It's good to be from Indiana if you're a college basketball fan in 2011. Most of the world thought that both the men's and women's tournaments would feature the University of Connecticut Huskies. And that the Women's Championship game would feature a repeat of last year's #1 and #2 ,UConn Huskies and Stanford Cardinal.
So much for foregone conclusions. Just like the men's NCAA's (hello, Butler! Hello, UConn) the #1 seeds in the women's tournament have gone down step by step, region by region..(Tennessee, Baylor)...all gone after the Elite Eight.
Through 68 teams on the men's side and 64 teams on the women's side, I have come to one conclusion: There is no such thing as a foregone conclusion. Monies are lost to think otherwise.
And now, both sides of the 2011 NCAA tournament feel like the movie "Hoosiers." Last night, in the midst of a torrential downpour and 50 mph gale-force winds,the winds of change struck Conseco Fieldhouse with a similar impact. In the first game, the out-of-nowhere 32-5 , Dallas Regional champion Texas A&M Aggies, ranked no higher than 8th during the year, took on the Mount Vesuvian-like, 33-3 Stanford Cardinal, whose coach, Tara, Van.DerVeer, was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame Monday morning.
Proving the adage that on any given Sunday...any team can win--in this case, April 3, the implausible became..reality. And like the booming thunderstorms and 50 mph hour winds we're experiencing here..lightning struck inside the Fieldhouse. Not once, but twice. .In the first game, the Cardinal, making their fourth appearance in as many years in the Final Four, were stunned by the Dallas Regional champion, #2 seeded Aggies,63-62 in a last-minute stunner that could have gone either way. Making their first appearance in a Final Four, the Aggies made their first impression a lasting one, as they came back from 10 down in the second half, finishing off the Cardinal on a Sydney Coulson pass to Tyra White, who in turn, pinned the layup with 3.3 seconds left in the game. The Cardinal finished themselves off as Coulson then stole the ball from Stanford's Mikaela Ruff, and Stanford's run was over.
"How about those Aggies?" said Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair, a true Texas original. "This is what women's basketball needs.... I'm just really proud of the fight we have. We play tenacious defense. We've gone against four straight Hall of Fame coaches that are already in the Hall of Fame. Okay? We're a very good basketball team that plays tenacious defense. We're gaining fans. Our season tickets will double next year."
The greatest upset was yet to come. As a near-capacity crowd in the 18,000-seat Conseco Fieldhouse watched, with coaches Geno Auriemma and 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Muffet McGraw trading paces and air-punches on the sidelines, the UConn faithful, including three time UConn Huskie champ and Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi, several future generations of Indiana basketball players, and the hometown Notre Dame Fighting Irish watched, then erupted, as the #2 seeded Irish confounded All-American and future,first-round draft pick Maya Moore and the Huskies on the strength of 51 to 42% field goal percentages, 63% to 53% free throw shooting, and worst 50% to 33% three point field goal percentage. However, bad scoring percentages aside, Auriemma blamed another reason for their loss. "Well, I mean,we don't foul. Then, all of the sudden, in the first 10 minutes of the second half, we just decided to start fouling.Then, everything just kind of fell apart for us." He added, "I think today we lost our aggressiveness in the second half. We played on our heels. And you can't do that against Notre Dame."
Moore herself went on a 13-point run to try and salvage the Huskies' season and, I suspect, her predicted #1 ranking in the WNBA draft. ,Moore's 36 points, the third-most in a semifinal game, clearly weren't enough, and the Huskies were defeated for only the second time this season, 63-72. This one, I think, hurt a lot more than UConn's regular-season loss to Stanford, which stopped their winning streak at 90 games.
"Notre Dame came to win," said Moore. "Every single person they brought in came in and did exactly what they could do. "
And they did, on the strength of Skylar Diggins' 28 points and Natalie Novosel's 22 points, and Chicago native and former Fenwick Friar Devreaux Peters' 8 points. Most important, they came in unafraid of legends in the making--Moore and Auriemma in particular. Together, Texas A&M and Notre Dame will be a more compelling matchup. They are hungrier than wolves (and Huskies), And the coaches know that the championship this year means a great deal more to the women's game, and the future of the women's game, than others have. As Blair said, "I want the fans to come out. So get (Indiana Pacers GM and Hall of Famer) Larry Bird on the thing, have him talk about it. Let Muffet or Geno talk about it. But let's fill this thing up."
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