Texas A&M women crash Final Four
Texas A&M knows what everyone is thinking.
Despite losing just five games all season and receiving a No. 2 seed in the Dallas region, people still are wondering who the heck invited them to the women's Final Four party.
"It fuels us a little bit that everybody sees us as an underdog," said junior guard Sydney Carter. "A lot of people are asking, do we think we're a Cinderella story? We've earned our way through this tournament."
In a field that includes former champions Connecticut, Stanford and Notre Dame, the Aggies' make no apologies for being on the guest list.
In fact, they think they have the formula to crash this party and take home the big prize: Define the tempo, play with emotion and, most of all, always play a stifling defense.
"We're going to present a different style," said A&M coach Gary Blair. "When you come down, we want it to be hard for you to run your offense. We're not going to play 'hope you miss' defense, we're going to play 'make you miss.'"
They open the Final Four play Sunday night against Stanford, with the two Big East rivals meeting in the second game.
Texas A&M has held its four tourney opponents to a mere 45 points per game. That includes Baylor and its star 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner. After losing three meetings against the Lady Bears, the Aggies stifled Griner in the Elite Eight, forcing her into four turnovers and holding her to just 6-of-18 shooting.
Opponents fear the Aggies' offense as well. They're led by senior F/C Danielle Adams, a versatile All-American. Standing at 6-1, she can either use her toughness and bulk inside or she can step back and do damage from behind the arc.
She hit 41 3-pointers this year and averaged 22.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Teammates praised Adams for her improved conditioning after Blair asked her to lose weight.
Though Adams disappeared against Baylor, she'll be the focal point for Stanford.
"We'll be a little bit more aggressive on keeping the ball out of her hands," said Stanford junior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike. "When the ball is in her hands, it's an automatic two or three points."
Adams is joined by the guard duo that's known as the two Sydneys — the 5-6 Carter, whose 22 points led the Aggies against the Lady Bears and 5-8 senior Colson, the team leader in assists and steals.
"A lot of things really impress me about them. I think it's more intangibles," said Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer. "With their game against Baylor . . . they just said, 'we're not taking it anymore.'"
Facing a Stanford team making its fourth-straight appearance in the Final Four, the Aggies will have to tap the same emotion Carter said they used against Baylor.
They'll be challenged by a talented Cardinal team led by Ogwumike and her sister Chiney, and coached by VanDerveer, a Hall of Fame nominee this year.
But Texas A&M can counter with a coaching legend of its own in Blair, who created winning programs at Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas before transforming the floundering Aggies into contenders.
He'll continue to motivate the squad with speeches like the one before the Baylor game.
"The first thing I told them at the American Airlines Center [was] 'Do not get off of this bus unless you expect to win. Want-tos and could-haves and should-haves, that's not going to cut it at this level.'"