INDIANAPOLIS — After long stretches of frustration in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, Danielle Adams would not be denied with a championship tantalizingly close.
Neither would Texas A&M, the second seed that dreamed of greater things and seized the moment.
In the most important game of their lives on the biggest stage, the Aggies delivered the school its first national basketball title with a 76-70 victory Tuesday night over Notre Dame.
As they had for five previous games in the tournament, the Aggies (33-5) hugged and danced. Then, they assembled on a raised stage at Conseco Fieldhouse to hoist the NCAA trophy amongst the confetti.
They even coaxed coach Gary Blair, the Dallas native who jump-started a program that had endured seven straight losing seasons when he arrived from Arkansas in 2003, into a few forgettable dance moves.
The Aggies’ effort was anything but.
“Me and my team couldn’t let our seniors leave without winning a national championship,” junior forward Tyra White said.
Adams pounded inside for 30 points and nine rebounds and showed the dominant game that made her an All-American. She claimed the most outstanding player of the Final Four and was joined by White on the all-tournament team.
“I had a little voice in my head that said, ‘Don’t let this team down,’ ” said Adams, who scored 22 points in the second half on 9-of-11 shooting. “We worked hard the whole season to prepare for this point.”
Said Notre Dame’s Devereaux Peters: “We couldn’t guard her.”
White, nicknamed the team’s “Silent Assassin,” provided the key basket like she had in the semifinal win over Stanford. As the shot clock expired, she connected on a backbreaking 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining to give the Aggies a five-point lead.
“That was a knife right in my heart,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
A Sydney Colson turnover gave the Irish possession down three, 73-70, with 29 seconds left. A&M forced a turnover with White coming up with the steal. Two free throws later, the A&M lead was five.
While Notre Dame (31-8) got 23 points from star guard Skylar Diggins, A&M’s defense made her work for her points. She shot just 7-of-19 from the field.
In a game of major momentum changes, the Aggies led by 13 in the first half and trailed by seven early in the second half before slowly, surely, inexorably taking command.
A&M had already beaten two No. 1 seeds and might as well been playing another in Notre Dame, which had upset two-time defending champion UConn in the semifinals.
Conseco Fieldhouse might as well been in the shadow of the Golden Dome. About three-fourths of the crowd of 17,473 seemed to be wearing Irish green.
At the end, Adams outdueled Diggins in a battle of All-Americans.
Adams came to A&M before the 2009-10 season as junior college All-American with conditioning issues. Now 40 pounds lighter, she took A&M to the top. At 6-1, she had battled bigger defenders throughout the tournament and struggled.
On the A&M official website before the Final Four, she said the Aggies would bring home the NCAA trophy to their fans. Then she delivered, helping A&M shoot 68 percent in the second half. She broke a 66-66 tie with consecutive inside baskets.
“I predicted it,” Adams said.
(c) 2011, The Dallas Morning News.
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