Dallas Colleges: Sam Houston State

Sam Houston State sets up FCS title rematch in Frisco

December, 15, 2012
CHENEY, Wash. -- A slow start to the season made a return trip to the Football Championship Subdivision championship game seem unlikely for Sam Houston State.

A slow finish to Saturday evening's semifinal game against Eastern Washington almost derailed the Bearkats' unlikely dream run.

Quarterback Brian Bell ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and Sam Houston State raced to a 35-0 halftime lead but barely held on to beat the second-seeded Eagles 45-42.

The Bearkats (11-3) face top-seeded and defending champion North Dakota State, which won last year's matchup 17-16 on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.

"When we were 1-2 at the beginning of the season I don't think there were very many people that thought we were going to get back," a relieved Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said.

The win over Eastern Washington (11-3) was the Bearkats' third straight over a Big Sky Conference team in the playoffs this year and fifth straight in the past two years.

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Texas State's Chandler Hall held Sam Houston State without a hit in the Southland Conference softball championship Sunday. The win sends the Bobcats to their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
FRISCO, Texas -- For North Dakota State to take down the No. 1 FCS team in the nation, it needed game-changing plays came from unexpected places.

It was a first-year punter and a freshman linebacker who made the difference in the Bison’s 17-6 FCS championship win over Sam Houston State on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park.

On a fourth-and-4, Matt Voigtlander executed a fake punt by carrying the ball 27-yards from the Bison 39. He picked up the first down and set up the Bison’s first touchdown of the game, a 39-yard screen pas catch-and-run by Texas native D.J. McNorton.

Voigtlander, a senior, was initially recruited as a running back but made the conversion to punting in the spring. The trick play that relied on Voigtlander’s rushing abilities remained unused in the Bison arsenal the entire season, waiting for the right moment, North Dakota coach Craig Bohl said.

“As open as it was, just about anyone could have done what I did with the wideopen field.,” Voigtlander said.

North Dakota State took the third frame 7-0, marking the first time this season Sam Houston State had been held scoreless in the quarter.

Voigtlander’s new-found punting abilities came into the spotlight Saturday against the top scoring offense in the nation. He pinned Sam Houston State inside the 20 four times. His kicks totaled 442 yards on 10 tries, with a long of 66-yards booted on the first Bison drive of the game.

McNorton’s touchdown gave North Dakota a 10-6 lead, which it would hold until the fourth quarter when a freshman would help put the game away and claim the Most Outstanding Player honors.

Linebacker Travis Beck dropped back into coverage on third-and-13, which put him into position to get pegged in the chest by Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell. Beck secured the pick and returned it 63 yards to the Sam Houston 1, setting up a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Brock Jensen.

“I decided I better catch this one or else I'll never hear the end of that,” Beck said. “I did what I could. Couldn't get it in, but the offense finished it off.”

The return was sprung by a huge block from cornerback Christian Dudzik, which Beck said he was unable to see but most definitely heard.

Beck did, however, take a moment to apologize to the person who was counting on him to get that one extra yard off his first career interception the most.

“Grandpa, if you're watching, I'm sorry I didn't get that touchdown like you said,” Beck said. “But maybe next year.”

Beck was a key part to the defensive struggle that began the moment the first kickoff left the tee, until the final whistle.

It took the Bison 10 minutes to find the scoreboard first on a 19-yard field goal by Ryan Jastram. Sam Houston State managed just 52 yards of total offense in the first quarter.

The Bearkats entered halftime with the lead after Craig Alaniz hit field goals from 24 and 31 yards in the second quarter. However, the six-point first half was the lowest-scoring effort Sam Houston State had put up the entire season.

Offense didn’t come easy for North Dakota State either.

Both teams were held to a combined 5-of-31 on third-down conversions, with North Dakota State going just 1-for 13. Bohl admitted if he would have known his team would convert just one third down, he wouldn’t bet on his team to have won.

The Bison defense held Sam Houston State three out of four times on fourth down tries.

“We didn't have a lot of success on third and short and fourth and short,” Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. “But they did a good job of playing the situation better than we did.”

Sam Houston claimed two takeaways in the game on an interception and a fumble recovery but failed to convert either into points.

Saturday’s win marks North Dakota State’s ninth national championship, with the previous eight coming in Division II or the Small College Division.

