playing right now. But where the Mocs were undersized and overwhelmed in a 103-47 defeat -- not a compassionate bunch, these Huskies, what with their late threes and bench-goaded dunks and alley-oops -- Texas A&M is stout enough up front to bang with the likes of 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet and seasoned enough by their Big 12 experience to give this Big East beast just cause for concern. But that's not to say that the Aggies aren't concerned, too. "We know the next game is going to be a hard one," A&M's Sloan said. "We're getting our mind right."

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