Laura Myers | Tuesday, April 5, 2011
With less than a minute to go in the national championship game, Notre Dame’s star was at the free throw line to shoot two.
Skylar Diggins hit both free throws, her team’s final points.
This time, the shots did not give the Irish the lead, but rather made the score 73-70 in favor of Texas A&M.
2001, this was not.
Notre Dame fought back from multiple deficits but ultimately couldn’t catch up as Texas A&M won its first national championship in school history Tuesday 76-70.
A minute before Diggins stepped to the line, Aggies guard Tyra White stepped to the arc with two seconds left on the shot clock and hit a 3-pointer to put her team up 73-68.
“That was a knife right in my heart. That was the game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “… It was an unbelievable shot.”
Diggins finished the game with a team-high 23 points, but didn’t score her first two until the 7:47 mark in the first half.
That the game came down to a late 3-pointer was a testament to a Notre Dame team that was down 29-16 after 12 minutes of play. Texas A&M went on an early 8-0 run to make the score 12-4 and continued to build its lead.
“We were very nervous. I thought we were flustered offensively and just completely out of sync,” McGraw said.
Layups by junior guard Natalie Novosel and Diggins began an 8-0 run for Notre Dame, which brought the score to 29-24.
“It’s a group of fighters,” McGraw said. “I knew they weren’t going to give up, and they didn’t disappoint me.”
Three minutes later Diggins scored four straight and senior Becca Bruszewski hit a layup to tie the score at 33-33. Diggins scored one more layup to cap an 8-0 run that ended the half with Notre Dame in the lead.
“Made me want to come out in the second half and work hard for them, make the right reads and make the right passes and everything like that,” Aggies coach Gary Blair said. “Just make better decisions and be solid on defense.”
The Irish continued the run after halftime and led by as many as seven.
Then Danielle Adams took over.
The Texas A&M forward scored 22 points in the second half and finished with 30 on the night. She also led her team with nine rebounds, five of which she grabbed in the second half.
“We did not find an answer for her,” McGraw said. “She’s just a great player. She’s got a big body, we couldn’t get around her.”
Adams used that body to draw fouls inside from freshman forward Natalie Achonwa and senior forward Devereaux Peters. Achonwa fouled out with 4:10 left. Peters, who committed her fourth personal with 4:52 to play, had to re-join the game but was limited by the risk of being disqualified as well.
Adams scored four straight points to give the Aggies back the lead at 50-48 with 13:39 left in the second half. The lead changed four more times after that, and no team led by more than five until Adams’ last free throw with two seconds to go.
“We got back on our heels a little bit, got in foul trouble,” Novosel said. “And I think they just kept pounding it into the post and we didn’t have an answer.”
Peters finished the game with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 11 rebounds, and Novosel scored 14 points.
Diggins and Peters were both named to the all-tournament team following the game, along with White and Connecticut’s Maya Moore.
Adams was named most outstanding player for the tournament.
“[Skylar] really stepped up her game, especially in the NCAA tournament,” McGraw said. “She really gave herself a big shot of credibility going into next year as one of the best players in the Big East and one of the top players in the country.”
Senior captain Becca Bruszewski is the only player who will not return for the Irish in the 2011-2012 season.
“Becca is a great leader for us. We’re going to miss her, the intangible part of her game,” McGraw said. “She really got things going. Set the tone. So it will be tough to replace her, but we have some good players coming back.”