The championship week became a demonstration of the tradition of tiny Fargo, N.D., from the play on the field to the enormous wave of green and gold that filled the stands, cheering with every snap.

“We have a great, rich tradition at North Dakota State,” Bohl said. “The school has won eight national championships in football. And so we've got a lot of pride, not only with these guys  and D.J. alluded to it  Bison pride. That goes all the way back to the '60s, I believe 1965.”

FRISCO, Texas -- North Dakota State put its first FCS Division I championship in the bag on quarterback Brock Jensen's 1-yard touchdown run three seconds into the fourth quarter Saturday in a 17-6 win over previously undefeated Sam Houston State.

The win came in North Dakota State's first FCS title appearance. The Bison also have five NCAA Division II national titles in their trophy case.

North Dakota State linebacker Travis Beck picked off Brian Bell just a play before the score, returning the interception 63-yards to the Bearkats' 1.

A few notes on how North Dakota Stage handed Sam Houston State its first loss of the season:

How the game was won: North Dakota State punter and running back Matt Voigtlander was huge in helping win the field possession battle for the Bison. He dropped four punts inside the 20-yard line, including a third-quarter kick that was downed on the Sam Houston State 1 by Bobby Ollman. Voigtlander began the game wowing Pizza Hut park with a 66-yard boot with maximum hangtime. He finished the day punting 10 times for 442 yards, with four sailing over 50 yards.

Turning point: North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl emphasized the importance of the first drive of the second half, and that is exactly what sparked the Bison. The five-play, 72-yard drive featured a 27-yard rush by Voigtlander which set up the touchdown toss on the next play.

Stat of the game: Sam Houston State was just 4-for-18 on third-down conversions, but North Dakota State wasn't much better at 1-for-13. However, the Bison picked up fresh downs nine times before they reached the third try. North Dakota State was 1-for-1 on fourth-down conversions. The Bison defense made three fourth-down stops on Sam Houston State on the Bearkats' four attempts.

What it means: North Dakota State proves it belongs as a power in Division I football after years of dominance in Division II. The loss prevents Sam Houston State -- the top seed in the tournament and No. 1 polls -- from completing a 15-0 season.
FRISCO, Texas -- It took just over a half, but one national finalist finally managed a touchdown in the championship defensive struggle.

North Dakota quarterback Brock Jensen found Texas-native D.J. McNorton in the end zone on a 39-yard connection, two minutes into the third quarter.

The Bison surge comes from a herd of rushers, led by running back/punter Matt Voigtlander with 27 yards. McNorton follows right behind with 26 yards.

Sam Houston State is 3-for-13 on third down conversions, but has yet to come close to another score.

Brock is 8-for-18 for 114 yards to go with the passing touchdown.
FRISCO, Texas -- In a game featuring two teams with such explosive offenses, it's the defense that's winning the battle, resulting in a 6-3 Sam Houston State lead at the half.

The Bearkats tied it up on a 24-yard kick down the middle by Craig Alamiz, capping a drive that began on the Bearkat 35 thanks to a tipped punt by Michael Buse.

The go-ahead kick was from 31-yards with 40 seconds left in the half.

Sam Houston State's six-point first half performance is its lowest halftime point total of the season. Previously, the fewest the Bearkats scored in a half this year was eight against UT-San Antonio.

Both teams struggled on third-down, converting just three of 15 combined attempts in the first half.

The Bearkats took the advantage in total yards with 133, while North Dakota state picking up just 16 in the second quarter.

Sam Houston State running back Tim Flanders found his stride, finishing with a halftime total of 66 yards on 11 carries with a long run of 15-yards that helped set up the first field goal.

Flander's effort earned him the Southland Conference single-season rushing record, passing former Texas State running back and current DeSoto High School coach Claude Mathis' 1,560 mark.

Sam Houston State is plus-2 in turnover margin, including an interception by Kennet Jenkins. The Bearkats have failed to capitalize on both turnovers.
FRISCO, Texas -- North Dakota State managed three points in the opening quarter of the FCS Championship that featured huge defensive plays.

Bison kicker Ryan Jastram drilled an 18-yard field goal with three seconds left in the quarter for a 3-0 lead after the North Dakota State offense hit a Sam Houston State brick wall on the one-yard line.

Sam Houston State's defense made three huge stops inside the 10-yard line to hold the Bison to three.

