Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Guru's NCAA Report: Blair Gains Promised Land As Texas A&M Tops Notre Dame

By Mel Greenberg

Underdogs to top dogs.

That’s Texas A&M the new champions of collegiate women’s basketball.

After the Aggies and Notre Dame spent the past two weeks dispensing of the four power brokers of the NCAA tournament that were the No. 1 seeds, Texas A&M and the Irish put on quite a show in the championship game Tuesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

When the clock expired Texas A&M had a 76-70 victory and first-ever national title.

“Look at the how the game has grown,” said Aggies longtime coach Gary Blair, 65, who was an assistant with the champion Louisiana Tech delegation in the first-ever NCAA tournament in 1982.

“Look at how you’ve grown,” he said, looking at the media at the postgame press conference. “You’re here tonight as media because you want to be here, not because you draw the unlucky straw.

“You’re here because you want to cover women’s basketball at the highest level. Tonight, we gave you that game,” Blair continued. “We gave you the national championship game without the so-called powers of the world.”

A week ago in region title games, Texas A&M ousted top seed Baylor in a fourth meeting for the first time this season against the Aggies’ Big 12 rivals.

Notre Dame did likewise to Tennessee snapping a 0-for-20-lifetime slump against the Volunteers.

Then on Sunday, the Irish (31-8) ended Big East rival Connecticut’s two-year reign of the NCAA while Texas A&M (33-5) slipped past Stanford.

Danielle Adams, the 6-foot-1 senior All-American forward-center from Kansas City, earned most outstanding player honors after scoring 22 of her 30 points in the second half.

She joins former Texas Tech great Sheryl Swoopes as the only two players with junior college backgrounds to earn top honors in the Women’s Final Four.

“I really do not like to have to coach as hard as I had to tonight and use the whip a little,” Blair said. “But they responded. Danielle Adams responded at halftime on what was open and to quit shooting the jump shot and to go inside and get (the Irish) in foul trouble.”

Adams did the heavy lifting but the missile that prevented the Irish from dancing came on a long-range three-pointer from Tyra White that nipped the shot clock and extended the Aggies’ lead to 73-68 with 1:07 left in the game.

“That was a knife in my heart,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who starred at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia in the late 1970s. “That was the game. That was the game. And the disappointing part about it was with two seconds (on the shot clock) left we didn’t get the rebound. That was the disappointing part.

White finished with 18 points, while Sydney Colson scored 10.

“We had two people in there and it ended up a jump ball and that cost us the game,” McGraw said of the entire sequence with Texas A&M. involving White’s shot.

On Sunday night, White scored inside on a pass from Colson with three seconds left as Texas A&M shocked Stanford 63-62.

Then Notre Dame used its fourth game this season with Connecticut to ride a 20-point turnaround in the second half, beating the Huskies 72-63 for the first time in the four attempts and ending the career of senior Maya Moore.

Sophomore homegrown guard Skylar Diggins had 28 points for Notre Dame in that one and she followed with 23 points Tuesday night. Devereaux Peters had 21 points and 11 rebounds while Natalie Novosel scored 14.

The combined 16-point differential was the lowest ever among the three games in the Women’s Final Four and the only other time all three games were decided by single digits was in 1991.

After Connecticut and Stanford had been vanquished, Notre Dame was made the new favorite to win here and gain its second NCAA crown overall and first since 2001.

But the Irish seemed rattled at the outset, missing shots and committing turnovers to quickly trail 18-6.

“We really dug ourselves a hole early, and we were very nervous,” McGraw said. “I thought we were just a little flustered offensively and completely out of sync, and so they were making all the shots.

“And so we were hoping they couldn’t stay on that pace.”
Diggins spoke of the view from in the game.

“We just didn’t handle the pressure. We turned it over too much. I don’t know if it was nerves or what. They’re a good defensive team. One of the best in the country, and we did a poor job handling it.”

Then the game’s momentum began to reverse.

Trailing 29-16 with 8:33 left in the half, the Irish went on a 19-4 rally to head to the break back in front at 35-33.

“Women’s basketball needed this game more than Texas A&M and Notre Dame needed it,” Blair said of the pulsating action in front of a near-sellout crowd of 17,473 helped by Notre Dame being located three hours away in South Bend, Ind.

Notre Dame opened an early seven-point lead at the outset of the second half but then Adams got going and it became a closely fought contest the rest of the way.

“We did not find an answer for her,” said McGraw, who is heading for induction to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June.

“We had a plan, and we just weren’t able to stop her. We thought that was going to be a tough matchup for Becca (Bruszewski).
“(Adams) did a really good job getting us in foul trouble.”

Texas A&M’s Peters and White, Notre Dame’s Diggins and Peters, and Connecticut’s Moore made the all-Final Four team.

Blair lamented one moment that had become a tradition in the past at the end of championship contests in American sports.

“I blew that line. I want to go to Disney World with my family and nobody asked me on TV. But that’s where I want to go. Preferably free.”

-- Mel


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