Texas A&M has climbed back up the Big 12 standings in three seasons under Mark Turgeon, but consistent success in the conference tournament has proved elusive.
The No. 23 Aggies will try to begin changing that by first avoiding an upset against last-place Nebraska in the quarterfinals Thursday in Kansas City.Texas A&M (22-8) tied for second in the Big 12 at 11-5 this season, its best finish since it was alone in second place in 2006-07 -- Billy Gillispie's final season in College Station. That campaign, however, ended in familiar fashion as the Aggies lost their conference tournament opener.Over the past 13 seasons, the Aggies are 3-13 in the Big 12's postseason showcase.After Gillispie left for Kentucky, Turgeon led Texas A&M to two of those wins following a sixth-place finish in 2007-08. Texas A&M tied for fourth last season but blew a 20-point in an 88-83 defeat to 11th-seeded Texas Tech."Anything you can do this time of year helps your program," said Turgeon, a Kansas native. "We're looking forward to going up there and hopefully playing well and staying a little bit longer than we did last year."Texas A&M enters this tournament after three straight double-digit victories. Over that stretch, the Aggies have shot 49.0 percent -- nearly five percent better than their season average -- and continued their strong defense despite the early loss of senior guard Derrick Roland.Roland, who needed surgery after fracturing his right leg in a December loss at Washington, was a member of the conference's all-defensive team in 2008-09 and Texas A&M's second-leading scorer at the time of his injury.Instead of folding, the Aggies are 13-5 since losing Roland and on track for a fifth straight NCAA tournament berth. Even without arguably their top defender, they ranked first during conference games in holding opponents to 65.8 points and second in allowing 41.2 percent shooting.Texas A&M padded those stats in its previous meeting with Nebraska (15-17), limiting the Cornhuskers to 37.0 percent shooting in a 64-53 home victory Jan. 9. That defensive performance compensated for the Aggies' 38.3 percent shooting. All-Big 12 first-team selection Donald Sloan, Texas A&M's leading scorer with 17.9 points per game, carried the Aggies with 26 points, including a career-high 13 free throws in 14 attempts.Nebraska, though, is coming off one of its best shooting performances of the season in a 75-60 win over No. 5 seed Missouri on Wednesday.The Huskers shot 55.8 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from 3-point range (8 of 14). Sophomore guard Brandon Richardson hit six of his eight shots, including four of five from behind the arc, for a career-high 19 points.Senior guard Ryan Anderson, the only Nebraska player averaging in double figures with 11.0 points on the season, added 16 on Wednesday.Nebraska entered the tournament averaging a conference-low 66.3 points while finishing 2-14."It's been a tough season but this team has continued to compete and show great character," coach Doc Sadler told the conference's official Web site. "We just made some plays and shot the basketball well. We wanted to shoot layups and stand-still 3-pointers and nothing in between."The Huskers lead the series 11-7 but have dropped four of the past five matchups. This is the first meeting between the teams in the Big 12 tournament.The winner of this game will face Kansas or Texas Tech in Friday night's first semifinal.