Defense leads Aggies to title game
Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Creme take a look at the key players, difference-makers and X factors behind Texas A&M's 63-62 victory over Stanford Sunday in the national semifinals.
Stanford was too familiar with the season's final weekend to let the pressure of the moment get to it at Conseco Fieldhouse on Sunday night. The pressure provided by Texas A&M's defense was an altogether different story.
The unfortunate image that might linger as a reminder of the sudden end to the Cardinal's season is reserve forward Mikaela Ruef struggling to dribble the ball across half court with about a minute to play and the Pac-10 champions in possession of a one-point lead. To her credit, Ruef got the ball across in that instance, but the rushed 3-pointer that followed with the shot clock winding down was one of countless lost possessions for the Cardinal against the Aggies' physical pressure.
In those that can be counted, Stanford turned over the ball a season-high 22 times -- it hadn't turned the ball over more than 18 times in 35 previous games -- leading directly to 21 points for Texas A&M.
The Aggies made big play after big play on offense down the stretch, culminating with Sydney Colson's end-to-end rush that left the Cardinal too off balance to recover when she dropped a perfect pass to Tyra White for the winner. But the defense they played all night, even when down by double digits in the second half, won the day.
Chiney Ogwumike got into foul trouble and eventually fouled out, finishing with just four points and four rebounds. Considering what a huge factor she had been in this NCAA tournament for Stanford -- she had averaged 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in the previous four games -- that was productivity that the Cardinal really missed, especially since Kayla Pedersen had just four points on the night. Texas A&M was able to capitalize on this, plus had very good guard play and some big baskets from Tyra White.
This was a battle of attrition and Texas A&M won because it was better able to impose its will on the game than Stanford was. This was an Aggies kind of game. Intense. Grueling at times. Physical. Stanford played in that environment, but the Cardinal were never comfortable. And ultimately, the Aggies were just better at it, tough enough to erase two 10-point deficits and win by scoring 19 of the game's final 27 points. The intensity never let up to lead Texas A&M to its first national championship game.