Dec. 20, 2012
World Vision Classic -- Championship Game
#5/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-1 / 0-0 BIG EAST) vs. #22/22 Texas A&M Aggies (8-3 / 0-0 SEC)
DATE: December 21, 2012
No. 5 Fighting Irish Tangle With No. 22 Texas A&M In World Vision Classic Title Game
Notre Dame reached the World Vision Classic title contest following an 87-57 win over Kansas State on Thursday afternoon. Senior guard/tri-captain Skylar Diggins connected on her first six shots and scored 17 of her game-high 22 points in the first half as the Fighting Irish raced to a 49-25 lead and never looked back en route to their third consecutive 30-point win. Notre Dame also shot better than 50 percent (.536) for the third game in a row, highlighted by a season-high 7-of-12 (.583) from three-point range.
Junior forward Natalie Achonwa (13 points) joined Diggins atop a list of five Fighting Irish players that scored in double figures against Kansas State. Junior guard Kayla McBride added 12 points, while senior guard/tri-captain Kaila Turner tossed in a season-high 11 points and junior forward Ariel Braker narrowly missed her first career double-double, ending up with 11 points and a career high-tying nine rebounds.
Scouting Texas A&M
The youthful Aggies (8-3) started slowly with three consecutive losses, but have bounced back in fine fashion with eight consecutive wins while returning to the national rankings at No. 22 in both major polls this week. TAMU also has won its first two games at the World Vision Classic, taking down Kansas State (83-60) and Old Dominion (78-55) to reach Friday's championship game.
Junior center Kelsey Bone scored a career-high 33 points (on 15-of-18 shooting) and added 14 rebounds in Thursday's semifinal win over ODU. Her front line partner, senior forward Kristi Bellock, added 12 points and eight rebounds, as the Aggies closed the game on a 24-6 run to put away the pesky Lady Monarchs.
Bone leads Texas A&M in scoring (16.6 ppg.), rebounding (9.0 rpg.) and ranks second with a .603 field goal percentage. Freshman guard Courtney Walker is second on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg.), while Bellock is second in rebounding (6.6 rpg.) and junior center Karla Gilbert is the team leader in field goal percentage (.615) and blocked shots (1.2 bpg.).
Veteran head coach Gary Blair is in his 10th season at Texas A&M with a 220-93 (.703) record. When adding in his prior stops at Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas, Blair has a 28-year coaching mark of 628-256 (.710), with a victory in his only previous matchup against Notre Dame (the 2011 NCAA national championship game).
The Notre Dame-Texas A&M Series
The Last Time Notre Dame and Texas A&M Met
It was the supposed to be the year Maya Moore's Connecticut juggernaut won its third straight title or Stanford broke through or Tennessee got back to the top.
Instead, the Aggies rewrote the script in their first Final Four appearance. They made the 65-year-old Blair the oldest coach to win a national championship just one night after UConn's 68-year-old Jim Calhoun did the same thing on the men's side.
"We gave you that national championship game without the so-called powers of the world," Blair said. "The two powers tonight were the two that earned it."
Danielle Adams scored 22 of her 30 points in a dominating second half to help the Aggies beat Notre Dame 76-70, on April 5, 2011, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and bring the women's title back to College Station and the former all-male military academy.
"I had a little voice in my head, `Don't let this team down'," said Adams, who became the school's first All-American a week earlier and was picked as the outstanding player of the tournament.
"Every time we'd get down, we were telling each other we're not going to lose this game. We worked hard all season to prepare for this point. I had to do this for my teammates. They've been doing everything for me. I decided to take them on my back and just let them ride on my back."
Tyra White added 18 points for A&M, including a huge three-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded to put the Aggies up 73-68 with 1:07 left.
"That was the knife in my heart. That was the game," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, bowing her head when the question was asked. "I thought that was just an amazing play on White's part, and that play was the game."
Adams and her teammates then staved off a final, frantic push by the Fighting Irish and their sensational young point guard, Skylar Diggins.
Now the Aggies (33-5) are national champs, newcomers who bullied their way through the tournament to win it all. 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 a championship game (Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes had 47 against Ohio State in 1993).
Both teams reached the championship by knocking off two No. 1 seeds. Notre Dame ended an 0-20 skid against Tennessee, then swept past Connecticut in the semifinals -- the first time one team has taken down those two women's basketball icons in the same tournament. After A&M dumped Baylor, the Aggies knocked out Stanford in a bruising national semifinal.
It wound up being 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.
"I thought it was probably not so entertaining from my point of view," McGraw said. "I think from the fan's point of view, it was probably a pretty entertaining game."
After a back-and-forth first half, and with the Aggies trailing 48-43 early in the second half, Adams simply took over -- urged on by her coach to "quit shooting the jump shot."
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.
Notre Dame wouldn't give up, battling back behind Diggins and Devereaux Peters. The Fighting 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 and wearing out the Fighting Irish by hitting her first eight shots of the half and finishing 9 of 11.