The opening minutes of the game were controlled by the punters, highlighted by a 66-yard punt, with little aid of a roll, by Bison punter Matt Voigtlander.

Sam Houston State's defense won the key turnover battle in the first quarter, forcing a Bison fumble with just over seven minutes left in the quarter that was recovered by Bearkat defensive back Duke Bohall.

The Bearkats could not take advantage of the gift, turning the ball over on downs when the Bison defense stuffed Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell on the one-yard, fourth down sneak attempt.

North Dakota State tallied 108 total yards in the first to the Bearkat's 52 total yards. Bison quarterback Brock Jensen is 5-for-7 for 77 yards. Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell is 1-for-3 for 36 yards. The Bison racked up six first downs to Sam Houston State's one.

While the game is just a bus ride from the home of the Bearkats, Huntsville, North Dakota State fans outnumber the orange-clad fans 60-40 to the naked eye. The Bison faithful have also given their squad the advantage in noise throughout the first quarter.

Gov. Rick Perry bets on Sam Houston St.

January, 6, 2012
FRISCO, Texas -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry took some time out of his presidential campaign Friday to show his support for the Sam Houston State Bearkats, who will be making their first appearance in the FCS national championship game Saturday against North Dakota State.

Perry announced on his website that he has wagered a box of South Texas-grown grapefruit with North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple. If Sam Houston State wins, Perry will receive a box of North Dakota-made Dreamfields low-carb pasta.

"Congratulations to North Dakota State on a fine season, but I'm afraid an FCS Championship just isn't in the cards for the Bison," Perry said on his website. "That trophy will be heading to Huntsville, as the Bearkats close out an undefeated season and add their own names to the long list of champions hailing from the Lone Star State."

Governor Dalrymple fired back a rebuttal that was also posted on Perry's website.

"The Bison have had an outstanding season and under the leadership of Coach Craig Bohl, I'm confident the Thundering Herd will bring home the national championship," Dalrymple said. "Gov. Perry tells me that his Texas grapefruit are delicious and I'm sure that a Bison victory over the Bearkats will make them even sweeter."

When asked about defending Perry's bet, all Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz could do was laugh.

"I'm not going to touch that one," Fritz said.

The battle for the grapefruit and pasta, and the national title, will be aired at noon CT Saturday on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.

FRISCO, TEXAS – Two years ago, Huntsville, Texas, witnessed an all-time classic football finish as Sam Houston State beat North Dakota State 48-45 on a field goal with 26 seconds remaining in a regular-season game.

Now, the two meet again with an FCS national championship on the line.

Saturday’s noon CT kickoff at Pizza Hut Park, home of the MLS' FC Dallas, features the playoff-tested No. 1 and 2 seeds. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and streamed live by ESPN3.com.

Sam Houston State enters the title bout with the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation, while North Dakota State holds the FCS' top ranking for scoring defense.

“It's an exciting task,” NDSU middle linebacker Preston Evans said. “We love the challenge of playing against great offenses and whatnot. But also we get the look all year of playing against our offense in practice. There's great running backs in Sam [Ojuri] and D.J. McNorton. Just playing against those guys, practicing against [them] all year long helps us against great running backs.”

Evans and his defense will be challenged to stop Bearkats running back Tim Flanders, who has rushed for 1,560 yards, and receiver Richard Sincere.

Sincere, the Southland Conference’s offensive player of the year, is a threat under center out of the "Wild Bearkat" formation, rushing for 965 yards and nine touchdowns. Sincere also ranks third on his team in receiving with 449 yards on 25 receptions for four touchdowns.

The Bearkats run a hybrid option/play-action pass offense that establishes the run through triple-option sets, but also has the potential for the big play on vertical fade passes. They have 38 passing plays of 20-plus yards and average 15.0 yards per completion.

Halftime adjustments have been SHSU coach Willie Fritz’s forte in 2011. His squad has outscored opponents in the third quarter 180-31, allowing just two teams this season to win the third, both times by 7-3 margins.

It’s that first drive after halftime that NDSU coach Craig Bohl said will be the most important Saturday.

“I've always believed that the most important series of the whole football game is the first series of the second half,” Bohl said. “It’s when the team maintains and establishes momentum or changes momentum. It will be critical for us tomorrow [Saturday] to meet their challenge.”

