Colson, Carter look to contain Diggins
Texas A&M's Sydney Colson talks about the challenge of defending Notre Dame and her partnership in the backcourt with Sydney Carter.
INDIANAPOLIS -- There are times when it seems no two humans on the planet communicate quite so close to telepathically as Texas A&M's Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter. Certainly no two people who share a backcourt.
Carter and Colson don't need words to orchestrate the kind of defensive effort that has frustrated a long list of the best guards in college basketball and helped land Texas A&M in its first national championship game. That is not, however, to suggest the duo is completely immune to the power of verbal communication.
Fittingly for a school whose official mascot is Reveille, a collie, these Aggies sometimes offer bark to go with their bite.
"They have like a dog bark -- you'd probably have to tell them to do it for you," teammate Tyra White said in trying to explain the pair's chemistry but finding herself at a loss for words to explain this particular bond.
And indeed, when asked, Colson obliged by demonstrating a full-throated, two-syllable bark of approval.
"Just showing her that she's got that dog in her, that fight in her," Colson added by way of explanation of its use. "You see that in [Carter] the whole game. She's a tenacious little tiger. She's so ferocious on defense; she makes so many plays for us that are so key. I can't help but be excited when I'm on the floor with her -- some of the time, stuff comes out of my mouth that I'm not even expecting, but I'm just so happy that she's doing what she's doing."
It was too loud in Conseco Fieldhouse during Sunday's semifinals to hear much of anything from the players on the court, but in engineering a startling comeback and upset, Carter and Colson effectively chased the Cardinal up that school's famous Tree. Texas A&M faced all it could handle in the paint and then some, but Stanford All-American Nnemkadi Ogwumike's 31 points notwithstanding, that advantage didn't win the day because the Pac-10 champion had so much trouble getting the ball anywhere close to the post in the first place, committing a season-high 22 turnovers and ultimately attempting 19 fewer shots than the Aggies (a disparity only marginally offset at the free throw line).
Carter and Colson finished with six steals between them. Stanford point guard Jeanette Pohlen and reserve point guard Melanie Murphy finished with 12 turnovers between them.
"Both of them, obviously, are great defenders," Aggies associate coach and defensive coordinator Vic Schaefer said of his backcourt. "When they get to feeling it, smelling it -- whether you want to call it blood in the water or whatever, they have an aggression to them that's pretty special. It's just not something you see a lot at this level."
I think their guards are really good; I think this might be the best defensive team we've seen. This group, they can rotate people on her. They've got a lot of different people who can guard her. I think she'll be able to handle the pressure because I think she's got good composure and she'll get some help. But yeah, that's going to be a tough matchup.” -- Irish coach Muffet McGraw on A&M's defense against Skylar Diggins
This is the fate that at times this season befuddled standout guards like Duke's Jasmine Thomas (5-of-15 shooting, seven turnovers), Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson (8-of-18 shooting, five turnovers), Baylor's Odyssey Sims (0-of-6 shooting in a regional final) and Pohlen. And it's the challenge awaiting Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins, the All-American conductor of an offense Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma described as "an impossible team to play defense against" before and after his team failed to do just that in Sunday's other semifinal.
Diggins has been simply brilliant in controlling games in the tournament, most notably back-to-back wins against No. 1 seeds Tennessee and Connecticut. And the sophomore has faced aggressive defenses, notably Connecticut, UCLA, Georgetown and West Virginia, all of which ranked in the top 35 in the nation in steals per game.
She still hasn't faced this.
"I think their guards are really good; I think this might be the best defensive team we've seen," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think everybody has good defenders, and they usually put them on Skylar. She's played against taller people and quick people and just pretty much everything in between. But I think this group, they can rotate people on her. They've got a lot of different people who can guard her. I think she'll be able to handle the pressure because I think she's got good composure and she'll get some help.
"But yeah, that's going to be a tough matchup."
As with just about any team that finds itself in position to win a championship, Texas A&M also finds itself at the confluence of some fortunate timing. It added offensive go-to player Danielle Adams two years ago from the junior college ranks. It landed fellow defensive stopper par excellence Tyra White because the redshirt junior chose Texas A&M after she originally picked LSU before former coach Pokey Chatman's exit. But at least as important to the team's current position is the time Colson and Carter had to develop into such a collective headache for opponents.
Now a junior, Carter was already a defensive stalwart coming out of high school in the Dallas area. But in addition to having to wade through injuries that have at times limited her minutes and reined in her full array of skills over the past four seasons, Colson had to learn to embrace the part of the game that comes between the offensive possessions she spearheads. Just how far she has come was evident in the regional final against Baylor.
"Colson has been sporadic, at times, defensively, but she asked for Odyssey Sims in the Elite Eight," Schaefer said. "She wanted to defend her. And I gave her to her, which typically I don't put her on a really good offensive player for a whole game. Now I'll spot her [on a good offensive player] because she's good. Sydney's got the ability to strip you at half court and go down and lay it in. So you can't take that part of her game away by hiding her over on the wing."
On her own, Carter would be a tenacious, if undersized, one-on-one defender. Likewise, Colson alone would be an opportunistic ball hawk with the ability to lock down an opponent. Each would be good, but each would have at least some measure of liability. But together, as they are at almost all times on the court these days, they loom large on the scouting report.
"We definitely have that defensive chemistry that we probably don't have with a couple other of our teammates, even though we do have really good team defense," Carter said. "When you put our two energies together, it's one big burst of -- I don't even know how to explain it. But it's just we're such balls of fire out there and we're so energetic on the ball and we try to make people as uncomfortable as possible. And it just helps that we have two people on the team who can do that."
Not to mention two people who can simultaneously motivate and amuse their teammates. As White explained, it's impossible for the other players on the court to let even a pass to the wing go unchallenged when they see Carter or Colson expending so much energy on the ball. The two guards feed off each other, but the whole team feeds off them. Of course, with the pressure of a national final at hand, it doesn't hurt that the whole team can also shake a collective head and chuckle.
"Oh my god, they do so many goofy noises," senior Maryann Baker said. "Y'all should watch, before the game we do our little warm-up thing and they do a chest bump in the air and they do some sort of squeal, I don't even know. They just make up new things every single game to get themselves fired up, They're that goofy that they can do anything and it will get them pumped up more than you could ever think. So yeah, barking doesn't surprise me."
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.