Notre Dame, A&M deliver Final Four upsets
INDIANAPOLIS -- The women's basketball world was knocked off its axis Sunday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Texas A&M and Notre Dame are playing for the national championship game Tuesday night, and that can't be the ending that very many people saw coming. The Aggies and the Irish took perennial powers (and No. 1 seeds) Stanford and Connecticut - - the two premier programs in the country over the past few years -- and unceremoniously showed them the exit.
Connecticut will not win a third straight title. Maya Moore will not finish her remarkable career with a victory celebration. Stanford's seniors will not make good on a fourth trip to the Final Four by winning a title for their Hall of Fame-bound coach, Tara VanDerveer.
And for the first time since 1994, there will not be a No. 1 seed in the women's title game.
"I think what happened is what happens in all -- not all -- what happens in a lot of NCAA tournaments. The team that plays better that night wins," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "Not the team that everybody puts on the board that is supposed to win.
"I think what people have to understand is nothing's a given. You play really well, and you get a chance to win. You don't play well, you lose. I don't care whether you're a No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed, the best player, not the best player, it doesn't matter."
Auriemma smiled a wry smile and shook his head in the final seconds of his team's 72-63 loss to Notre Dame. Cheerleaders cried. Husky fans, including former superstar Diana Taurasi, stood and watched the closing minute, stunned.
Connecticut was unable to beat Notre Dame for a fourth time this season, in the same way that another Final Four favorite, Baylor, was unable to pin a fourth loss on its conference foe, Texas A&M.
The fourth time has been quite a charm for the Aggies and the Irish. Texas A&M will be in the championship game for the first time ever; Notre Dame for the second time, having won the title back in 2001. That hardly qualifies as same-old, same-old.
Notre Dame has made Indiana a very happy state. First, on Monday night, Butler will play for the men's national title, and then the Irish on Tuesday for the women's trophy.
Notre Dame, down 32-26 at the half, got a huge performance from sophomore guard Skylar Diggins (28 points) and supported her by shooting nearly 56 percent from the floor in the second half. They out-rebounded Connecticut 39-27. They couldn't hold down Moore -- who finished with 36 points -- but held the rest of the Huskies lineup to the tune of 11 field goals.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, continued its giant-killing streak. First, it was Baylor in the Elite Eight and then a Cardinal team that many thought had all the tools to win VanDerveer's first national title since 1992. The Aggies took down Stanford with an aggressive defensive plan, forcing 22 turnovers. They came back from a 10-point deficit with barely six minutes on the clock. They hit big shots late, including two lay-ups by Tyra White in the final 19 seconds.
The Aggies made the nation's most efficient offensive team very, very uncomfortable. Not unlike the feeling the some women's basketball fans around the country might experience trying to wrap their brains around a title game that lacks for marquee names, but not for intrigue.
"This is what women's basketball needs," A&M coach Gary Blair said. "It needs regional final games and semifinal games and games like this to be able to sometimes wake up America, to be able to give us credit, where credit is due."
Credit is indeed due to two upstart teams who have played well when it counted the most.