- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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Associate head coach Vic Schaefer talks about Texas A&M's defense and Sydney Colson surviving foul trouble.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As a freshman on a Texas A&M team that advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history in 2008, Sydney Colson recalled that her primary goal was simply to stay out of trouble. The alternative was to incur the wrath of a no-nonsense senior class that included the likes of standout point guard A'Quonesia Franklin.
"They showed us how to have tremendous work ethic, how to believe in a coaching staff and what they're trying to preach to you," Colson said. "They showed us how to leave it out on the court every time that you step out there -- you leave everything you have out on the court, especially if you're a senior and it could be your last game.
"You don't want to leave with any regrets."
A college career later, with Franklin among the former Aggies watching from the stands, Colson found herself very much in trouble and mulling definite regrets as her senior season ticked toward its terminus. With 4:55 remaining in the first half of the national championship game against Notre Dame and her team holding a 33-27 lead, a margin that had dwindled from a 13-point zenith barely four minutes earlier, Colson committed her third foul.
The Aggies' senior point guard had to take a seat on the bench, her ability to lead compromised by poor choices and her ability to contribute in peril with only one foul's worth of wiggle room for the final half. As she watched in frustration, the Fighting Irish closed the opening half on an 8-0 run, including six points from Skylar Diggins, taking their first lead of the game off a Texas A&M turnover with 59 seconds to play in the half.
"I made some bad decisions going for steals that I shouldn't have at inopportune times," Colson said. "And I felt really bad sitting on the bench over there and seeing that lead slip away. And I felt like I was really letting my team down, and it hurt me really badly. [It] made me want to come out in the second half and work hard for them, make the right reads and make the right passes and everything like that. Just make better decisions and be solid on defense."
What followed was an effort that personified accountability. Colson didn't leave the court in the second half until two seconds remained and a 76-70 win and Texas A&M's first national championship were secure. And while Danielle Adams earned every bit of most outstanding player honors with 30 points and Tyra White hit the 3-pointer that broke Notre Dame's back, Colson had as important a line of 10 points, 5 assists and 3 steals as one could manage.
"We definitely need her in there because of her senior leadership and because of the way that she can break down a defense and get the ball to the right people on offense," backcourt running mate Sydney Carter said. "Sydney Colson's just a great person at making the reads and passing it to the right people, and any time you have a veteran point guard like that, you definitely need her in the game. So when she kind of got into foul trouble, we were hurting a little bit, and they went on their run when she got out of the game. But she's just such a pivotal part of this game.
"I honestly think she's the heartbeat of this team."
Without half of the their backcourt tandem, the Aggies were unable to maintain the pressure that flummoxed the Fighting Irish in the game's opening minutes. And they were equally incapable of maintaining their own poise against their opponent's redoubled pressure. Adams, who showed signs of dominating the post from the outset, was lost in the shuffle as the Aggies went nearly six minutes without a field goal to end the first half.
But after what Colson described as a "chewing" at the hands of the coaches at halftime, Texas A&M came out in the second half with Colson and Carter together and moved the pendulum back in its favor.
"It was big to have her back out there," associate coach and defensive coordinator Vic Schaefer said. "Those kids have great chemistry. And so it's just like anything, when you've got great chemistry and you have a trust, which is what our defense is built on, you're a lot more comfortable when you play."
It wasn't the demolition job Colson and Carter had managed at times this season -- Notre Dame was too tough, and this was too good a game for that. But gradually, the open looks grew scarce for Diggins, Devereaux Peters and others. And Adams, playing the role of true post player dependent on someone else to get her the ball, got it at the right times. Things just seemed to run better with Colson on the court.
Throughout the NCAA tournament, best friends and perfect complements Colson and Carter shared a routine before every game, reminding each other during a particular warm-up drill not to let that game be their last together. There was no escaping that Tuesday's game would be the last that Carter, a junior, got to play with her senior mentor, but the postgame tears might have been of a different variety had they played less of it together.
"It's very heartfelt right now; I'm trying not to cry," Carter said, even as she proved unsuccessful in that objective. "I'm just going to miss her. I'm going to miss playing with her. I've been with her for three years. She's just been so big for us; she's been such a role model for me. I've taken so much from her, and I've learned so much from her. I've just piggybacked off of her for the last three years. She's been my best friend for three years now, and I couldn't ask for more from her. She's just been so big for us on and off the court."
In the end, it was Carter who fouled out for the Aggies, exiting the game with 40 seconds to play and her team up by three points. As she left the court, she left her senior teammate with a simple message -- and a reminder for someone who, despite those freshman efforts to stay out of trouble, never quite shook a penchant for running afoul of a referee's whistle.
As Colson recalled, "She said, 'Win this for us, Sydney; I know you got it. I believe in you. Just don't reach -- play smart, you gotta stay in the game. We need you.'"
They had her for the entire second half. And as a result, Texas A&M had its first national championship.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com.