NDSU's top-ranked defense excels in turnover margin. The Bison average a plus-1.12 turnovers per game.

Cornerback Marcus Williams leads the Bison in interceptions with seven, returning those picks for 274 yards and three touchdowns. The Bison have recovered 10 of the 11 fumbles they've forced.

Turnovers could be key because SHSU ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring margin and scoring defense. Fritz is aware of how important it will be for the Bearkats to protect the ball.

“I use a quote from John Heisman, named the Heisman Trophy after him,” Fritz said. "'Better to die a young boy than fumble the ball.' I tell the guys that all the time. If there's one thing that I emphasize, that's that, and we talk about it every single day. And my career as a head coach, 19 years, we've been plus-one turnover/takeaway margin."

In those 19 years, coaching at several different schools, Fritz has won 93 percent of his games. Simply put to his players, have a plus-one turnover margin and you will win.

Saturday's game is a sellout, but both teams are used to playing in front of big crowds.

North Dakota State ranks 10th among FCS schools in attendance, averaging 18,904 at the Fargodome. The Bison have sold out 10 games over the past six seasons.

Sam Houston State's home crowds have grown each game throughout its unbeaten season, resulting in sellouts through the Bearkats' string of playoff games.

However, when the players take the field Saturday, the noise and the pressure will be taken to another level.

“I just hope I play well and get these jitters out of me because I’ve never played anything national, but I don’t have any doubt playing with this coaching staff and these group of guys,” Bearkats receiver Keith Blanton said.
FRISCO, Texas -- Just under a month from winning its eighth state title, the city of Southlake might welcome another champion back into the Land of Dragons.

Sam Houston State guard Matt Boyles returned home this week for the FCS national championship game Saturday at sold-out Pizza Hut Park in Frisco.

Boyles, just a sophomore, has started on the line in 11 of the Bearkats’ 14 games this season, including every playoff game.

To say Boyles' success comes from the emotion he displays on the gridiron would be quite the understatement, Southlake Carroll High School coach Hal Wasson said.

“He has a real nasty mindset in the trenches, but back in the fieldhouse he was a typical good student and good kid, but he could go to that real schizophrenic nature between the lines,” Wasson said.

Boyles agrees that his hard work and attitude has been key in his success early in his collegiate career, but he's able to turn it off when he leaves the field.

“I tend to get a little aggravated at stuff. I just try to keep my effort going all out and then try to turn it off when I step off the field and try to be as good of a person I can be," Boyles said with a laugh.

Boyles got used to playing in front of big crowds at Dragon Stadium and during their annual playoff runs, which will help stave off any jitters before Saturday's game in Frisco.

“We’d have sellout crowds at home, and we played Trinity my sophomore year in front of 60,000 people and you get used to it. But then again you don’t,” Boyles said. “You’re always going to get butterflies and everyone is going crazy for you. You’re just excited and want to play your best and bring home that trophy.”

Boyles is a key cog in the Bearkats' exciting and unorthodox offense that combines options, play-action passes and wildcat formations. The line has helped produce 4,077 rushing yards this season, with the opportunity for two rushers to finish over the 1,000-yard mark.

The offense is a lineman’s dream, giving the big boys an opportunity to show off athletic abilities that are rarely noticed.

“It’s not just a traditional offense where we’re just blocking,” Boyles said. “You see us pulling out, and that’s everyone’s favorite play -- to get out in the open field and chop someone down and get a little recognition. People actually see you when you’re not down in the trenches and you’re out there just having fun.”

With a win Saturday, Boyles will have a chance to experience the same kind of fun his Silver Fox Swag Dragon kin celebrated at Cowboys Stadium in middle December.

“I got to come back and go to the state [title] game, and that’s really cool to see my high school do that," Boyles said. "I think it would be really cool to win a national championship in college and a state championship in high school and be a part of such great programs.”
FRISCO, Texas -- Darnell Taylor could have left Mesquite High to play college football for Wisconsin.

Instead, he respectfully declined the FBS for the opportunity to continue his football career with his twin brother, Darius, at Sam Houston State.

Just a few short years later, the decision has been justified with a player of the year honor and the chance to play for the FCS national championship.

The Taylor brothers have used their natural connection on defense to help what was a struggling Sam Houston State team turn it around as the Bearkats try to complete a perfect 14-0 season.

