There were tears of joy and tears of sadness shed in Conseco Fieldhouse as the pinnacle of women’s basketball came to an end at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis, Ind. Believe it or not, the title went to a team who saw the Final Four hardwood for the very first time – the Texas A&M Aggies.
“Tonight, we gave you that game,” said Gary Blair, Texas A&M head women’s basketball coach. “We gave you that national championship game without the so-called powers of the world. The two powers tonight were the two that earned it, and that’s Notre Dame and that’s Texas A&M.”
The title game matchup saw a duo of No. 2 seeds faceoff, but for a fan simply watching the game it was a thrilling fight to the finish. The semifinals told a similar story, with all three Final Four games some of the most exciting women’s basketball the pinnacle of the game has seen in years.
Each team in the national championship game knocked off two No. 1 seeds apiece. Texas A&M downed conference rival Baylor 58-46 in the Elite Eight, before edging Stanford 63-62 in the semifinals. Notre Dame surprised Tennessee 73-59 in an Elite Eight matchup, and then proceeded to defeat the No. 1 overall seed Connecticut 72-63.
“But women’s basketball needed this game perhaps more than Texas A&M or Notre Dame needed it,” Blair added. “We’re going to give the country a chance for them to be able to see you can win a lot of different ways without the kids scoring 35 points or whatever.”
With the end of the season, comes the end of an era for several of the programs participating in the Final Four. The new champs will lose 22.3 points per game and over eight rebounds per game in All-American Danielle Adams. Connecticut graduates arguably the best collegiate women’s basketball player in history in Maya Moore, who finishes her career with two National Championships, four Final Four appearances, and as the first three-time Wade Trophy recipient to name just a few.
“So I know how difficult it is for Maya and for Lorin. And I just wanted to remind them in the locker room that when they were freshmen, the same thing happened to them,” Connecticut head women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said after the semifinals loss to Notre Dame. “And they end their senior year with the same outcome, but what happened in between is something that only the really, really, really fortunate can ever experience.
“And what Maya and Lorin experienced in the two years between their loss in the Final Four and the loss tonight is something that that’s what I’m going to choose to focus on when I think about those two, especially Maya. I’m going to think about the best player in the history of the Big East and maybe the best student-athlete in the history of college basketball. And I’m not going to let her be defined by what happened tonight.”
If nothing else, this tournament has brought some new teams to the table, and made the country realize that parity is on the horizon for the game of women’s basketball, with new faces becoming mainstays in the battle for the crown. With Stanford bringing back the Ogwumike sisters and Notre Dame returning Skylar Diggins a year wiser, those two squads are likely to use this Final Four experience to their advantage with another shot at the title just a year away.
“You lose that last game, you just get motivated to come back and work a little bit harder and make sure it doesn’t happen again. So I think it will be a really good motivator for us,” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame head women’s basketball coach.
Don’t be surprised if the orange and navy powerhouses that have rocked the sport for years continue to see splashes of green, maroon, reds and blues make headway and reach the big dance on a yearly basis.