OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Danielle Gant was dehydrated and out of the game and Texas A&M coach Gary Blair was sick about it. The rest of the Aggies made them feel better by advancing to their first regional final.
In Gant’s absence, Patrice Reado had all of her 17 points and 8 rebounds in the second half and point guard A’Quonesia Franklin hit three 3-pointers during a critical stretch, lifting Texas A&M past Duke 77-63 on Sunday night.
After playing the entire first half, Gant felt off at the half.
“She felt dizzy on the bench. I told (our trainer) if she’s dizzy, I’m sick,” Blair said.
Takia Starks added 15 points for second-seeded Texas A&M (29-7), which extended its winning streak to 12 games and will play top-seeded Tennessee on Tuesday for berth in the Final Four.
The regional final will be the first for Texas A&M, which is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance.
“I’ve just got a bunch of warriors out there,” Blair said. “The defensive effort was outstanding.
“We didn’t come here to just win one ballgame,” he said. “We came here because we earned the right.”
Blair said before the game that the Aggies would prefer to keep the score in the 50s or 60s against a high-octane Duke team. Third-seeded Duke (25-10) helped the Aggies with that strategy, committing 19 turnovers and never managing to get into offensive rhythm against a team that led the Big 12 Conference in scoring defense.
“We had eight more turnovers than them in this game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “That’s an enormous turnaround in offensive possibilities.”
Chante Black, who had a career-high 26 points and season-high 13 rebounds in a second-round win over Arizona State, led the Blue Devils with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Playing in her hometown, Gant, a first-team All-Big 12 selection and the Aggies’ second-leading scorer, had eight points in the first half. But she took more than three bags of intravenous fluid before slowly walking to the Texas A&M bench with 8:18 left in the game, holding a heating blanket.
“I was back there watching,” Gant said. “I’m just going to go back, take a shower and rest a little bit. Just get ready to practice tomorrow.”
Gant’s absence didn’t seem to faze the Aggies, who gradually extended their four-point halftime lead into double digits. During the break, Blair challenged the 6-foot Reado after she had a scoreless first half.
“I felt like I had to come out and be a beast and a warrior for our team,” Reado said.
Franklin also filled the offensive void left by Gant, making three 3-pointers in a 4-minute span that helped push the Aggies’ lead from 37-31 to 53-39 with 10:17 left. Texas A&M led by as many as 16 points and Duke came no closer than 9 in the final minutes.
McCallie said she wasn’t surprised that the Aggies fared well without Gant.
“When a teammate goes down, in the short term, it can be beneficial,” she said. “In the moment, players rise to the challenge.”
Franklin and Duke’s Jasmine Thomas both were assisted from the floor after going down with 4:02 left. Franklin returned less than a minute later. She finished with 13 points—all in the second half—and 6 assists. Morenike Atunrase, who started the second half in Gant’s place, also scored 13 points for the Aggies.
“We just did a great job of scoring without Gant,” Franklin said.
Abby Waner scored 15 points for Duke, which struggled from 3-point range, missing its first eight attempts and finishing 3 of 15. The Blue Devils didn’t make a shot from behind the arc until Thomas’ 3-pointer with 4:35 left.
“You’re never happy when your shot doesn’t fall,” Waner said. “It does get frustrating. Coach (McCallie) was right—we needed to go inside-out more.”
The Blue Devils also had troubles at the free-throw line early before finishing 20 of 30, and were whistled for three charging fouls in the second half alone.
Duke was trying for what would have been its eighth appearance in 11 years in the regional final. The Blue Devils have won 25 or more games 10 straight seasons.
The first half was played at Texas A&M’s preferred grind-it-out pace, as Duke committed 14 turnovers, many times after trying to push the ball upcourt after an extended possession by the Aggies.
Duke missed its first seven shots, allowing the Aggies to jump ahead 7-1. A 10-0 run by Duke put the Blue Devils ahead 15-12, but two layups by Gant off steals keyed an 11-2 Texas A&M run late in the half and the Aggies led 29-25 at intermission.
The Blue Devils recovered from the slow start to shoot 47.8 percent from the field in the half, compared to 35.3 percent for Texas A&M, but the Aggies had 11 more attempts because of the Duke turnovers.