INDIANAPOLIS - Scoring at will, grabbing boards and making a key steal, Danielle Adams saved her best game for the biggest stage and gave Texas A&M its first national championship.
Adams scored 22 of her 30 points in a dominating second half and answered Notre Dame basket-for-basket Tuesday to help the Aggies bring a title to the former all-male military academy with a thrilling, 76-70 victory.
“I knew they couldn’t stop me inside so that’s what I did, I took it inside,” said Adams, who became the school’s first All-American just a week ago.
No one was happier than Gary Blair, the outspoken A&M coach who hadn’t been in the Final Four since 1998 when he was with Arkansas. Blair bluntly said it was a good thing that top powers like Connecticut, Tennessee and Stanford weren’t in the title game.
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“We don’t give up,” Blair said. “We might not play the prettiest game in the world but it’s good for women’s basketball to see a Texas A&M and a Notre Dame in this game.”
And then his Aggies went out and proved him right in front of a pro-Irish crowd.
Tyra White added 18 points for A&M, including a huge 3-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded to put the Aggies up 73-68 with 1:07 left. She and her teammates then staved off a final, frantic push by the Fighting Irish and their sensational young star guard, Skylar Diggins.
The Aggies are a national championship newcomer and bullied their way through the tournament to get to the top. Like Notre Dame, they vanquished their conference rival on the way, beating Baylor in the Dallas regional final after losing to the Lady Bears three times during the season.
Adams, who struggled badly against Baylor, was up to the task and then some against Notre Dame, scoring the second-most points ever in an NCAA Division I women’s championship game (Sheryl Swoopes had 47 in 1993).
“We did not find an answer for her,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We had a plan. We just weren’t able to stop her. She’s just a great player. She’s got a big body, and we couldn’t get around her.”
Both teams reached the championship by knocking off two No. 1 seeds. Notre Dame eliminated Tennessee in the regional final, then swept past Connecticut in Sunday’s national semifinals, the first time one team has taken down those two women’s basketball icons in the same tournament.
A&M also had two impressive wins to get here. After beating Baylor, the Aggies edged Stanford on Sunday.
It was the first title game without a No. 1 seed since 1994 and only the second overall. It also was the first final without either Connecticut or Tennessee since Maryland beat Duke in overtime for the 2006 championship.
And it turned out to be a good one.
After a back-and-forth first half, and with the Aggies trailing 48-43 early in the second half, Adams simply took over.
The 6-foot-1 center scored 10 of the next 13 points for the Aggies to give them a 56-53 lead midway through the second half. Texas A&M then extended the advantage to 64-57 behind the two Sydneys — Carter and Colson.
But Notre Dame wouldn’t give up, battling back behind Diggins and Devereaux Peters. The Irish scored nine of the next 11 points to tie the game at 66 on Diggins’ jumper with 3:56 left.
Blair went right to Adams on the next two possessions, and she delivered, hitting back-to-back layups. Adams hit nine of her first 10 shots in the second half.
After Peters’ putback cut it to 70-68, White hit the huge 3. Diggins had two free throws with 40.7 seconds left, and the Irish had one last chance after a turnover by the Aggies with 29 seconds remaining.
McGraw called her final timeout, but Diggins turned it over in front of the bench. White hit two free throws to seal the win for A&M (33-5).
Diggins finished with 23 points and Peters added 21 and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame (31-8).