Inexperienced Aggies clip Cardinal
Texas A&M's Sydney Colson talks about the final drive and winning basket against Stanford, and the hard screen she ran into earlier in the game.
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Tyra White was a sophomore at Hickman Mills High in Kansas City, Mo., Kansas State really thought it might get her to come play for the Wildcats. But that didn't work out. LSU eventually won the recruiting battle.
Then Pokey Chatman left/was fired at LSU in March 2007, and White eventually reopened her recruitment. Several schools went after her again. Texas A&M won this time. Then just 4 minutes into the Aggies' season opener in November 2007, White tore her right ACL.
So it's been a long trip for White to get to this point: an appearance in the NCAA title game. But that's where the Aggies are, thanks to the game-winning basket by White in a gut-churner of a national semifinal. The Aggies beat a No. 1 seed for the second game in a row, this time Stanford, 63-62 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
And next, Texas A&M will face another No. 2 seed, Notre Dame, as the Irish upset No. 1 UConn in the second semifinal.
The Cardinal's Nneka Ogwumike, who finished with a game-high 31 points, fought for a layup with 9 seconds left for a 62-61 Stanford lead. Then Texas A&M guard Sydney Colson -- who dealt with her own ACL injury in the summer and fall of 2008 -- raced down the court looking to make a play as the senior has so many times in her career.
"I just had to catch up with her," White said, smiling, of Colson. "Then when I did, I just had to keep my eye on the ball."
Stanford has had its eye on the prize, the national championship, as the Cardinal have made the Final Four the past four seasons. But after losses twice in the title game and once in semifinals, Stanford again fell short.
White finished on the layup, a play on which Stanford senior guard Jeanette Pohlen reinjured an ankle that was already bothering her. Pohlen was helped off the court with just over 3 seconds left, which was all the time Stanford had to save its season.
The Cardinal, the No. 1 seed out of the Spokane Regional, couldn't do it. Colson stole a long inbounds pass. And the Aggies -- who had knocked off Dallas Regional top seed and Big 12 rival Baylor to make the school's first Final Four in women's or men's basketball -- were into Tuesday's championship game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
They did it despite Stanford's greater experience at Final Fours; although at this point, you start wondering if the Cardinal have too much experience with them. At the very least, too much bad experience. Since the 1992 NCAA title, the Cardinal have now fallen short of a title in seven additional Final Four appearances.
This is the second trip to the Final Four trip as a head coach for Texas A&M's Gary Blair, who took Arkansas in 1998. This will be his first title game, a feat his team accomplished even though the Aggies were down by 10 with 6 minutes left.
"We haven't pulled off a win like that," Blair said. "But our kids refuse to give up. Two great players at the end made great plays on their end. Nneka on a great sideline play they came up with. Then we came right back and jammed it down, and Tyra went straight to the hole."
White, a 6-foot junior forward, had the duty of guarding 6-4 senior Kayla Pedersen for much of the night, and held her own. Pedersen, in her final game, had four points and 10 rebounds -- but none of those was an offensive board.
"We kept them off the offensive boards a lot," said White, who had 18 points and two rebounds. "We wanted to keep them contained."
Even though the Cardinal outrebounded the Aggies 39-29 overall, Texas A&M had more offensive boards, 13-10. Part of the problem for Stanford was freshman Chiney Ogwumike, who came in averaging a team-best 8.1 rebounds, had just four, along with four points, in a game in which she fouled out.
Texas A&M was able to knock off Baylor with an excellent defensive game in the regional semifinals after losing three previous times this season to the Lady Bears. Sunday, the Aggies dug their way out of a hole, despite the fact that Colson and teammate Danielle Adams both got shaken up during the game. Adams got hit by the ball hard in the nose in the first half, and Colson ran blindly into a screen set by Nneka Ogwumike in the second half.
"She set a good screen to clear up their point guard," Colson said. "And I didn't see it coming. It just hurt my neck a little bit. So I needed to cool off for a while. Luckily, it wasn't anything serious. I was able to come back and contribute what I could to the team."
Indeed, even though Colson was kicking herself for her six turnovers, she and her Aggies teammates forced the Cardinal into 22. And in the end, Colson had the big assist to White.
"We always believe in each other," White said. "When I had the open layup, I wanted to take it. But it was a great pass by Sydney. I couldn't have done it without her."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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