March Madness: Wright State aims to make some noise in tourney opener in Texas

Wright State has a big task in taking down Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

That doesn’t bother Emily Vogelpohl.

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“I know they’ve got a really good guard,” the senior guard said after the No. 13 seed Raiders learned they will play the fourth-seeded Aggies at 4 p.m. Friday in College Station, Texas. "They’re a really good team. I’ve watched them a few times, but I believe in my teammates.”

She was referring to Chennedy Carter, a 5-foot-7 guard who led the SEC in scoring at 22.5 points per game. Carter missed the SEC tournament with a hand injury but is expected to be available Friday.

The 24-7 Aggies also start 6-4 Ciera Johnson at center (11.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game), 6-2 N’dea Jones (7.1 and 11.3) at forward while getting 14.7 points per game from 6-foot guard Kayla Wells and 4.6 points from 5-7 guard Shambria Washington.

The 27-6 Raiders will counter with a squad that won the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.

Vogelpohl and fellow guard Angel Baker averaged 9.2 points per game apiece while guard Taylor Mackenzie paced the team at 11.8 points per game, edging out guard Michal Miller (11.6 ppg.).

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They are all listed at 5-8 or shorter while coach Katrina Merriweather rotates 6-4 Tyler Frierson, 6-1 Teneshia Dixon and 6-1 Imani Partlow in the post.

Merriweather expects WSU’s depth to pay dividends as the Raiders look for their first NCAA tournament victory in their second appearance.

“I think that’s gonna be one of our biggest benefits,” the third-year coach said. "We’ve got some underclassmen who I think are excited for the opportunity, and I think they are pretty good players so everybody is going to be biting at the bit to get out there and show what they can do.”

Wright State last played March 12 when the Raiders beat Green Bay 55-52 in the Horizon League tournament final, and Merriweather is happy with what she saw in practice since then.

“Since I’ve been here that’s the best postseason practice we’ve ever had,” she said. “The third day we took it a little easier and shot a little bit, but the first two days we really got after it. Worked on some things defensively, worked on executing some of our stuff a little better and they were very responsive, had a lot of energy and just were ready to go.”

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The Aggies, who finished third in the SEC, are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament. They are in the Big Dance for the 13th straight season, hoping to win a pair of home games to advance to their second straight Sweet 16.

Coach Gary Blair’s team has made three Elite Eights and won the 2011 national championship, but Vogelpohl said the Raiders will not be intimidated.

“We want to make some noise, but it’s just another game for us,” she said. “We’re going to prepare the same way we would for any other game.”

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Merriweather said the Aggies like to play fast, but so does her team.

“They’ve very high-paced and up-tempo, so you have to be sound defensively,” she said. “One thing we’ve done all season is rebound the basketball, so there can’t be any difference there.

“They’re gonna be bigger, stronger and tougher than a lot of the people we’ve played all year because that’s just the nature of SEC basketball, but because we know that going in and we do have some teams in our league that are very aggressive and big, and we’ve had to be challenged. I think we’ll just have to channel our best efforts and show up ready to play.”

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