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INDIANAPOLIS -- For those who tune in to women's basketball only occasionally, Sunday's semifinals results and the impending championship-game matchup might be quite a shock.
But to those who follow the sport, the idea that No. 2 seeds Notre Dame and Texas A&M are meeting for the NCAA title (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday) is not so very weird. Even if Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said she was pretty sure "nobody in America" had picked an Irish-Aggies final.
|Tyra White and Texas A&M knocked off a second straight No. 1 seed to make the Aggies' first Final Four an extended stay.|
Well, surely, somebody did. After all, the Irish have won a title before -- albeit 10 years ago -- and they have a history of playing well in the NCAA tournament. And Texas A&M, while in its first Final Four, has been knocking on the door for the last few years. Plus, both have been in the top 10 in the rankings, or near it, for a lot of this season.
Neither team won its league regular-season or tournament titles -- the Big East's went to UConn and the Big 12's went to Baylor -- but both won the matchups with their conference rivals that counted the most. Texas A&M lost three times to Baylor before defeating the Lady Bears in the Dallas Regional final. Notre Dame fell three times to UConn before ousting the Huskies in the national semifinals here Sunday.
Now, the two No. 2 seeds will face off at Conseco Fieldhouse on Tuesday in just the second NCAA women's title game that won't involve at least one No. 1 seed. The other was in 1994, when No. 3 seed North Carolina beat No. 4 Louisiana Tech.
"It's crazy, because we've been watching them play throughout the tournament, and they've had a great year," Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters said of the Aggies. "They've been playing really well together, and we really mirror each other as teams and with how our seasons have gone. They were determined and we were, as well. And we both got there."
The Irish (31-7) have been led all season by the backcourt of Natalie Novosel and Skylar Diggins, and that was the case again Sunday in their 72-63 victory over Philadelphia No. 1 seed UConn, which had won the last two NCAA titles. Diggins had 28 points and six assists, while Novosel had 22 points against the Huskies.
The Aggies were led less by the scoring of their backcourt of Sydney Colson (seven points) and Sydney Carter (14 points), although both did produce key points down the stretch. But even more, Texas A&M benefited from that duo's defense and playmaking in the 63-62 upset of Spokane No. 1 seed Stanford.
|Ten years after Notre Dame beat UConn in the national semifinals en route to the 2001 NCAA title, Skylar Diggins' Irish knocked off the Huskies again.|
"While you all were writing, I guarantee a lot of you already had your story three-quarters of the way done," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said to reporters afterward. "And now you're having to change it, OK?"
Certainly, it did look as if the Aggies were in big trouble, down 10 with 6 minutes to go. But Texas A&M got a lift off its bench from Maryann Baker, a senior Blair has always talked about wishing he could get more minutes. Sunday, she was in for only 7 minutes, but they helped make a difference.
That's the kind of team Blair likes: one that has multiple parts that he can use in different situations, but most importantly a squad where everyone can play defense. The Aggies held the Cardinal almost 18 points under their season scoring average.
And while Notre Dame also played well defensively -- holding the Huskies to just one more point than Stanford got -- the Irish probably had the best-looking offense on the night, shooting 51.9 percent from the field.
In Notre Dame's previous trips to the Final Four, the Irish lost in the semifinals to Tennessee in 1997, and beat UConn and Purdue for the 2001 championship. That Irish team a decade ago had very little depth. This season's doesn't have a lot, but has a little more than in 2001. Notre Dame used eight players Sunday.
The Aggies (32-5) gave the bulk of the minutes to the starting five, but did have five other players see some action. Texas A&M's depth and ability to wear teams down defensively have definitely helped the Aggies get this far, and is something they hope to utilize Tuesday.
"When I was watching them through the tournament, I thought, 'Boy, they'd be a really tough team to play,'" McGraw said. "Now, we got them."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.