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No. 6 Texas A&M women defeat No. 16 Tennessee



Texas – Texas A&M guard Kayla Wells has enough trouble keeping tabs on teammate Destiny Pitts during practice, so Wells knows the task is tougher on SEC foes less familiar with Pitts’ shifts.

“She’s moving constantly,” Wells said of Pitts, “so it’s hard to keep up with her.”

And one more thing:

“She can also take you off the dribble,” Wells added.

Pitts did both to Tennessee on Sunday in No. 6 A&M’s 80-70 victory over the No. 16 Lady Volunteers in Reed Arena. A&M officials in the hours before the game discouraged fans from attending because of icy roads in Brazos County, although a smattering still showed.

Afterward A&M coach Gary Blair thanked Tennessee for making the effort to play in the rugged weather conditions, considering two of the previously scheduled meetings between the SEC contenders had been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pitts, a senior transfer from Minnesota, countered the cold with her hottest shooting of the season. She led the Aggies with a season-high 18 points, including making 3 of 5 3-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws.

“She’s just a gamer,” Blair said. “She doesn’t worry about stats, she just hunts her shots. And she knows how to hit tough shots … She’s not just a situational player — she’s a complete player.”

Pitts, who grew up in Detroit, is one of eight transfers who make up more than half of Blair’s roster of 15. She started at Minnesota but obligingly comes off the bench for the Aggies with the chance to compete for a national title.

“I know I can come in and contribute,” she said, “and my coaches and teammates trust me to play this role.”

The surging Aggies (19-1 overall, 10-1 SEC) won their seventh consecutive game and continue to position themselves for a top one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament, which is being held in its entirety in and around San Antonio this year because of the pandemic. Tennessee dropped to 12-5 and 6-3.

A&M made 56 percent of its 3-point attempts (5 of 9), and broke open a tight game down the stretch thanks in large part to making 17 of 22 free throws in the fourth quarter. Aggie senior guard Jordan Nixon, another transfer, made 11 of 12 free throws over the final 10 minutes.

“I had my best free throws shooters going to the line at the right time,” Blair said.

While Tennessee leads the all-time series 8-7, the Aggies have won three consecutive games against the Lady Vols and improved to 4-1 against the traditional national power in Reed Arena. In addition the Aggies defeated their eighth ranked opponent this season, tops in the nation.

“We’re poised and calm going into fourth quarters,” Wells said of the Aggies typically turning a tight game into a double-digit victory on Sunday. “We know what we need to do — we’re a veteran team. We don’t panic when it comes to those situations.”

The Aggies won the school’s lone national title in basketball a decade ago, and this season is shaping up for the Aggies to pursue another championship run — this time in and around San Antonio. One big reason is the Aggies’ ability through 20 games to distance themselves from foes in the fourth quarter.

“We work on it constantly,” Blair said of routinely practicing a close game’s final few minutes and the multiple intense situations they present. “And sometimes, I think we haven’t worked enough on it.”

A&M next hosts Missouri on Thursday night. The Aggies have four regular-season games remaining, including at home against top-ranked South Carolina on Feb. 28, before the SEC tournament is scheduled to begin on March 3 in Greenville, S.C.