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First look at Texas A&M, Arizona’s Sweet Sixteen opponent

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 SEC Women’s Tournament - Arkansas vs Texas A&M Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first thing most people outside College Station will tell you about No. 2 seed Texas A&M is that they are lucky to be in this position. Close games and controversial officiating have followed the Aggies through the first two rounds. But all that really matters now is that they are here.

On Saturday at 5 p.m. MST, they will face off against the third-seeded Arizona Wildcats for a spot in the Elite Eight. For the Wildcats, it would be the first appearance beyond the Sweet 16 in program history.

TAMU (25-2) beat 15th-seeded Troy 84-80 in the opening round. A questionable charge call against the Trojans and an uncalled backcourt violation against the Aggies were crucial to the final outcome. The calls down the stretch set off a storm on Twitter, but that’s not where the games get played.

In the round of 32, the SEC’s regular-season champions once again struggled against an Iowa State team that came in with 10 losses. This time, the Aggies emerged with the 84-82 victory in overtime.

The fanciest feather in TAMU’s cap this season is a 65-57 victory over No. 1 South Carolina in late February.

Her Hoop Stats rates the Aggies’ offense as the 14th-best in Division I. They are not very far behind on defense, coming in at No. 16. In comparison, the Wildcats are rated No. 56 on offense and No. 8 on defense after their 52-46 win over BYU.

TAMU is very experienced, starting four seniors and a sophomore. The Aggies also have an extremely balanced offense that employs a three-guard lineup. All five starters average double-digit scoring. They are one of the most efficient 3-point shooting teams in the country (37.6%), but they don’t take a lot of them.

On the defensive end of the court, four of the five starters get at least one steal per contest and two average just under one block per outing.

Senior guard Aaliyah Wilson leads the way with 12.6 points per game. She is the best 3-point shooter on the team, but she does not attempt as many long-distance shots as the other two starting guards. She is second on the team with 2.6 assists per game and gets a team-high 1.9 steals. The 5-foot-11 guard also shares the team lead with 0.9 blocks per game.

Senior forward N’dea Jones is nipping at Wilson’s heels with 12.1 PPG. She averages a double-double by grabbing a team-high 10.4 rebounds per game.

Guard Kayla Wells, yet another senior, is third on the team with 11.4 PPG. The three-guard lineup is very effective at sharing the ball. Wells is third on the team with 1.9 APG.

Sophomore guard Jordan Nixon leads the team in assists with 3.2 per game. She’s fourth in scoring with 10.9 PPG and put up 35 points, including the game-winning shot, against Iowa State.

The fourth senior in the starting lineup, center Ciera Johnson, comes in at 10.6 PPG. Her 7.5 RPG are second on the team and she ties for the team lead with 0.9 BPG.

That balance has continued in the NCAA Tournament. They Aggies have had at least three players score 10 or more points in both of their games.

The problem is that they are letting their opponents have big offensive nights, too. In both of their games, they have allowed at least three players on the opposing team to score in double digits. Against Troy, they allowed two to score over 20. Iowa State came very close to doing the same with performances of 32 and 19 points.

TAMU has also been outrebounded by both of its opponents, which could be a positive for an Arizona team that also got outrebounded by its first-round mid-major opponent.

Her Hoop Stats’ probabilities give the Aggies a 66.5 percent chance of advancing to the Elite Eight based on the entire year’s statistics, but predicts a final score in the neighborhood of 65-61.

The same predictions said that TAMU should have beaten Troy by 11 points and Iowa State by about 5 points. The wins came, but the women’s college basketball world is not completely convinced that the Aggies got them without some help from the officiating.

Can Arizona contradict the projections, overcome any officiating irregularities and, most importantly, their own tendencies to struggle in their halfcourt offense? Tune in Saturday evening to find out.