NCAA Tournament: Raiders ‘believe’ they can compete with host Aggies

It’s not so much a case of ignorance is bliss, as it is the belief: Why clutter your mind with stuff that does not matter?

“This is not the Texas A&M team that won the national championship,” Wright State coach Katrina Merriweather said Thursday. “I don’t even know if our kids even know they won a national championship. We haven’t talked about it. We haven’t said anything.

“All we’ve literally talked about is this team here.”

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She was referring to the No. 4-seeded Aggies who face 13th-seeded Wright State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Reed Arena on the campus of Texas A&M University.

Merriweather has dissected A&M’s current 24-7 team with her players, but has not focused on the storied history of the Aggies, who are making their 14th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, made their sixth appearance in the Sweet 16 last year and won the national crown in 2011.

Meanwhile the 27-6 Raiders are in their second NCAA Tournament in program history.

“But this (Aggies) team starts four sophomores and their bench is not very deep,” Merriweather said “Now I’m not going to discount their level of play. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for their coach Gary Blair. But there are some things that make this a winnable game for us.

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“Sometimes when you walk in and compare two teams, you just can’t quite figure out where you have an advantage or how anything is going to work.

“Our kids are confident. They know they’re going to have to play well — that this can’t be one of those 0-for-19 starts — but they believe we have a chance to win.”

‘We’ve done it before’

Merriweather used the same tactic against perennial Horizon League power house Green Bay, who came into this season with a 62-4 overall record against WSU.

The Raiders beat Green Bay in two of three games this season, including the Horizon League title game, 55-52, 10 days ago in Detroit. That win got them the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and this trip to Texas.

But Merriweather didn’t ignore all the history this time.

In the women’s basketball offices at WSU, there is a big picture of the celebrating 2014 Raiders’ team that made the NCAA Tournament. It KO-ed Green Bay in the league’s title game then, as well.

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Two of the players on that team were Kim Demmings, the all-time leading scorer at WSU and two-time Horizon League Player of the Year and Abby Jump, who led the Horizon League in three-point accuracy for two years straight.

It’s no accident both are on Merriweather’s staff at WSU.

Jump is an especially promising first-year assistant coach who came from a similar job at Morehead State. Demmings, the director of basketball operations, still has legendary status.

“When you have someone who has dominated the conference the way Green Bay has, it’s good for the mentality of everyone, including the coaches, to have someone here that says: ‘They’re beatable. We’ve done it before,’” said Merriweather. “That, instead of me saying just an open, empty promise – even though they know I believe in them.

“But Kim and Abby are proof. Current players can look at the championship photo, see them celebrating there and then walk past them in the hallway. It becomes more real to them.”

Point guards ready to go

Just as A&M will have point guard Chennedy Carter — the leading scorer in the SEC — back in the lineup for Friday’s game, Wright State ‘s point guard Emily Vogelpohl will play although she’s sporting a black brace on her right wrist following an accidental entanglement trying to strip the ball from a teammate in practice Saturday.

Carter, who averages 22.5 points per game, missed the SEC tournament last week with an injured pinky finger.

Vogelpohl practiced Wednesday at WSU and Thursday at Reed Arena.

The heart and soul of the team, the 5-foot-8 senior guard was named to the Horizon League All Defensive Team this season and ranks as the sixth all-time scorer in WSU history with 1,379 points.

“She’s someone who has meant everything to this program,” Merriweather said. “She’s a phenomenal kid and she’s tough. I never once thought she would not play.”

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