COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M star Chennedy Carter will return for the No. 4 Aggies when they host 13th-seeded Wright State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, less than three weeks after having finger surgery.
The sophomore, who led the Southeastern Conference in scoring at 22.5 points a game, broke her right pinky finger in two places in a fall against Arkansas on March 3 and had surgery the following day. She had the stitches removed from her finger on Monday and returned to practice, and coach Gary Blair said she would have no restrictions in the tournament.
''She is ready to go,'' Blair said. ''There's no excuses on our part. There will be no excuses on her part. Her job is to deliver for her team, not just in scoring but in play-making and defense and leadership.''
Carter, who wore a thick bandage on the injured finger on Thursday, said she's feeling good and can't wait to get back on the court.
Her return is a huge boost to a Texas A&M team that is in the tournament for the 14th straight season and is looking to reach the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. The Aggies have qualified for the tournament in all but their first two seasons under Blair in 2004 and 2005, and won a national title in 2011. Blair noted that the expectations have been raised at Texas A&M in recent years and that simply reaching the tournament isn't enough anymore.
''I wasn't brought in here to win games,'' the 73-year-old Blair said. ''I was brought in here to compete for championships.''
The Aggies (24-7) face Wright State (27-6) after the team won the Horizon League tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history and the first since 2014, when the Raiders lost to Kentucky 106-60.
Wright State, which set a school record for wins, has a balanced scoring attack led by senior Mackenzie Taylor, who averages 11.8 points, and junior Michal Miller with 11.6 points a game.
Coach Katrina Merriweather said her team can't worry about the history Texas A&M has in the tournament.
''We don't talk about the 14 years, we talk about the team that's here right now,'' Merriweather said. ''What we do is stay focused on us rather than anyone else and that's what we've done all season is concentrate and make sure we're playing our best basketball.''
The winner of the Wright State-A&M game will meet the winner of Friday's game between Conference USA tournament champion and No. 12 seed Rice (28-3) and No. 5 Marquette (26-7) on Sunday.
Some things to know about the first round games in College Station.
Marquette is in the tournament for the third consecutive season and features a starting lineup with four seniors. The Golden Eagles believe that experience will be valuable in facing Rice, which is in the tournament for the first time since 2005.
''It will be huge,'' coach Carolyn Kieger said. ''Our girls have a calmness about them that I haven't seen before. They know what to expect ... hopefully that experience and that leadership will pay dividends.''
Although the Owls don't have any NCAA Tournament experience, they enter Friday's game with confidence after winning their last 21 games to set a school record for victories.
''The one thing you will find about our team is that we're a very level-headed team, very intelligent team,'' coach Tina Langley said. ''And as long as we keep our focus on where it needs to be, I think we'll be prepared.''
TOWERING OVER THE COMPETITION
Rice has one of the tallest women in the country in 6-foot-9 Nancy Mulkey, who was named C-USA defensive player of the year. Mulkey, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma, set a school record with 89 blocks this season despite missing the first eight games with an injury.
''Not a lot of teams go against a 6-9 person, so I think it's definitely ... going to be interesting to see how it plays out,'' she said.
Not only do the Golden Eagles not have anyone nearly as tall as Langley, they're a bit undersized overall, with their tallest starter measuring just 6-0.
''The way that she packs the paint on defense is our No. 1 concern,'' Kieger said. ''We're going to try different stuff to pull her out of the paint.''
Rice junior Erica Ogwumike, who was the C-USA player of the year, will make her NCAA tournament debut on Friday. But the guard was at the tournament plenty while growing up watching older sisters and WNBA No. 1 overall draft picks Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike when they starred for Stanford. Nneka reached four Final Fours during her career and Chiney made three trips.
Now that she finally gets to participate in March Madness, she's cherishing every moment.
''I've experienced this with my sisters, but I was a spectator,'' she said. ''That's completely different than being a player now. I think being able to watch behind the scenes of my sisters prepare for this mentally has helped me a lot and so I'm kind of trying to emulate what they did because they were pretty successful at it.''
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