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Aggies crash Final Four filled with past winners

As a second seed, the Texas A&M Aggies are not exactly a Cinderella in their first Final Four.

But in a field with Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford, the Aggies are probably the team most would call the underdog.

They knocked off top-seeded Baylor in the Dallas Regional to become the only team remaining in the field that hasn't already been to a Final Four. What's more, each of the other three teams have won it all at least once.

On Sunday night, Texas A&M plays Stanford, which has won two titles and is in its fourth straight Final Four. The Aggies aren't daunted by the challenge and are looking for more in Indianapolis.

"It's a blessing to get there, but we're not satisfied," leading scorer Danielle Adams said. "We won't be satisfied until we play that last game in the national championship game and bring home the trophy."

They've helped coach Gary Blair return to the Final Four for the first time since he took Arkansas in 1998. He likes his chances this season with what he calls his best team ever and loves his senior point guard Sydney Colson.

"They're a lot better than the Arkansas team," he said of the 2011 Aggies. "I think last night the country was able to see what Sydney Colson could do offensively and defensively if she could stay out of foul trouble."

Sydney Carter, who led the Aggies with 22 points against Baylor, said it's overwhelming to have helped Texas A&M reach its first Final Four.

"It feels great to know that I'm a part of history," she said. "Everybody knows what our focus is and what our end goal is. Ultimately a Final Four is just one step closer."

Blair has brought unprecedented success to this team since taking over in 2003. The Aggies suffered through seven straight losing seasons and hadn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1996.

Texas A&M went 9-19 in Blair's first season, but haven't had a losing record since. He has guided Texas A&M to six straight NCAA tournament appearances and this year's 31 wins are the most in school history.

Athletic director Bill Byrne came to Texas A&M in 2002 and hired Blair soon after. While in Dallas for the regional this weekend, he remembered that it was about the same time of year when he offered Blair the job in a meeting at a Dallas hotel.

He reminisced about their conversation at the time.

"I told him: 'I want to win national championships,'" Byrne said. "He said: 'I do too.' Those things are hard to do and we're close."

Byrne knows it's tough to break into the top ranks of women's basketball and is ecstatic that his program has taken that next step. Few remember that Texas A&M was founded as an all-male military institution in the 1870s and women were allowed only after a court fight in the 1960s.

"What's neat is being in the Final Four is like being in a very elite club and they don't invite just anyone to join," Byrne said. "We're thrilled that we're a part of the club and we intend to continue to be a member."

Byrne calls the job Blair has done with the Aggies "fantastic" and he's not just impressed with what he's done on the court, but with his efforts in building the program's fan base.

"People have been calling, wanting to make sure they can get tickets and rooms in Indianapolis all day," Byrne said. "When you compare that to what it was like when we had a few close family members and a few friends at our basketball games before Gary Blair arrived, it's a big change in interest in women's basketball."

The improvement in Texas A&M's program has also been helped by the construction of a $26 million basketball practice facility that opened in 2008. The 68,000 square foot facility, which is used by the men and women, has two practice courts, a weight room and a player lounge.

Byrne believes the building has helped A&M better compete with the elite teams in college basketball.

"We've got the best facilities for our student athletes in the United States and I know that's so because all those big names have asked questions about our facilities here," he said. "It's been the envy of college basketball."