Mon Apr 04 12:45am EDT
If there's still interest in a rematch between two-time defending national champion UConn and the Stanford team that handed the Huskies their lone regular-season loss, perhaps the NCAA can quickly arrange a third-place game.
First, Texas A&M overcame a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes to stun top-seeded Stanford, 63-62, and secure its first-ever appearance in the national title game. Then Notre Dame joined the Aggies by surviving a furious UConn rally to clinch a 72-63 victory in the fourth meeting of the season between the two Big East rivals.
As a result, Connecticut will not win a third straight title, three-time national player of the year Maya Moore's career ends in defeat and women's basketball will have a champion besides UConn or Tennessee for just the fifth time in the last 17 years.
"This is what women's basketball needs," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair told reporters Sunday. "It needs regional final games and semifinal games and final games like this to be able to sometimes wake up America."
If a pair of No. 2 seeds toppling No. 1s don't seem like staggering upsets, consider that the gap between the top tier and second tier in women's basketball can often seem more like a chasm.
Stanford (33-3) was playing in its fourth straight Final Four, had lost to the eventual national champion in each of the past three and had rolled to an undefeated Pac-10 season with relative ease. UConn (36-2) had won the national title two straight seasons, boasted Moore and a young but talented and ever-improving supporting cast and crushed second-seeded Duke by 35 points in Tuesday night's regional title game.
It's probably Notre Dame's upset that was the more unlikely one simply because it came against a UConn team that had defeated the Irish three times already this season. The Huskies showed their youth for one of the few times all season, struggling to find sources of offense besides Moore in the second half and failing to contain Notre Dame's guards off the dribble the entire game.
Dynamic Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins had 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting and teammate Natalie Novosel scored 22 including several key buckets during a 15-4 second-half run that helped the Irish seize control of the game. Moore had 36 points and singlehandedly launched an 8-0 counterattack, and helped UConn trim a 12-point deficit to three with 2:27 left, but the Huskies could get no closer.
Whereas Notre Dame's shocking victory was all about guard play, Texas A&M pulled its stunner with timely offense and stifling defense.
Stanford never got used to the rugged physicality of Texas A&M's pressure defense, committing 22 turnovers, including a combined 12 from point guards Jeanette Pohlen and Melanie Murphy. Nneka Ogwumike's go-ahead layup with nine seconds left still almost won the game for the Cardinal, but Sidney Colson drove the length of the floor in transition and found Tyra White, who converted the game-winning layup with 3.3 seconds remaining.
"I figured she was going to pass me the ball," said White, who finished with 18 points, including the Aggies' final two baskets. "When she passed it to me, I just heard coach Blair's voice in my head saying pin the ball. So that's what I did. I thought the time was up, but it was like three seconds left."
The victories by Texas A&M and Notre Dame set up an intriguing and unexpected title game matchup. It will be the Aggies' relentless defense against the brilliant Irish backcourt.
One of the major complaints about women's college basketball has always been how predictable it is each season. For one unlikely evening in early April, Texas A&M and Notre Dame provided the antidote.