The sixth-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team will get a rare chance to see how it stacks up against the world’s best by playing the USA women’s national team at 7 p.m. Thursday in an exhibition game at Reed Arena.
USA, eyeing a seventh straight Olympic gold medal in 2020 in Tokyo, is led by four-time gold medalists Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. The team’s roster — a who’s who of women’s basketball — also includes former Stanford All-American Nneka Ogwumike.
“Listen, we know who they are,” A&M junior center Ciera Johnson said. “We know what they are about. We know they are going to play hard. They are the best women in the world. We’re just excited we get the opportunity.”
A&M junior guard Chennedy Carter, a preseason All-American and voted the best player in the Southeastern Conference, could be an Olympian one day.
“I’m excited, that’s all I can say,” Carter said. “I’ve very excited. I’ll just keep it short and sweet. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to compete. I think it will be a good game. Honestly, it’ll be a measuring stick for us. I mean, I think my team is ready.”
Carter played for Team USA in the 2019 Pan American Games this summer, helping the team earn the silver medal. She also played for the 2017 USA women’s under-19 World Cup team that won the silver.
“There’s a lot of good players in the country,” Bird said. “She sets herself apart because she can literally win a game on her own. Those are qualities that she displays. I think she’s matured over the years. Every single year you see a different part of her game expand. She’s just a tremendous talent.”
The U.S. team opened its fall tour with a 95-80 victory over third-ranked Stanford on Saturday and followed that up with an 81-58 thumping of seventh-ranked Oregon State on Monday. Team USA will conclude its fall tour against Oregon on Saturday. It recently added games against Connecticut (Jan. 27) and Louisville (Feb. 2) as part of its winter tour.
“I didn’t get this opportunity when I was in college for Team USA to come,” said former Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who played against the Aggies in the 2011 national championship game and is just working herself back into shape after giving birth to her first child. “Not only for my team it would have been amazing, but for the fans. This is a unique experience, definitely.”
It also allows collegiate players to learn what it takes to reach the next level.
“We don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Taurasi said. “We play a really good brand of basketball.”
Stanford and Oregon State, though, showed the professionals a couple of things.
“The one thing I’ll say about these college teams is they play really hard,” Taurasi said. “There’s just a level of play that they play at every single possession, offense [or] defense. They don’t care about the score. In a lot of ways it’s admirable.”
Pros might take a play or two off, but not the collegiate players, Taurasi said.
“Another thing these college teams do is they really run and execute their plays,” she said. “They are very disciplined in that way.”
The Aggies displayed a lot of precision in a 78-35 romp over Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday to open the season. The Aggies performed like a team coming off back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances with all the starters returning. They’ll get a much stiffer test Thursday.
“We’ll get ’em at their best,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “They got off the plane one night and had to be play Stanford. They got a little bit better against Oregon State. I know we’re going to see two great ones in [Seimone] Augstus and [Sylvia] Fowles. They’re killing people inside in the first two ballgames, against teams that are a lot taller than us.”
The 6-foot Augustus (2002-04) and 6-6 Fowles (2004-08) both played at LSU under A&M assistant Bob Starkey, who as interim head coach took LSU to the Final Four in 2007.
The Team USA players talked to the Aggie players Wednesday afternoon. Ogwumike, who was recruited by Blair, is from Cypress and was an All-American at Stanford.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Blair said. “I just hope our fans will want to come out and see the future gold medal Olympic team, because it’s going to be special.”
NOTES — Adult tickets range from $7-15 with youth tickets $4. ... Team USA had an 83-33 edge in bench points against Stanford and Oregon State. Team USA had only a 38-30 edge in points in the paint against Stanford, but it increased to 44-16 against Oregon State. ... Team USA will be without former South Carolina All-American center A’ja Wilson, who recently had a death in the family. She scored 22 points against Stanford and had 18 points and nine rebounds against Oregon State. Ogwumike had 40 points and 18 rebounds combined over the first two games.