OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Reaching the regional semifinals in the NCAA women's tournament has been routine for Duke over the last decade, with 11 straight appearances. It's been anything but commonplace for second-seeded Texas A&M.
The Aggies are making their first appearance in the round of 16 since 1994 when they made their tournament debut.
Texas A&M definitely seems like the odd team out in the Oklahoma City regional, as the other three squads — including Tennessee and Notre Dame — each have appeared in at least one national championship game during the past seven years.
But if you believe Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie and Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, any past experience is overrated.
"I think every team is really hungry," McCallie said Saturday as the third-seeded Blue Devils (25-9) prepared for Sunday night's game against second-seeded Texas A&M (28-7). "I think this is a hungry time of year. I don't think you can put all of these teams collectively together. These are teams that represent this year and only this year.
"Whatever has been done in the past is not relevant to now. It's just not. What's relevant is now and what we can do together as a team."
And, as Blair pointed out, even if Texas A&M never has been this far in years, he has. Blair guided Arkansas to the Final Four in 1998 — beating Duke in a regional final — and made four other appearances in the round of 16 while coaching at Stephen F. Austin.
"This isn't my first rodeo," he said. "The thing is I've got a basketball team, until it's proven different, is as good as the team I took to the Final Four in '98. It is every bit as good defensively and the only way you can prove that is to win, OK?"
After starting 1-4 in Big 12 Conference play, Texas A&M has won 11 straight games and 15 of its last 16. The Aggies haven't lost since falling at Oklahoma on Feb. 12.
"Because they have 'Duke' on their shirts doesn't mean we're not going to go play our game," Texas A&M junior Danielle Gant said. "We're going to play good defense."
The Aggies have emerged as a national power under Blair in recent years mainly because of their defense. They led the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 54.7 points per game, and defend the 3-point shot well, with opponents making 26.4 percent of their attempts.
Blair said it would be to the Aggies' advantage to keep the score of Sunday's game in the 50s or 60s against a Duke team that averages 71.4 points.
"What I like about Duke is all of them can put the ball on the floor and score," Blair said. "They change up their defenses. They're not afraid of turnovers, because they want you to play their style of ball, a fast style."
Duke is 7-3 all-time in the regional semifinal round, and while McCallie might be in her first season with the Blue Devils, she also has considerable tournament experience, having guided Michigan State to the 2005 national championship game.
Duke's 6-foot-5 junior center, Chante Black, has starred in tournament wins this season over Murray State and Arizona State, finishing with 26 points and 13 points in the 67-59 win over the Sun Devils.
"There has been a lot of talk about how great Chante is playing, but it's not a surprise to us," Duke guard Abby Waner said. "All along we've thought she was one of the best post players in the country, and she makes it fun for a guard to play because she doesn't play like a low-post player. She makes us look good and we'll get her the ball."
Texas A&M and Duke have played only once before, with the Aggies winning 83-73 on Nov. 17, 1995, at home.
The Aggies went 1-1 this season against Atlantic Coast Conference schools beating Florida State 81-67 and losing to Wake Forest 53-46. Duke beat Florida State twice and Wake Forest once, but the Blue Devils didn't play a Big 12 team during the regular season.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.