Aggies show they have stuff of champs
The Little Team That Could now can call itself a Texas-sized champion.
Despite receiving a No. 2 seed in the NCAA women’s tournament, Texas A&M was viewed as one of the least likely teams to hoist the championship trophy in a Final Four full of marquee names and legendary coaches.
Yet in Tuesday’s 76-70 victory over Notre Dame, the Aggies defied expectations to win their first NCAA championship, and seemed to thrive when coming from behind rather than when holding a lead.
Danielle Adams scored 22 of her 30 points in a back-and-forth second half, fighting her way through the paint to carry the team on her broad shoulders.
“I wouldn’t let my team lose,” said Adams, the Aggies’ first All-American, whose 30 points were the second-most in championship game history. “They’ve been doing everything for me, so I decided to take them on my back.”
Instead of playing on a neutral court, A&M won a national championship game that became a road contest. The Conseco Fieldhouse crowd was mostly adorned in green apparel, rooting for the home state Fighting Irish.
And that’s just how the Aggies like it. They battled the odds and won, just as they did against Baylor in the regional final after losing to the Lady Bears three times during the season.
“Everybody saw how tough our kids are,” said A&M assistant coach Vic Shaefer, whose nickname is “the Secretary of Defense.” “We had written on the board ‘perseverance’ and ‘toughness.’
“That’s who our kids are.”
Both teams had to beat two top seeds just to get this far. It was the first final without a No. 1 since 1994 and just the second overall. But it did not disappoint.
A&M started out using its relentless defense to put the Fighting Irish on the ropes. The Aggies forced Irish coach Muffet McGraw’s squad into six turnovers in the first five minutes and opened a 13-point lead.
But with senior guard Sydney Colson’s three fouls limiting her to 10 of the first 20 minutes, as well as Notre Dame answering with defense of its own, the Irish chipped away and took a two-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
But Adams’ monster second half, plus further heroism from Tyra White, finished off the Irish.
With more than a minute left and A&M clinging to a two-point lead, Notre Dame couldn’t grab a rebound off an Adams miss with two seconds remaining on the shot clock. The inbounds play was called to get the ball to Adams, who was triple-teamed.
White, the same junior guard who hit the game-winning layup against Stanford, sank a three-pointer that McGraw called “a knife right in my heart.”
White sunk two free throws with 19 seconds left to put the game out of reach. She finished with 18 points.
The Aggies turned the ball over more, were outscored in the paint and shot worse from the line (16-23) than Notre Dame (20-26).
But Notre Dame (31-8) was held to 36.7 percent from the floor in the second half as standout guard Skylar Diggins finished with 23 points on 7-of-19 shooting.
She also was forced into a team-high six turnovers as she and forward Devereaux Peters (21 points, 11 rebounds) tried to fend off an A&M defense that found its rhythm again in the second half.
''We turned it over too much. I don't know if it was nerves or what,'' an emotional Diggins said. ''We just didn't handle the pressure.''
The Aggies (33-5) rode a relentless defense that didn't allow more than 50 points until Stanford scored 62 in the semifinals. That night, a layup with 3.3 seconds left was enough to lift the Aggies over the top-seeded Cardinal.
This night, they needed a finishing kick worthy of the big-time schools that usually star on this stage.
“We found a way,” Blair said.