Defending champion Texas A&M cruises in tourney opener

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Tyra White hated sitting out the three games of the Big 12 tournament with a foot injury.

Her absence, which broke a string of 87 straight starts, made Texas A&M's star even more determined to come through for her team in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday.

And she did, scoring 18 points with seven rebounds to lead the Aggies to a 69-47 win over Albany.

"Not being able to play in Kansas City last week was kind of rough for me," White said. "But I knew it was best for me to be able to wait for the big tournament. Last night I had a talk with (assistant) coach (Johnnie) Harris that I needed to step up for the team because I'm kind of a leader. I don't speak a lot, but I let my game speak for me. I was just anxious to play."

She got going early, scoring 12 points in the first half, and added four points and a steal in a decisive second-half run.

The Great Danes had scored six straight points to tie it early in the second half before A&M used a 17-4 run to take a 49-36 lead with about 13 minutes remaining.

Albany had three turnovers and missed three layups in that span. Alexia Standish had two 3-pointers and Sydney Carter hit one during A&M's spurt.

"We're forcing turnovers and converting," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "They might not see in their league that much pressure that we can bring on people."

The Aggies won the first two games without White before losing to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament championship game.

"It was definitely a boost," Standish said of White's return. "It was a lot of weight off of some of the guards' shoulders. She's a great player. With defense, you have to guard her, so that left some of us open for shots."

The third-seeded Aggies (23-10) were making their school-record seventh straight tournament appearance and hosting games for the first time since 1994. It was the first NCAA appearance for No. 14 seed Albany, which got an automatic bid by winning the America East tournament.

The Great Danes, who moved to Division I in 1999, won 10 straight games to get into the tournament and hadn't lost since Jan. 28.

Ebone Henry had 14 points and nine rebounds and Julie Forster added eight points and 12 rebounds for Albany (23-10), which won 20 games for the first time since jumping to Division I.

"We stuck in there and fought," Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. "I'm very proud of them. Our season is still great, and we'll just continue on."

Standish, a freshman, had 12 points -- all on 3-pointers -- for A&M and Adaora Elonu chipped in 13 points and three steals.

The victory sets up Monday's game with sixth-seeded Arkansas, where Blair coached before coming to A&M. The Razorbacks knocked off Dayton in the first game in College Station on Saturday.

White sat out at the end of Saturday's game because her foot got a little sore. But Blair said she'd be ready Monday.

"She really played a smart ball game," Blair said. "She's just a good solid player. I like Tyra White, but we're going to need her for 40 minutes against Arkansas."

The Great Danes' 24 turnovers were just one off a season high, and the Aggies turned those miscues into 29 points. That scoring helped offset Albany's dominance of the boards, where it outrebounded A&M 48-33.

"It's abnormal for a team as small as we are to do that against somebody as big as Texas A&M," Abrahamson-Henderson said. "We're just kind of that scrappy, hustle team that gets a lot of loose balls and offensive rebounds."

Albany started 6-foot-8 freshman Megan Craig for just the second time this season in an attempt to deal with Texas A&M's size. She finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

The Great Danes didn't look like tournament rookies, leading early and staying with the Aggies for the entire first half. Texas A&M led 30-26 at the break.