“They made a decision -- they wanted to go to school together,” Mesquite coach Robbie Robinson said. “Not everyone was willing to offer both of them, but Sam Houston did. And I think Sam Houston has definitely reaped the benefits of doing so.”

Darnell, the starting weakside safety, was named Southland Conference defensive player of the year and was selected to the AP FCS All-American team. He led SHSU with 118 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and three sacks.

Darius, a linebacker, wasn’t far behind with 78 tackles, despite being second on the depth chart. Both have also played a huge role on special teams as well.

“Really physical-type guys,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. “Darius is 255 pounds and runs a legit 4.6 40. .. He’s a physical specimen. Darnell is a very physical player and has a great nose for the ball.”

The twins united with another Dallas product, Keith Blanton, who shunned the FBS after transferring to Sam Houston State from Iowa State to become key contributors in the Bearkats' historical run.

On top of that, the trio shares a unique friendship.

Blanton played the majority of his high school career with Garland, which for 100 years has been the rival of the Mesquite Skeeters. Garland and Mesquite faced off for the first time ever in the playoffs this year, and Mesquite advanced with an area-round 24-21 overtime win.

Of course, the three Dallas natives spent a week talking smack with each other.

“[Blanton] was surprised actually,” Darius Taylor said. “I wasn’t. I felt comfortable about the team. I actually talked to our coach a few nights before the game and he said they were ready. He wished us good luck, and I wished him good luck, and we pulled it out.”

Blanton remains in denial to this day, no matter what was settled on the field.

“It ain’t nothing but a friendly rivalry, but we know that Garland got it,” Blanton said laughing. “Garland lost it, but we got it. They know overall Garland has the athletes.”

Blanton was a key weapon at Garland, with 402 receiving yards his senior year. But it was his blocking that left a lasting imprint on his high school coach.

In the area-round as a senior, Blanton threw a block downfield that released a fellow receiver to score a key touchdown in Garland’s 13-10 win over Tyler Lee.

Years later, it’s that secondary skill that is an emphasis amongst the Bearkats' receiving corps.

“Our receiving group takes blocking so serious,” Blanton said. “When one gets a killer block, we all just get hype. We actually have a competition on who can get the most knockdowns in each game.”

The Metroplex trio will have a large group of friends and family from Mesquite and Garland to cheer them in front of a capacity crowd Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. Blanton said nerves will settle once the ball is kicked off at 12:05 p.m.

“He’s the kind of guy that goes to a party and likes to dance up in front,” Darius said of Blanton. “That’s just Keith though.”

FCS title game in Frisco officially sold out

December, 21, 2011
FRISCO, Texas -- Frisco will see huge crowds roll in after the New Year, as the NCAA announced that Pizza Hut Park is sold out for the FCS national championship game.

The NCAA expects a capacity crowd of 20,086 for the title game between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State at FC Dallas' home stadium, NCAA media coordinator J.D. Hamilton said.

[+] EnlargeCraig Bohl (left) and Willie Fritz
Travis L. Brown/ESPNDallas.comNorth Dakota State's Craig Bohl (left) and Sam Houston State's Willie Fritz will play in front of a packed house in Frisco.
The estimated crowd includes the addition of bleachers on the stadium's stage area to house the bands and spirit squads from both schools, opening up regular stadium seating for both schools to sell as a part of their allotment.

Standing-room only tickets will become available on the NCAA's website at 10 a.m. Jan. 3. Those tickets will allow spectators to view the game from anywhere on the concourse at Pizza Hut Park.

This is the first FCS football championship to sell out since 2007, when Appalachian State beat Joe Flacco and Delaware 49-21 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga Tenn. -- the same it beat Michigan early in the season.

The FCS championship game is in its second year at Pizza Hut Park, which hosted Eastern Washington’s 20-19 win over Delaware last year in front of 13,027.

This year’s championship will not be as much of a home game for Sam Houston State as most would expect. Both schools have sold their allotment of 4,000 tickets and have requested more. North Dakota State, surprisingly, has struggled to accommodate everyone who wished to travel to Frisco.

“It’s a real challenge right now,” North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. “Our athletic director is really struggling. We could have easily sold between 10 and 15,000. Our fan base is very loyal and we sell out all our games. It’s an opportunity for them to come from North Dakota to Dallas in the wintertime and they are going to jump on that.”

