Texas A&M hands Stanford yet another Final Four disappointment
INDIANAPOLIS -- If women's basketball wanted new blood, it's got it now.
Indianapolis turned into Upset City on Sunday night.
Notre Dame knocked off mighty UConn. But the real party-crasher is Texas A&M, a school that didn't even admit women just half a century ago and has never been to the Final Four until this week. Now it will play for the women's national championship on Tuesday night, in the 30th anniversary of the NCAA title game.
Texas A&M pulled off a stunning upset of Stanford in the early game on Sunday night. The Aggies overcame a late-game 10-point deficit to knock off vastly experienced Cardinal team, 63-62.
"We could've laid down and folded when we were down by 10," guard Sydney Colson said. "But it wasn't time to give in."
Texas A&M -- despite a lack of seasoning -- has gained a reputation as giant killers in this postseason run. The Aggies beat top seed Baylor -- and its star Brittney Griner -- in the Dallas Regional final, before upending Stanford.
Bringing a physical and ferocious defense, Texas A&M pestered Stanford into a season-high 22 turnovers. The Aggies were relentless at both ends of the floor. In the game's wild finish, the lead changed hands five times in the final 53 seconds.
"This is what women's basketball needs ... games like this to be able to wake up America," said A&M coach Gary Blair.
For Stanford, the outcome was a bitter pill. The Cardinal -- playing in its fourth consecutive Final Four -- was widely picked as a favorite to win the championship this year. Seniors Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen led a skilled, tournament-hardened cast, highlighted by the dazzling presence of sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike. This seemed like the team that could finally bring Stanford its first championship in a generation.
But this Stanford run ended as so many before them have, in frustration and with some tears. The faces in uniform change, the details alter, but the ending remains stubbornly the same. Stanford last won a title in 1992; since then the Cardinal has been to seven Final Fours and come away empty each time.
Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer will be announced Monday morning as a member of the 2011 class of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But the honor will feel hollow in the wake of the yet another Final Four loss.
"It's not about me," VanDerveer said. "It's about them. I can have another chance but I feel bad for Jeanette and Kayla."
Pohlen sprained her ankle in a scrum on the final play of the game, a layup by Tyra White with 3.3 seconds left. Pohlen watched from the bench as her collegiate career ended when a desperation inbounds pass ended up in the Aggies' hands.
"We knew they were an aggressive team and it's hard to simulate that in practice," Pohlen said. "I felt like we could've done a much better job of taking care of the ball in the beginning of the game, when we really needed to show our presence and poise. I didn't really handle that as well as I could have."
Many of Stanford's 22 turnovers were unforced errors. Stanford simply tossed the ball away.
When it became clear that both Lindy LaRocque and freshman Toni Kokenis were overmatched by the pace of the game, VanDerveer put in fifth-year senior Melanie Murphy, whose quickness helped the Cardinal compete.
"She's what kept us in the game," VanDerveer said.
But Murphy fouled out chasing a loose ball, sending Colson to the line where she gave the Aggies their first lead since 3:23 remained in the first half.
A few plays before that, Chiney Ogwumike had fouled out, after a game in which she showed freshman nerves, and struggled with foul trouble. Her final foul gave Texas A&M a three-point play -- the second of two that sliced the Aggies' deficit in the final moments.
"We were never comfortable with our lead, when it was eight points, seven points," said Ogwumike.
Ogwumike was openly weeping in the locker room, while her teammates bore their loss more stoically. After all, most of them had already been through the experience, more than once.
Nneka Ogwumike looked like she would almost single-handedly win the game, scoring 31 points. A&M's All-American post player Danielle Adams couldn't contend with Ogwumike's quickness and size.
"She's a tremendous player," Adams said. "I just tried to contain her."
But Stanford needed more than just one player to carry them into the national championship game.
In contrast, Texas A&M shared the load, with three players in double figures: Sydney Carter with 14 points, Adams with 16 and White with 18 points. White scored the team's final four points, on two layups that Stanford failed to stop.
"We just really needed one more stop," VanDerveer said.
They didn't get it. And when the buzzer sounded, the Aggies players leapt in the air and screamed.
New blood on the rise.