COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M coach Gary Blair raved about Shambria Washington's contributions in the days leading up to the team's second-round NCAA Tournament game, noting that it isn't easy for a guard to play in the shadow of star Chennedy Carter.
On Sunday her importance to the team was on full display when Washington hit the go-ahead 3-pointer late to send the Aggies to their second straight Sweet 16 with a 78-76 win over Marquette.
Washington, who is in her first season at Texas A&M after beginning her career at a junior college, had 13 points and six assists to help the Aggies get past five-seed Marquette.
Carter scored 30 points to help No. 4 Texas A&M (26-7) advance to meet the winner of Monday night's game between Michigan State-Notre Dame in Chicago on March 30.
"It doesn't really bother me that I'm in the shadows," Washington said. "I kind of like it."
But before she could finish her thought, Carter broke in to laud her teammate.
"Sham is really the backbone of our team," she said. "She's the engine. She really gets us going. Without her defensive stops and her leadership as a point guard, we probably wouldn't even be this far right now."
A jump shot by Allazia Blockton tied it with a minute left and Amani Wilborn made 1 of 2 free throws with 36 seconds remaining, but a lane violation by A&M gave her one more shot and she made it to put Marquette up 76-74.
Carter found Washington on A&M's next possession and she made the 3-pointer to put the Aggies up 77-76 with 23 seconds left.
"She's made 11 on the year, so that was the game plan. We didn't expect her to go 3 for 4," Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger said. "Give that kid a lot of credit because she hit shots when it was needed."
Carter stole an inbounds pass from Danielle King after a timeout with five seconds left and she was fouled by King. The Golden Eagles had to foul two more times to get in the bonus, leaving just 0.9 seconds left when Carter made 1 of 2 free throws to secure the win.
Natisha Hiedeman had 18 points to lead Marquette (27-8), which was in the tournament for the third straight seasons and looking for its first trip to the Sweet 16.
"They set the bar," Kieger said. "They've set the mark, and now it is up to all of us to keep working toward it to get this program where we want to go and that's a national contender every year. I can't say enough about their loyalty and their hard work."
Carter, who added nine rebounds and five assists, has scored at least 26 points in each of her five career NCAA Tournament games and has scored at least 20 points in her last seven games overall.
The game was tied midway through the fourth after a basket by Carter when Hiedeman made a 3 for Marquette and Washington hit one for A&M on the next possession to make it 70-70.
Marquette made two free throws after that before Carter gave the Aggies their first lead of the second half with a 3 that made it 73-72 with 3 1/2 to go.
Both teams missed several shots after that until N'dea Jones made one of two free throws with just more than a minute left to extend the lead to 2.
A 3-pointer by Blockton put Marquette up 5 early in the fourth, before the Aggies got consecutive layups by Jones to start a 6-1 run that tied it at 63-63 with about 6 1/2 minutes left.
Marquette: Will have to have some young players step up next season if the Golden Eagles hope to continue their success with their five top scorers finishing their college careers on Sunday.
Texas A&M: The Aggies got a scare on Sunday, but know that with Carter they can be a dangerous team moving forward in the tournament.
STILL GOING STRONG
The 73-year-old Blair has been at A&M since 2003 and has led the Aggies to 14 straight tournament appearances, including seven Sweet 16s and a national title in 2011. He's been irked this season that he thinks people haven't given his team the respect he feels it deserves and it also ticks him off that people have wondered if it's time for him to retire.
All this made leading the Aggies to the Sweet 16 again even more special.
"It meant a lot," he said. "I'm tired of people second-guessing this team. I'm tired of people trying to figure out when I'm going to retire. If what I do and my staff does it as well as they do, why not let us keep coaching?"
THEY SAID IT
Washington on the difficulties of guarding Hiedeman: "It was a challenge but I'm used to guarding guards in the SEC and at the beginning of the year ... I had to guard Chennedy every day in practice so it was a little easier than guarding Chennedy."