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Aggie Women Face Daunting Task at No. 1 South Carolina

Texas A&M, losers of four of its last five, has struggled late in games

The Texas A&M Aggies aren’t ranked anymore, but that doesn’t mean the challenges for the women’s basketball team stop.

Next up? The nation’s No. 1 team.

The Aggies (10-5, 0-3 SEC) are at South Carolina (15-1, 3-1) at 6 p.m. on Thursday on the SEC Network. These were the two best teams in the SEC last year. The Aggies won the regular-season title and the Gamecocks finished one game back.

This matchup doesn’t have that luster anymore. The Aggies are in the midst of a month-long swoon that started with a Dec. 12 loss at TCU. After a victory over UT-San Antonio on Dec. 20, the Aggies lost their first three league games to LSU, Tennessee and Florida.

The loss to the Gators on Sunday hurt. Not only were the Aggies at Reed Arena, the Gators were without leading scorer and rebounder Lavender Briggs, who is out for the season. Still, Florida won 97-89 in double-overtime 97-89.

So what’s hurting the Aggies? Fourth-quarter shooting, especially recently. In the losses to LSU and Florida, the Aggies had leads entering the fourth quarter. The Aggies shot 30 percent against LSU and 28.6 percent against Florida in the final period.

To beat South Carolina, the Aggies will need all of their top scorers to have great games. And the Aggies have four they can turn to — Kayla Wells (team-leading 17.1 points per game), Jordan Nixon (12.8), Destiny Pitts (11.4) and Qadashah Hoppie (10.5). Forward Aaliyah Patty is a valuable part of that formula inside, as she averages 5.2 points and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds.

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The Gamecocks are so well-respected that even though they lost their SEC opener to Missouri on Dec. 30, they remained No. 1. South Carolina has defeated eight Top 25 teams this season, including their last two wins over LSU (66-60) and Kentucky (74-54).

Slowing down South Carolina starts with forward Aliyah Boston. She averages 17.1 points and 11.1 rebounds, and is one of the most dominant players in women’s college basketball. A third of her rebounds come on the offensive end.

Zia Cooke averages 12.6 points, while Destanni Henderson averages 11.7 points and has a team-leading 64 assists.

The Aggies return home Sunday against Auburn at 4 p.m.

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You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.