Peters' putback cut it to 70-68, but White hit her big 3 -- her second game-saving shot of the tournament after her layup lifted the Aggies over Stanford two nights earlier. Diggins had two free throws with 40.7 seconds left, and McGraw called her final timeout only to see her young star turn it over in front of the bench. White hit two free throws to seal the win.
Diggins finished with 23 points, and Peters added 21 and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame (31-8). Diggins said the Fighting Irish couldn't handle A&M's pressure.
"We turned it over too much. I don't know if it was nerves or what," she said. "We just didn't handle the pressure."
The Fighting Irish were trying to become the first team to capture the title in their home state since Stanford won in Los Angeles in 1992. There definitely was a home feel for Notre Dame with two-thirds of the 17,473 people in the arena wearing green and gold, hoping for the school's first championship since 2001.
Other Notre Dame-Texas A&M Series Tidbits
Notre Dame vs. The Southeastern Conference
Last season, Notre Dame went 2-0 against SEC opponents, defeating No. 8/7 Kentucky, 92-83 on Dec. 18, 2011, at Purcell Pavilion, then downing No. 7/9 Tennessee, 72-44 on Jan. 23, also at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish are 9-22 (.290) all-time against SEC teams away from home (at either road or neutral sites). Notre Dame will be playing an SEC opponent on a neutral floor for the first time since March 28, 2011, when it defeated fourth-ranked Tennessee, 73-59 in the NCAA Championship Dayton Regional final at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio.
McGraw's Milestone Moment
Factoring in her five-year run at Lehigh from 1982-87 prior to arriving at Notre Dame, McGraw has a 687-257 (.728) record in 31 years as a collegiate head coach. That puts her just 13 wins shy of becoming the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to register 700 career wins -- and should she reach that milestone in the next 55 games, she would be the 11th skipper to compile 700 victories in less than 1,000 games coached. What's more, she would be just the third BIG EAST Conference coach to reach the 700-win plateau, joining C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut), both of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Going Out On A High Note
The last time the Fighting Irish lost their final game before Christmas was Dec. 21, 1995 (their first season in the BIG EAST Conference), when Michigan State pulled out an 87-83 overtime win in East Lansing, Mich.
The only Notre Dame losses during this current stretch were three defeats to teams ranked in the top three nationally during the Preseason WNIT semifinals (72-59 vs. No. 3/2 Tennessee at Ruston, La., in 1996; 75-59 at No. 3 Maryland in 2007) or championship (94-81 at No. 1 Baylor in 2011), and a 67-63 overtime setback at No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 15, 2003, in the finals of the WBCA Classic -- a game that saw the Buffaloes sink a desperation 30-footer at the end of regulation to force the extra session.
Notre Dame is playing its only regular-season tournament of the 2012-13 campaign, while this marks the third time in four years the Fighting Irish have participated in an event sponsored by Seattle-based Basketball Travelers, Inc. (having previously won the 2009 Paradise Jam and 2011 Junkanoo Jam).
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 30-9 (.769) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past four years.
Notre Dame has already played on short rest twice this season, defeating Mercer, 93-36, on Nov. 20 at Purcell Pavilion, and Kansas State, 87-57, on Thursday at Cox Pavilion in the second round of the World Vision Classic.
Game #9 Recap: Kansas State (World Vision Classic - Second Round)
Diggins scored 17 of her 22 points in the first half to lead No. 5 Notre Dame to an 87-57 victory over Kansas State on Thursday night in the World Vision Classic.
Diggins scored 15 of the Fighting Irish's first 23 points, leading them to a 23-10 lead 8:20 into the game.
"She is a very, very tough player to defend," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said of Diggins. "As a young and inexperienced team, it's a great challenge. Once she gets in rhythm and measures you as a defender, it becomes a little bit of a cat and mouse game. And you can be in the position of being the mouse in a hurry. She is one competitive kid."
"We wanted to come out and have a good start from the beginning," Diggins said. "We played similar teams to Kansas State like Central Michigan and Utah State and had trouble containing the ball and the (defensive) rotation. We're a young team and we have our struggles, but we've been improving at that."
Brittany Chambers had 18 points and seven rebounds, Haley Texada scored 11 points and Ashia Woods added 10 for the Wildcats (7-3).
Chambers, who averages 19 points, scored only five after halftime.
"I think we shut down Chambers in the first half," McGraw said. "She got a lot of points late."
Diggins, who had 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting at halftime, also led Notre Dame with four assists in the first half. McBride had 10 points at the break for the Fighting Irish, who shot 55 percent (16 for 29) in the opening half.
Texada led the Wildcats with eight points in the first half.
Beyond The Box Score: Kansas State
Next Up: Purdue
Purdue (10-1) has five consecutive games since its lone loss of the 2012-13 season to date, a 91-57 setback against second-ranked Connecticut on Nov. 24 in the title game of the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Boilermakers will play their final contest before the Christmas holiday on Friday, welcoming IUPUI to town for a noon (ET) matchup before turning their attention to Notre Dame.