- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Some might think the bloom is off the rose a bit for Tuesday's UConn-Texas A&M game because the Aggies suffered their first loss of the season Sunday 60-51 at Purdue. But that defeat just might have been what Texas A&M needed to be more prepared for what it'll face in Connecticut.
The Jimmy V Classic (ESPN2 and ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in Hartford, Conn., is a matchup that might have happened in Indianapolis last April in the national championship game. Instead, the Huskies fell in the semifinals to Notre Dame, which in turn fell to Texas A&M, giving the Aggies and coach Gary Blair their first NCAA title.
Sunday in West Lafayette, Ind., Texas A&M got what you could call a little reminder that 2011-12 is a different ballgame. But it wasn't that the Aggies were still basking in the championship glow. Just that they hadn't been really tested since last season until encountering the Boilermakers.
The Aggies had averaged 80 points in their first six games, winning those by an average of 24.3. Sunday, though, the 8,732 fans at Purdue's Mackey Arena really got into the game and loudly disrupted Texas A&M's communication. And in the second half, the Aggies fell apart.
What had been a 32-29 Texas A&M lead at the break turned into a quagmire for the Aggies' offense in the final 20 minutes. They scored just 19 second-half points, making only 4 of 24 field goals.
Now that's the Texas A&M of old -- back when Blair was building up the program to be a national contender, but at times was largely reliant on a swarming defense to make up for a clunky offense. That's not the team that the Aggies have been the past couple of years, but Purdue is the type of opponent capable of making Texas A&M look that way.
And, let's face it, so is UConn. But if the Aggies want to redeem themselves and put on a better show for a national television audience Tuesday, they just got a great primer in what they need to do -- and what to avoid.
Against the Boilermakers, the three returning starters from the 2011 championship team all struggled shooting. Seniors Sydney Carter (0-of-12), Tyra White (4-of-15) and Adaora Elonu (4-of-10) were so much in their own funks that they weren't able to give much emotional support to guard Adrienne Pratcher and center Kelsey Bone, who've filled in for the graduated Sydney Colson and Danielle Adams in this season's starting lineup.
Carter, in particular, was peeved with herself because these are the types of games that she has a lot of experience playing. She was willing to call herself out Sunday for not living up to her own expectations.
"That comes with leadership, and accountability and responsibility knowing that I have somebody out there that's not used to playing in big games like I am," Carter said. "We have to do a better job of leading the team as captains, me and Adaora in particular, and make sure we're all on the same page.
"We let them take us out of our game, and we kind of rushed things. We've been through the battles and in worse situations, so to answer the call is not anything foreign to us. We just have to play through it."
We've all seen countless times over many years how good teams go to Hartford/Storrs and practically regress to infancy in minutes. The Huskies get on their runs, their fans crank up the volume and the rout is on. Usually, the second half of those games is just TV announcers filling airtime recounting Geno Auriemma quips.
That's what the Aggies must avoid -- getting knocked over for the night by the first series of UConn "waves" that crashes into them.
The No. 2 Huskies (7-0) have had one legitimate opponent thus far, beating Stanford 68-58 at the XL Center on Nov. 21. That game didn't actually feel that close, with the Huskies seemingly in control throughout even though they shot just 35.7 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from the line.
Seeing what UConn did to Stanford's offense should have been enough of a warning siren to the Aggies that the waters were going to be considerably choppier at the start of December. But Purdue made that even clearer on Sunday.
Previous games against Kansas State (a 46-42 win) and Duke (a 64-53 loss) had helped prep the Boilermakers for facing Texas A&M and Notre Dame (their Dec. 10 opponent at Mackey).
"Their post defense and their coaching were very good in preparation for this game," Blair said of the Boilermakers. "We're supposed to shoot the ball better.
"I can't wait for us to come in [to Connecticut]. We have to become a better basketball team. Right now, we have a team full of excuses and we have to find the solutions."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.