- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A look at Texas A&M's 76-70 victory over Notre Dame to win the 2011 national championship Tuesday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: In a game so close the entire way, it came down to who made the biggest plays late -- and that was Texas A&M. Two big baskets from Danielle Adams -- one with 3 minutes, 28 seconds left and the other with 2:38 remaining -- gave the Aggies the lead for good. But the biggest shot of the night came from Tyra White with 1:04 left. With the shot clock down to two seconds, she took an inbounds pass from Sydney Colson on the left wing and drilled the jumper as the clock hit zero. It pushed the lead to five and Notre Dame had no final answer.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Texas A&M's White. That big shot and the game winner against Stanford cement White's place in Texas A&M sports history. The Aggies made only two 3-pointers all night, but the most important shot of the game was a 3 from White. She finished with 18 points and missed only two shots from the field (7-for-9). White, the Aggies' most versatile player, also spent time guarding Irish post players as well as perimeter players Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel.
PLAYER OF THE GAME II: Texas A&M's Adams. Texas A&M needed her to come through in the second half and Adams did just that. She scored 22 of her 30 points after halftime, and in addition to making those two buckets in the post down the stretch, Adams also had a big block on Becca Bruszewski in between the key field goals. Adams was named the most outstanding player.
PLAYER OF THE GAME III: Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters. She was outstanding executing Notre Dame's pick-and-roll all night. That's where she got most of her 21 points. Diggins-to-Peters was Notre Dame's bread-and-butter play the entire game. Not one of Peters' 10 shots came outside of 3 feet and she hit eight of them. She also finished with 11 rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE GAME IV: Notre Dame's Diggins. Still Notre Dame's go-to player, Diggins didn't have her best shooting night (7-of-19) and committed six turnovers. Still, the Irish wouldn't have gotten back into the game in the first half (taking a 35-33 halftime lead) without her. She directed everything they did all night. Even triggering the defense, Diggins made life for Sydney Carter and Sydney Colson as difficult as they made it for her.
TURNING POINT: Those two late shots from Adams were huge. They came after a series of mini-runs, the last of which was a 9-2 Notre Dame spurt. Adams' first bucket, a rebound off a Colson miss, broke a 66-66 tie. Adams' second, where she split a double-team and banked it off glass, put the Aggies up four and put all the pressure on Notre Dame.
TURNING POINT II: Although the Aggies already had the lead, White's shot just can't be diminished. It provided what looked like at the time -- and turned out to be -- an insurmountable five-point lead. But even more impressive was the shot's degree of difficulty. She couldn't hesitate because of the shot clock running down. She also had one of Diggins' hands in her face, but White's line-drive shot found the bottom of the net.
STAT OF THE GAME : The Aggies took a page from the Notre Dame book and shot a staggering 68.2 percent in the second half. They also held the Irish to 36.7 percent shooting after halftime, following a first half in which Notre Dame made 13 of its 22 shots (59 percent).
STAT OF THE GAME II: The second half began as a foul-fest. Both teams hit seven team fouls (14 total whistles) just 7:10 in. Amazingly, Colson, who was in foul trouble the entire game and had three in the first half, wasn't one of the two players to foul out (Carter and Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa). Even more amazing was the fact that in a game with so many fouls (all five A&M starters finished with at least three), Diggins did not commit a single infraction.
FUNNY MOMENT: During a media timeout with less than 12 minutes to play, A&M coach Gary Blair was being interviewed by ESPN's Rebecca Lobo. He spent so much time answering the question that the game, and two Brittany Mallory free throws, had to be delayed while he finished on the other end of the court. The A&M fans booed, but shouldn't they know their talkative coach better than that?
FINAL X FACTOR: In a wildly intense, back-and-forth game, Texas A&M just made more clutch plays. That will be the theme of the Final Four for the Aggies; it was the same way in the semifinal against Stanford. When a basket needed to be made, Texas A&M delivered. White did the honors in both games, hitting huge shots in huge moments. She also knocked away the ball from Diggins with 19 seconds left as the Notre Dame point guard was trying to get off a 3-pointer and re-establish a one-possession game. Instead, White got her hand on the ball, gathered it in and made two free throws at the other end, the final nail in the coffin for the Irish.
In truth, A&M made big shots the entire second half. The Aggies missed only seven in the final 20 minutes and even that was just barely enough to beat Notre Dame, which wouldn't go away. The ultimate individual difference was Adams. Without a truly long defender on Notre Dame, Adams had more freedom on the low block. When her teammates made a better effort to look for her in the second half, she dominated.
First-half analysis: Notre Dame 35, Texas A&M 33
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: Notre Dame got the lead late simply by hanging in there. The start was bad for the offense with early turnovers. The middle was not good for the defense. The Irish couldn't seem to get a stop. But just past the midway point, Notre Dame upped its defense and did a better job on the boards, which allowed the scorers to do something. Offensive efficiency then took over and the Irish finished the first half on a 19-4 run while shooting 59.1 percent over the first 20 minutes. Their reputation of being good finishers delivered in the final eight minutes.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Texas A&M's Danielle Adams. At least early. She firmly established herself early with four quick points and two monster screens that led to A&M's other two baskets. The Aggies went away from using her in the low post for the middle part of the first half and that's when things began to go Notre Dame's way. Adams has eight points, but missed seven of her final nine shots.
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins. She turned it over early more than the Irish would have liked and didn't dominate in the first half the way she has the past two games, but Diggins eventually established herself as the best player on the floor. She has eight points, but did it with just six shots and was instrumental in getting the ball down low to Devereaux Peters, who leads Notre Dame with 10.
PLAYER OF THE HALF III: Texas A&M's Tyler White. The junior guard was A&M's best player throughout the half and finished with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. She got in close and shot the top-of-the-key jumper while playing all 20 minutes.
TURNING POINT: A&M established what it wanted to do right away. Notre Dame had turnovers on three of its first five possessions because of the Aggies' defense, both in the half court and with the full-court press. That's what got A&M off to a 12-4 lead by the first timeout.
TURNING POINT II: Right around the 8-minute mark Notre Dame picked up its level on defense and that got the Irish back in the game. Diggins triggered it, forcing a turnover on Sydney Colson's backup, Adrienne Pratcher. That was a key play in an 8-0 Notre Dame run that got them back in the game at 29-24.
TURNING POINT III: The run eventually became 19-4 covering the final 8:04 of the first half, and the key play inside that Notre Dame spurt was Colson picking up her third foul on a silly reach in on Diggins with 4:55 left. She went to the bench and some emotion went out of A&M and seemed to transfer right to Notre Dame. Diggins was a better player from that stage, scoring six of her eight points after that.
THREE THINGS NOTRE DAME HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Stay composed. Early on, the Irish got rattled by the A&M defense. The worst is probably over, especially with Colson having three fouls, but it will still be a key of the second half.
2. More movement. At points early in the first half, Notre Dame was running the high pick-and-roll with Diggins and Peters, but everyone else was standing and watching. Things got better when the offense spread out and everyone got involved.
3. Stay active on the glass. The Irish gave up some second chances early on, but got better as the half wore on. The teams were even, 15-15, on the glass.
THREE THINGS TEXAS A&M HAS TO DO TO WIN
1. Get more from the Sydneys. Their defense was talked up for the past two days, but they only combined for two field goals. The Aggies need more offense from them, too.
2. Go back to Adams. She looked great early. She was active, wanted the ball and her body language was good on both ends. Then she went invisible for the middle part of the half.
3. Challenge more at the rim. Who shoots 59 percent against the Aggies? Notre Dame did and most of those conversions were from in close.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
16dBonnie D. Ford