Sam Houston State’s proximity to the championship game will allow the team to get in an extra day of practice at home in Huntsville.

“What’s great for us is we can take a bus ride up here,” Bearkats coach Willie Fritz said. “We’re going to get up here Wednesday evening and we have a lot of kids from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, so there are a lot of them that are excited playing a home game for them.”

Sam Houston State and North Dakota State entered the 2011 playoffs seeded No. 1 and 2, respectively. The Bearkats look to complete an undefeated 15-0 season with a win in the school’s first title game appearance. North Dakota State now has eight championship appearances, with seven coming in Division II.

Both coaches agreed that fans are in for a treat of championship football. Since 2006, North Dakota State has a 5-3 record against FBS schools and Sam Houston State notched an FBS win against New Mexico this season.

“FCS football is a lot better than what a lot of people think,” Bohl said. “It was not a fluke that we defeated the University of Minnesota the last two years and I know Sam Houston has played some other FBS teams. I think the people here have put together a great game plan and you have two really good programs. As a result, this is going to be a really electric atmosphere.”

Matchup set for FCS title game in Frisco

December, 17, 2011
North Dakota State got 231 total yards from quarterback Brock Jensen and Warren Holloway caught a pass for a score and ran for another as the Bison (13-1) defeated Georgia Southern (12-2), 35-7, on Saturday in Fargo, N.D., to advance to their first FCS title game.

North Dakota State will face Sam Houston State (14-0) for the national championship at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco on Jan. 7. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

North Dakota State converted three Georgia Southern turnovers into touchdowns.

Holloway, a 6-foot-2, 199-pound senior from Houston, scored on a 19-yard reception from Jensen in the first quarter and a 17-yard run in the second quarter.

Jensen gave the Bison breathing room with a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that capped a 96-yard drive after NDSU's Travis Beck recovered a fumble.

Running backs Sam Ojuri and D.J. McNorton combined to rush for 194 yards and added touchdowns in the fourth quarter for NDSU.

Sam Houston State beat Montana, 31-28, in the other semifinal on Friday.

Sam Houston St. advances to FCS title game

December, 16, 2011
HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Running back Tim Flanders rushed 26 times for 287 yards to lead Sam Houston State to its first appearance in the NCAA Division I championship game as the Bearkats defeated Montana, 31-28, in a semifinal Friday.

Sam Houston St. will face the winner of Saturday's semifinal between North Dakota State and Georgia Southern in the FCS championship game Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Sam Houston St. quarterback Brian Bell completed 10 of 14 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson rallied the Grizzles from 21 points down to cut the margin to three points. Johnson completed 21 of 33 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

Sam Houston clinched the victory by running out the final six minutes of the game with an 11 play, 52-yard drive.

Flanders broke McNeil Moore’s Sam Houston single game rushing record of 286 yards against Lamar in 1951.

A&M pleased to get extra day of rest

March, 14, 2010

No. 5 Texas A&M is happy with its seeding and happier that it won't open play in its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament until Friday. The Aggies face No. 12 Utah State, no stranger to the Big Dance, in a first-round game in Spokane, Wash., and they believe they will have their floor general, starting point guard Dash Harris, back in uniform.

Harris missed both games in last week's Big 12 tournament with a bone bruise in his wrist that he suffered in the regular-season finale. After A&M's semifinal loss to No. 1 Kansas, Harris said he expected to be ready this week. With a couple of other players dinged that has limited the number of players A&M has had available for practices, the schedule worked out as well as possible.

"Playing on Friday gives us more time to prepare and get some guys healthy," said coach Mark Turgeon, making his third consecutive trip to the tournament as the Aggies' head coach. "We have a lot of confidence and we just want to improve between now and Friday."

A&M (23-9) has won nine of its last 12 games, with its only losses coming to No. 1 Kansas twice and at Baylor, which was awarded a No. 3 seed and will start play Thursday in New Orleans against Sam Houston State. It's possible that A&M and Baylor could meet in Houston in the Elite 8 round.

Right now, no one's thinking that far ahead.

"We are playing a very good team in Utah State and need to bring all we've got and put it on the table. Nothing is ever easy in the NCAA tournament," senior forward Bryan Davis said. 'Every game has the potential to be my last at A&M, but I've played every game for three years like it was my last. We've just got to go out and play as hard as we can. We've accomplished a lot this year, but we're not done yet."