NC State, Texas A&M, unafraid Arizona top Mercado Region

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — While top-seeded North Carolina State with star Elissa Cunane is a slight favorite in the Mercado Region of the NCAA Tournament, No. 2 seed Texas A&M and its bevy of veterans could be poised to knock off the Wolfpack.

Then there is third-seeded Arizona, which can’t be overlooked in this region with two-way standout and Pac-12 player of the year Aari McDonald leading the way.

N.C. State is in the tournament, which is being held entirely in the San Antonio area, for the 26th time overall but earned a No. 1 seed for the first time. The 6-foot-5 Cunane, who is averaging 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds a game, was named the most valuable player of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament as N.C. State won it for the second straight season.

“The No. 1 seed is a great honor, obviously,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “You know me. I’d just as soon stayed No. 2 and laid low. You still got to go out either way and work.”

The Wolfpack open the tournament on Sunday against 16-seed NC A&T.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair does not share Moore’s feelings about the top seed.

The Aggies won the SEC regular season title after beating No. 1 seed South Carolina, but likely lost their shot to be a top seed in the tournament for the first time after losing to Georgia in the tournament semifinal.

Blair was a bit irked that his team didn’t get a 1-seed but said it gives Texas A&M a chance to prove people wrong. The Aggies are in their 15th straight tournament under Blair, and it’s the 10th anniversary of their only national title in 2011.

“I love to go out and show people what this team can do and what this coaching staff and I can do to put together a game plan,” Blair said. “I’m not one of the blue bloods yet, but I’m in the conversation.”

Texas A&M meets No. 15 seed Troy on Monday night.

WILDATS BACK IN TOURNEY

The Wildcats return to the tournament for the first time since 2005 and meet No. 14 Stony Brook, which is making its first NCAA appearance, on Monday.

“There is going to be the nervousness but nervous is good for basketball,” coach Adia Barnes said. “Scared is bad, and we don’t have any players on our team that are scared.”

Though Arizona is making its first trip to the Big Dance in 16 years, they do have tournament experience on the roster after McDonald reached the Sweet 16 with Washington in 2017. She put off a WNBA career to return to Arizona for another year.

“It’s pretty much do or die right now, so we got to play literally like it’s gonna be our last game ever,” she said.

McDonald led the Pac-12 in scoring (19.4) and steals (2.7) a game for the third straight season and has scored at least 10 points in 87 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the nation.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Gonzaga, the fifth seed in the region, may have opponents seeing double in the tournament. That’s because the Bulldogs have two sets of twins on the roster: the Wirth sisters and the Truong sisters.

LeeAnne and Jenn Wirth are 6-foot-3 starting forwards for the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (23-3). The identical twins come from an athletic family: Their father, Alan Wirth, played for the Oakland Athletics and older sister Christina played for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever after a college career at Vanderbilt.

Jenn is the older of the two, by 18 minutes.

“It’s a cliché answer but also the truth – you just have a built-in best friend,” said Jenn, who has averaged 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds this season.

Then there’s sophomore guards Kayleigh Truong and Kaylynne Truong, also identical Twins.

Gonzaga (23-3) will face No. 12 seed Belmont on Monday. The Zags are making their 12th overall appearance in the tournament. Belmont is in the tournament after winning its fifth Ohio Valley Conference tournament title in the last six years behind the stellar performance of freshman Destinee Wells, who scored a career-high 32 points in the title game.

RISE OF THE HOOSIERS

Indiana is the No. 4 seed in the region; the Hoosiers highest seed in program history.

Their previous best seed was being No. 6 in 1983 when just 36 teams made the tournament, and their best seed in the 64-team field was No. 8 in 2002 after earning a top-10 ranking in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history this season.

The Hoosiers play No. 13 VCU on Monday.

___

AP Sports Writer Anne Peterson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Related Categories:

College Basketball | Other Sports News | Sports

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up