INDIANAPOLIS (CBS/AP) – Stanford went home empty-handed from the Final Four for a fourth consecutive year after blowing a late lead against Texas A&M in a thrilling 63-62 game.
A&M’s defense was good enough to upset two No. 1 seeds. The Aggies will find out Tuesday night if it is good enough to win their first national championship.
Sydney Colson drove the length of the floor and found a cutting Tyra White for a layup with 3.3 seconds left to give the Aggies a victory Sunday over Stanford. The teams traded leads five times in the final minute, capping A&M’s remarkable rally from a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes.
And they’re not finished yet.
“It’s time to make history,” Colson said.
The Aggies (32-5) already have done that by punching a ticket to their first title game. Beat homestate favorite Notre Dame, a 72-63 upset winner over Connecticut, on Tuesday night and the Aggies (32-5) will have far more to celebrate in a year the program produced its first All-American, Danielle Adams, and broke through on the national stage by beating Baylor last week after three losses to the top-seeded Bears this season.
“Give credit,” coach Gary Blair said after winning his first semifinal game in two tries. “Defense will win for you.”
And Sunday’s comeback will not be soon forgotten.
When Stanford took a 54-44 lead with 6:01 to play, most people inside Conseco Fieldhouse assumed the Cardinal were heading to their third title game in four years.
The Aggies—and that oppressive defense—had other thoughts.
Stanford (33-3) managed only two more baskets the rest of the night, and A&M’s aggressive offensive moves got them back into the game.
The Cardinal just couldn’t stop the rally.
“I thought we played very well to get the lead,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We had to do some things that we don’t have to do all season long against anyone else.”
That was the plan all along.
The A&M players said they wanted to make Stanford uncomfortable and the Cardinal never looked more flustererd than in that frantic final minute.
Colson, who woozily went to the bench after a hard screen earlier in the half, gave Texas A&M a 59-58 lead by making two free throws with 53 seconds left.
Eighteen seconds later, Adams was called for a foul on Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike. The upset Adams got up and started running toward the Aggies bench, with one of the referees telling her to calm down. Ogwumike made both shots to give Stanford a 60-59 lead.
“It was hectic, you know,” Aggies guard Sydney Carter said.
“Everybody was saying 30 seconds for the rest of y’all’s lives.”
Turns out 30 seconds was still an eternity in this game.
A&M came back with White’s layup with 19 seconds to go, only to have Ogwumike answer with a tough layup of her own with 9 seconds left that gave Stanford a 62-61 lead.
The Aggies, without a timeout, immediately got the ball to Colson, who raced up the floor and dished to White for the winner.
White finished with 18 points, and a slow-starting Adams had 16 points to lead the Aggies.
The Cardinal were led by Ogwumike’s 31 points and Jeanette Pohlen had 11. Pohlen also hurt her ankle on the final play and had to be helped off the court before Stanford’s final play.
“It’s hard,” senior Kayla Pedersen said, who never won a title despite all those Final Four appearances. “I mean, it’s an awful feeling. The hardest part isn’t losing the game, it’s leaving these players.”
A&M dictated the tempo all night.
They held Stanford’s potent offense 18 points under its average, and forced them into 22 turnovers. Even being the first tourney team to top 50 points against Texas A&M in a game wasn’t enough Saturday.
Stanford got outscored 19-8 over the final stretch. Carter had 14 points for the Aggies, giving them three players in double figures.
Stanford tried to counter the Aggies’ pressure defense by throwing the ball over the top to Ogwumike.
It worked for a while, but A&M’s athletes kept extending the defense and made things tougher for the Cardinal.
“They are extremely athletic. They play extremely hard,” VanDerveer said. “They get the loose balls. … It came down to one play. They had two three-point plays when we were up 10.”
And that was enough to start the Aggies comeback.
“You don’t realize how hard it is to run a ballclub when there’s a great defense, when they’re taking away certain options,” Blair said.
Stanford spent the rest of the game looking for cracks and crevasses in the Aggies’ defense, finding few openings and even fewer opportunities to thwart the rally.
Texas A&M took advantage, and with the Cardinal out of position on the final A&M possession, Colson and White made them pay.
“I knew coach was going to give me the ball, and I knew I had to score,” White said.
When she did, all the Aggies needed was one more defensive stop – and Carter sealed it by intercepting the baseball pass that sent Texas A&M players jumping for joy.
“It just shows our competitiveness, our aggressiveness,” White said. “We wasn’t just happy to be here.”
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