INDIANAPOLIS — By all accounts, the Texas A&M women’s basketball team was the uninvited guest to this Final Four. The Aggies had arrived here for the first time in program history while for the rest of the field, reaching the sport’s showcase event had become old hat.
So with little acclaim and even less to lose, the long shots from College Station decided it might be fun to stay a spell in one of the cradles of basketball, erasing a double-digit deficit in the second half to outlast national semifinal regular Stanford, 63-62, on Sunday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Junior guard Tyra White scored the winning layup with three seconds to play off a fast-break pass from senior guard Sydney Colson. Then when Colson intercepted the Cardinal’s desperation full-court heave moments later, Texas A&M was able to celebrate one of the more unforeseen runs to the national championship game after dispatching a second straight No. 1 seed. The Aggies had stunned top-seeded Baylor, 58-46, in the Southwest Region final last week.
White finished with a team-high 18 points, including 11 in the second half when the Aggies trailed 54-44 with 6 minutes 1 second to play. That’s when Texas A&M (32-5), a No. 2 seed, used an 8-0 run that featured consecutive three-point plays to draw within two several minutes later.
“That was the turning point of the game,” Aggies Coach Gary Blair said.
Playing in its fourth straight Final Four and 10th overall, Stanford pushed the margin back to six thanks to four straight points by senior guard Melanie Murphy, but Texas A&M countered with White’s jumper followed by junior guard Sydney Carter’s three-pointer from the top left to cut it to 58-57 with 1:33 to go.
The Cardinal (33-3) was unable to get the ball inbounds on its ensuing possession and had to use a timeout. Coming out of the break, Murphy picked up her fifth foul competing with Colson for a loose ball near midcourt, sending the Aggies’ team captain to the foul line for two shots. She made them both with 53 seconds to play.
Junior forward Nneka Ogwumike made a pair of free throws to give the Cardinal a 60-59 lead with 35 seconds left, but White went around a pair of defenders on the other end to put Texas A&M up, 61-60, with 19 seconds to go. Ogwumike followed by collecting an inbounds pass in the lane and spinning for a layup that dropped with nine seconds left before White and Colson combined for the dramatic conclusion.
“It was hectic, you know,” said Carter, who had 14 points, including 4 of 8 from three-point range. “Everybody was saying, ‘Thirty seconds for the rest of your lives.’ This is something that we’ve never done. It’s time to make history. Forget that you’re tired and just push through it, and I think it’s exactly what we did.”
Often the smaller team, the Aggies rely on pressure defense to compensate for that shortcoming, and against Stanford, that approach led to the Cardinal committing a season-high 22 turnovers.
Pacific-10 player of the year Jeanette Pohlen had seven of those and watched the final seconds from the bench after hurting her ankle in a late-game collision. Ogwumike finished with a game-high 31 points, including a stretch early in the game when she scored 12 straight, but got little help. The Cardinal lost despite shooting 50 percent, outrebounding Texas A&M by 10 and getting to the foul line almost twice as many times. It held the Aggies to 35 percent shooting, but Texas A&M committed just 12 turnovers.
“It’s hard. I mean it’s an awful feeling,” Stanford senior forward Kayla Pedersen said. “But I was just telling Nneka that . . . the hardest part isn’t losing the game. It’s just leaving these girls.”