April 05, 2011
If the absence of traditional powers UConn, Tennessee and Stanford caused would-be viewers not to watch Tuesday's women's national title game, those folks should be kicking themselves right now.
They missed a heck of a game.
Upstarts Texas A&M and Notre Dame waged a back-and-forth battle that had all the drama and shot-making the lackluster men's title game lacked 24 hours earlier. In the end, the second-seeded Aggies held off the Irish 76-70, parlaying their relentless pressure defense and superior interior scoring into their first championship in program history.
It's difficult to pinpoint one hero for Texas A&M because so many players combined to bring the title to a school that didn't even admit women until 1963.
All-American center Danielle Adams scored 22 of her game-high 30 points in the second half, scoring the bucket that broke a 66-all tie on a put-back and continuously exploiting her size advantage on the low block.
Guard Tyra White added 18 points for the Aggies, none bigger than her 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer that extended Texas A&M's lead to 73-68 with 1:07 left.
And guard Sydney Colson bounced back from first-half foul trouble to serve as the catalyst for a second-half defensive surge that helped the Aggies rally back from a seven-point deficit and take control late in the game.
When coach Gary Blair left Arkansas in 2003 to come to Texas A&M, his first Aggies team went 9-19 overall, 2-14 in the Big 12, and showed little hope of ever becoming competitive at the national level. Blair has gradually built Texas A&M into a power since then, taking the Aggies to six straight NCAA tournaments and finally breaking through this spring with the program's first 30-win season and first trip to the Final Four.
As the Aggies hugged and cried tears of joy amid the falling confetti on Tuesday night, the Irish walked off the court lamenting a missed opportunity. Notre Dame toppled No. 1 seeds Tennessee and UConn in back-to-back games to advance to the national title game for the first time in 10 years, but the Irish ran out of magic on Tuesday night.
After star point guard Skylar Diggins capped a 9-2 Notre Dame run with a jumper in the lane that tied the game at 66 with four minutes to go, the Irish scored just one more field goal the rest of the way. Diggins scored a team-high 23 points on 7-for-19 shooting in a losing effort and teammate Devereaux Peters had 21.
In the buildup leading up to Tuesday's title game, the primary question was whether some new blood could help women's basketball in the long run. Either Tennessee or UConn had captured 12 of the previous 16 national titles, creating a fierce rivalry yet also a sense of predictability that hindered the growth of the sport.
It remains to be seen how Tuesday's game fared TV ratings-wise, but one thing is certain: Those who did tune in witnessed a high-quality game between two up-and-coming programs likely to be heard from again.