OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Texas A&M coach Gary Blair and his wife, Nan Smith-Blair, have what the Aggies' coach calls a "commuter marriage." While he's based in the Lone Star State, she is a professor at the University of Arkansas, where he used to coach.
After the Aggies beat Duke 77-63 on Sunday night to advance to the Oklahoma City Regional final of the NCAA tournament, he noted his wife's birthday is Tuesday, when Texas A&M will play Tennessee for a berth in the Final Four.
His wife will be able to attend the game, which means Blair can give her her birthday present in person.
"I have a whole lot of pressure on me because she said, 'Hey, if you're good enough, you'll be there on your birthday.'"
Blair closed his post-game news conference with a message for his wife.
"Honey, I guess I'm good enough," he said, "and we'll see you on Tuesday, and we're going to teach those Arkansas kids over there a thing or two about nursing, all right?"
HOMETOWN HYDRATION:@ Texas A&M junior Danielle Gant, playing before a hometown crowd in Oklahoma City, got the biggest cheer of any player in the pregame introductions. The moments before the second half weren't so pleasant.
Gant wasn't with the Aggies when they came out after halftime, instead receiving intravenous fluids to treat dehydration. She was one of two Texas A&M players on the floor the entire 20 minutes of the first half and had eight points and a team-high five rebounds.
Coach Gary Blair said Gant, who came to Texas A&M from Oklahoma City's Putnam City West High School, likely would be taken to a hospital after the game for precautionary reasons, but he thought she'd be fine for the regional final.
"She better be available or I'm not going to be available," Blair quipped.
Gant is the Aggies' second-leading scorer with a 15-point average and leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. She was averaging 33.2 minutes in the Aggies' first 34 games.
After receiving almost four bags of IV fluids, Gant slowly walked back to the bench with 8:24 remaining, carrying a heating blanket with her. She remained seated while the rest of her teammates got up for a timeout, and never returned to the game.
Point guard A'Quonesia Franklin had to be helped off the court after injuring her right leg with 4:02 to play, but she was able to walk it off during a timeout and return less than a minute later.
Freshman Sydney Colson replaced her and drove for a basket while Franklin was out. Colson finished with 7 points in 6 minutes of action.
MAKING NICE:@ After her team knocked out Oklahoma in the second round, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw carried through on a promise to wear the Sooners' primary color to woo some of the Oklahoma City crowd.
McGraw had a crimson necklace and high heels, and a crimson belt to go with her black shirt and grey skirt.
TOP CROWD:@ The two-game session on Sunday drew 10,032 fans to the Ford Center, the highest attendance this year at any NCAA women's tournament event.
Many of the Oklahomans in the crowd no doubt hoped they'd have the chance to watch either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, but Oklahoma fell to Notre Dame in the second round and Oklahoma State was assigned to another regional.
That they came out anyway on Sunday impressed Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who said "Oklahoma fans appreciate women's basketball" and also noted large contingents rooting for the Lady Volunteers and Texas A&M.
Summitt said it's important for the women's game to develop fans not just of a particular team, but of the sport in general.
"That's something that's huge for our game, because the men have had that for years and we're trying to establish it," Summitt said.
TAKING A BREAK@: Even as Tennessee's standout junior, Candace Parker, tied a career high with 34 points and added 13 rebounds in the Lady Vols' 74-64 win over Notre Dame, Summitt encouraged her to play better defense.
But the longtime Tennessee coach also said there's a practical reason for Parker's occasional defensive lapses.
"I think we put so much responsibility on her shoulders offensively that somewhere she's trying to catch a break," Summit said. "So I do understand it. But I hope we just get to the free-throw line. She'll get some rest there."
EXPERIENCE MATTERS:@ Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said Texas A&M's veteran lineup proved to be a major factor as the Aggies took over the game in the second half.
Texas A&M started two seniors and three juniors, and another senior played a prominent role off the bench, while coach Gary Blair is in his fifth season at the school.
Duke, by contrast, started one senior, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, and McCallie is in her first season after arriving from Michigan State.
"We are a growing team," McCallie said of the Blue Devils. "That's a seasoned team. We are a growing team trying to win championships … that's a fifth-year team, and I think you saw some of that fifth-year experience on the floor.
"A fifth-year (team) is a lot better than a first-year in terms of philosophy and trying to be all together."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.