COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The Texas A&M Aggies think that defending a national championship should create incentive, not pressure.
Tyra White scored 22 points, Sydney Carter added 14, and Adaora Elonu had 11 points and eight rebounds to lead the Aggies to an opening 83-58 win over Lamar on Saturday night.
White, Carter and Elonu are the three of 10 returning players from the team that went 33-5 last year in winning the program's first NCAA title. They've all talked about handling the increased attention that comes with becoming a champion, and they've adopted the mindset that it should only sharpen their focus this year.
"You know that every team is going to come out and give you their best," Carter said. "No team is going to be scared to play us. It's not going to scare them that we have a national championship ring on our finger.
"It's more motivation for us to keep playing hard and keep showing people that, just because we lost some key players, we can still play well and still get those runs that we had last year and still have that balance on the floor."
Based on the opener, A&M coach Gary Blair thinks his team has a long way to go before being championship-caliber again. The No. 6 Aggies (1-0) shot 47.5 percent from the field (29 of 61), outrebounded their smaller opponents 42-35 and generated 34 points off 28 Lamar turnovers.
But A&M also coughed up 22 turnovers, many of them unforced, and Blair thought the rebound margin should've been much wider.
"I've got to teach better in practice, and these kids play better in practice," Blair said. "What we've got to do is be able to get them relaxed and execute better in the game."
The Aggies were simply bigger and more talented than the Lady Cardinals (1-1), who shot 35 percent from the field (20 of 57) and went 1 for 9 from 3-point range. Kalis Loyd led Lamar with 20 points.
"We came in here and fought as hard as we could," Lamar coach Larry Tidwell said. "This is a hard game for us. You're playing the sixth-ranked team in the country, and deservedly so."
The Aggies led by 24 at halftime and by as many as 30 in the second half. They'll get stiffer tests soon enough.
Last year's championship team will get its rings and unveil its banner Tuesday before a nationally televised game against No. 9 Louisville. The nonconference slate also includes road matchups with Purdue (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) on Dec. 4 and No. 4 Connecticut (Dec. 6), and a pair of Big 12 showdowns with top-ranked Baylor loom in February.
Blair is counting on his team improving as much as the competition does.
"We're going to schedule hard," Blair said. "I want everybody's best game, because if they give me their best game, then our kids will respond. There is not going to be a mail-in score, or something like that."
For a few minutes, A&M looked like it might be in for a challenge on Saturday night.
The Aggies committed three turnovers in the first two minutes, and the speedy Lady Cardinals took a 9-4 lead. Karla Gilbert, a 6-foot-5 sophomore center, scored in the lane and Carter finished a fast break and sank A&M's first 3-pointer of the season to start the decisive 24-2 spurt.
A&M's smothering, full-court defense forced five turnovers in a 4-minute span, and Carter's pull-up jumper put the Aggies up 28-11 midway through the first half.
The margin swelled to 28 points in the final minutes of the half, as the Aggies used their height advantage underneath to dominate the boards and score easy baskets from close range.
"I think we did a good job in the first half of taking smart shots," Carter said. "We could definitely cut down on the turnovers -- 22 is way too many, for this team, at least. Overall, I think we did a good job. We did a lot of good things, and we saw some things we need to work on, as well."
The Lady Cardinals finished the half with twice as many turnovers (16) as they had field goals (8). White had 13 points, Carter had 12 and Elonu had seven rebounds at the break for A&M.
A&M led by no fewer than 18 through the first 10 minutes of the second half. Blair started pulling his starters with about five minutes left and his team leading 77-51.
The Aggies improved to 19-3 in home openers at Reed Arena, and they're 83-8 at home over the past six seasons. They've won 44 consecutive nonconference home games since a loss to Houston in December 2003.