Texas A&M vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Texas A&M's Shambria Washington (4) looks to get past Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Dalesia Booth (22) in the second quarter Sunday at Reed Arena.

The 10th-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team is going to go as far as Chennedy Carter takes it, but if Shambria Washington can hit open shots with regularity, the road to the Final Four in New Orleans gets easier.

Many teams have not guarded Washington until she reaches the paint. That’s smart considering she is averaging just 5.9 points a game. The extra defender can hound Carter or help inside where the Aggies have an edge on most teams with 6-foot-4 post Ciera Johnson and 6-2 power forward N’dea Jones.

A&M has way too many playmakers for defenses to worry about the 5-7 Washington. Carter is opponents’ top concern, then comes J&J, who combine to average 22.2 points and 17.4 rebounds per game. The third concern is junior wing Kayla Wells, who is averaging 12.7 points and shooting 45% from the field. She has scored in double figures in all but three games and is a streaky shooter who can change a game in just two or three possessions.

A&M doesn’t need scoring from Washington even if Carter has a rare off night or one of the frontcourt players get in foul trouble, because sixth man Aaliyah Wilson can supply instant offense. Wilson came off the bench in Monday’s 79-35 victory over Ole Miss to score 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. It was the sixth time this season she’s shot at least 40% from the field. Wilson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season after nine starts, is only going to improve with playing time.

The same, though, is true of Washington.

The junior college transfer struggled at times last season when thrust into the starting lineup. She had more turnovers than assists in nine of the 26 games she started. She ended with a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. This season she has a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and she has yet to have more turnovers than assists in a game.

Washington also opened eyes against Ole Miss by hitting 5 of 7 field goals with all of her makes coming from outside the paint, including both 3-point attempts. She had been 3-of-16 shooting in the last four games. If Washington can hit three or four shots from outside the paint per game, it will do wonders for A&M’s offense.

By running the point most of the time, Washington already has taken a load off Carter, who is still averaging a team-high 32 minutes per game. But not bringing up the ball is huge. Carter started 1-of-9 shooting against Ole Miss, but playing on the wing isn’t as taxing. She scored eight points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter and looked like she could have scored 20 more, but there was no need. So she went to the bench with only 13 points.

It’s a long season. There will be a game or two in which Carter will have to score 35-plus for A&M to win, and she’ll also have to help more with ballhandling as the defenses get better. Then again, everything gets easier if Washington becomes a scoring threat.

The Aggies (14-1, 2-0) will host LSU (11-3, 1-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Reed Arena to wrap up a two-game home stand.

The Tigers are coming off an ugly 69-65 loss to Missouri (4-11, 1-1). LSU trailed 42-21 at halftime, maybe looking ahead to the Aggies. LSU is not as good as A&M, but it’s a rivalry game, maybe not for the fans, but certainly for the teams as they play home-and-home every season.

The home team has won the last seven regular-season meetings. A&M, which has a 14-13 edge in the all-time series, also beat the Tigers in the 2018 Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals. A&M coach Gary Blair is 10-6 against LSU’s Nikki Fargas in what’s been an entertaining coaching matchup.

LSU, which was picked to finish sixth in the SEC by the coaches, hasn’t won in College Station since March 3, 2013.

A&M is off Sunday before going to 14th-ranked Kentucky next Thursday.

Carter made the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 watch list. Five other SEC players made the list: South Carolina freshman forward Aliyah Boston and senior guard Tyasha Harris, Tennessee junior guard/forward Rennia Davis, Arkansas junior guard Chelsea Dungee and Kentucky sophomore guard Rhyne Howard. Baylor senior forward Lauren Cox and senior guard Juicy Landrum also made the list.

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