Unfortunately for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, his Italian heritage doesn’t contain a tradition of the four-leaf clover, a lucky charm the Huskies could have used as they tried to beat Notre Dame for the fourth time this season.
But Sunday night, Connecticut couldn’t overcome the luck – and the hot shooting – of the Irish as Notre Dame prevailed.
The final score was 72-63, in a national semifinal of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament played at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
When Notre Dame upset No.1 seed Tennessee in the Dayton Regional final, many UConn watchers saw that as one less hurdle en route to the Huskies’ third straight national championship.
Oh sure, there wouldn’t be the pleasure of beating Tennessee, coached by Ms. Pat Summitt, who had cancelled the annual game with UConn four years ago and refused to say why publicly; but at least the Huskies would meet Stanford in the championship contest and reap some sweet revenge for the only blemish on Connecticut’s record over the past three seasons.
But that expected repeat of the Christmas week 2010 game would never take place, because in the first game of the national semifinals doubleheader Sunday night, another No.1 seed, Stanford, got bounced by Texas A&M. And that encouraged some Connecticut fans to start preparing for the victory parade in downtown Hartford.
Diggins had other plans
But Notre Dame’s sophomore guard Skylar Diggins, looking forward instead to a ticker tape parade in South Bend where she grew up, torched Connecticut for 28 points.
And she came up with the biggest steal of the game, curtailing the UConn momentum that had seen Maya Moore score a total of eight points on the previous three possessions. At that point, the Huskies were within three and turning the theft into a 67-60 lead with 1:35 to play.
By stealing the ball from Kelly Faris, Diggins never gave Moore a chance to use her hot hand to pull UConn to within two points and probably cause the Irish to believe that UConn was, indeed, unstoppable.
Instead, this key play put Notre Dame up by seven and gave them the confidence they could indeed dethrone the two-time defending champs.
As Agatha Christie, that great author of stylish mysteries might say (if she were referring to number-one seeds in the women’s tournament this year), “And Then There Were None.”
Perhaps the NCAA can bring back the so-called “Consolation Game” and let Stanford and Connecticut play as an undercard to the title tilt Tuesday night.
For it will be a pair of No.2 seeds, Notre Dame (31-7) and Texas A&M (32-5), slugging it out for the national title Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Both underdogs had to stage late-game rallies to overcome relatively big leads by the two top-ranked teams in the country.
Maya puts up a fight
When Connecticut (36-2) took a 32-26 lead at the half and then upped it to eight at 17:56, their largest lead of the game, it looked like another ho-hum laugher for the Huskies. Then Notre Dame, undaunted by the Connecticut mystique, called upon the Irish’s own long tradition of excellence and 12 minutes later had built a commanding 12-point lead.
But Maya Moore was not going to lose her final collegiate game without a fight!
The three-time Wooden Award winner – women’s basketball’s version of the Heisman Trophy – scored 13 straight points over the next three minutes to cut the Irish lead to 63-60 with 2:47 remaining.
And Maya’s run may very well have finished in the title game had it not been for that key steal by Diggins, which swung the momentum pendulum back to Notre Dame in the crucial closing minutes of the game.
And thus the Mayan Dynasty is no “moore” at Connecticut.
But at least she will have a couple of national championships to show for her four years in Storrs, not to mention a college degree earned with an excellent gpa of 3.8 – which is even higher than her scoring average of 22.8 (one of the few times that can be said about a collegiate basketball star, male or female).
A senior All-American at Stanford (33-3) who has made it to four Final Fours, Jeannette Pohlen will end her college career without a coveted national championship.
Adding injury to that four-time insult, the senior guard couldn’t even finish her final game on the floor. Instead, she sat in pain on the bench, having twisted her ankle with three seconds to play while trying in vain to stop A&M’s Tyra White from scoring the winning basket on a soft layup off the glass.
Pohlen could only watch in physical pain and emotional anguish as her teammates unsuccessfully tried a full-court Hail Mary in-bounds pass in a futile attempt to get the ball the full length of the court and score with only three seconds left in the game.
With less than a minute to play in the game, after Stanford had lost an 11-point second-half lead, thanks to a 19-8 late-game run by the Aggies, it looked like the team would extend its 27-game winning streak when junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who led Stanford with 31 points, made a layup with nine seconds to play to give her team a one-point lead.
But this game’s final minute, which saw five lead changes, was not over yet – Sydney Colson took the in-bounds pass and turned on the jets as she streaked the length of the court, playing beat the clock.
And when seemingly the entire Stanford team converged to stop her drive to the net, Colson dished a perfect bounce pass to White, who was cutting to the boards from the right wing.
White calmly flipped the ball in for what proved to be the winning basket when a Texas A&M defender intercepted Stanford’s desperation in-bounds pass.
The number 18 was key for Texas A&M on Sunday night: the team-high 18 points scored by White; and the tenacious Aggie defense and slow-down offense that held Stanford to 18 points below its scoring average for the season.
So now on Tuesday night, the country will get a chance to watch a couple of new teams in the women’s Championship Game.
Both teams got there by beating their conference champion to whom they had lost three times this season – Notre Dame over Big East champ Connecticut and Texas A&M over Big 12 champion Baylor in the Dallas Regional final.
As for the men’s game? See this video posted by UConn Today. Thousands of students were up early for a visit to Gampel by the Today Show.
For Notre Dame and Texas A&M, each of whom had to knock off two No.1 seeds to get to Tuesday’s tipoff at center court, the question will be: We know you can beat a number-one seed, but can you beat a number-two seed?
From this vantage point, it looks like the Irish don’t have the five-leaf clover they’d need to beat Texas A&M, so look for the Aggies to bring home the program’s first-ever national championship.
Posted April 4, 2011
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