INDIANAPOLIS – Howdy, Texas A&M.
The team with that down-home drawl and the strongest defense in the NCAA women's tournament will face Notre Dame in the national championship Tuesday night
Surprised? Not the Aggies.
"Nobody believed in us, but we did," guard Sydney Carter said Sunday after the Aggies' 63-62 upset victory over top-seeded Stanford. "We're going to the 'ship. Thank you."
The Aggies used — what else? — stingy defense to climb back into the game, and won it when Sydney Colson drove the length of the floor and found a cutting Tyra White for the go-ahead layup with 3.3 seconds left to cap a frantic final minute.
The Aggies intercepted the Cardinal's desperation pass to seal the victory, sending Stanford home from the Final Four empty-handed for the fourth straight year.
The list of accomplishments this season already includes A&M's first 30-win season, the first All-American in school history in Danielle Adams, upset victories over No. 1 seeds and national powers Baylor and Stanford in consecutive games and reaching its first title game.
And there's one piece of unfinished business left.
"It's time to make history," Colson said.
That won't be easy.
Hours after Texas A&M's upset victory, the Fighting Irish pulled an even bigger shocker by sending Maya Moore and top-seeded Connecticut home 72-63. Like the Aggies, they took down a conference rival on their fourth try of the season after losing three previous games.
Defense will certainly be the main entree Tuesday night.
"This is what women's basketball needs," A&M coach Gary Blair said. "It needs regional finals, national semifinals and national final games like this to sometimes wake up America."
But the Aggies' remarkable comeback will not be soon forgotten.
When Stanford took a 54-44 lead with 6:01 to play, most people inside Conseco Fieldhouse assumed the Cardinal were heading to their third title game in four years.
Instead, Stanford (33-3) managed only two more baskets the rest of the night, and A&M's aggressive offensive moves got the Aggies back into the game.
The Cardinal just couldn't stop the rally.
"I thought we played very well to get the lead," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We had to do some things that we don't have to do all season long against anyone else."
Making Stanford uncomfortable was coach Gary Blair's game plan, and the Cardinal never looked more flustered than in that frantic final minute.
Colson, who woozily went to the bench after a hard screen earlier in the half, gave Texas A&M a 59-58 lead by making two free throws with 53 seconds left.
Eighteen seconds later, Adams was called for a foul on Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike. The upset Adams got up and started running toward the A&M bench, with one of the referees telling her to calm down. Ogwumike made both shots to give Stanford a 60-59 lead.
A&M came back with White's layup with 19 seconds to go, only to have Ogwumike answer with a tough layup of her own with 9 seconds left that gave Stanford a 62-61 lead.
The Aggies, without a timeout, immediately got the ball to Colson, who raced up the floor and passed to White for the winner.
White finished with 18 points, and a slow-starting Adams had 16 points to lead the Aggies. Carter had 14.
Stanford was led by Ogwumike's 31 points and Jeanette Pohlen with 11. Pohlen also hurt her ankle on the final play and had to be helped off the court before Stanford's final play.
"It's hard," senior Kayla Pedersen said, who never won a title despite all those Final Four appearances. "I mean, it's an awful feeling. The hardest part isn't losing the game, it's leaving these players."
A&M dictated the tempo all night.
The Aggies held Stanford's potent offense 18 points under its average, and forced it into a season-high 22 turnovers. Even being the first tourney team to top 50 points against Texas A&M wasn't enough.
Stanford was outscored 19-8 over the final stretch. And though the Cardinal countered A&M's pressure by throwing the ball over the top to Ogwumike, they eventually clogged up those passing lanes, too.
"They are extremely athletic. They play extremely hard," VanDerveer said. "They get the loose balls. ... It came down to one play. They had two three-point plays when we were up 10."
And that was enough to start the Aggies' comeback.
Stanford spent the rest of the game looking for cracks and crevasses in the Aggies' defense, finding few openings and even fewer opportunities to thwart the rally.
"You don't realize how hard it is to run a ballclub when there's a great defense, when they're taking away certain options," Blair said.
Texas A&M took advantage, and with the Cardinal out of position on the final A&M possession, Colson and White made them pay.
"I knew coach was going to give me the ball, and I knew I had to score," White said.
When she did, all the Aggies needed was one more defensive stop — and Carter sealed it by intercepting the baseball pass, sending Texas A&M players jumping for joy.
"Even though our gas tanks are probably on 'E' right now, I think that we'll be ready," Carter said. "Our ultimate goal is to win the whole thing, so that's what we have in mind."