INDIANAPOLIS — Even Maya Moore’s magic wasn’t enough for Connecticut this time.
Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins scored 28 points and hot-shooting Notre Dame upset UConn 72-63 on Sunday night, ending the brilliant career of Moore and the Huskies’ quest for a third straight national championship.
Ten years after their last title, the Irish will be playing for another one Tuesday night against Texas A&M, which beat Stanford 63-62 in the first semifinal.
Notre Dame was 0-3 against its Big East rival this season but the Irish had all the answers this time for the Huskies, who lost for just the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame had already beaten Tennessee in the NCAA tournament, ending a 20-game skid against the Volunteers.
Now the Irish have knocked out the two-time defending champions.
Moore finished with 36 points, including 12 straight as she tried to rally the Huskies from a 12-point deficit in the final 6 minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
The four-time All-American and AP player of the year was overshadowed by Diggins, the South Bend native who felt right at home in Conseco Fieldhouse, where she led her high school to three straight championships. Now she can add a NCAA championship to that list with a victory Tuesday night.
“We had to be poised, I mean, we had to try to make Maya take tough shots, and I think she did,” Diggins said. “And at the end we said, ‘We have to stay poised on defense and we have to execute on offense.’ We showed a lot more poise than we did in the first three games against Connecticut.”
Trailing 34-26 early in the second half, Diggins’ three-point play started a 15-4 run by the Irish. Devereaux Peters’ added her own three-point play that gave Notre Dame a 38-37 advantage — its first lead since midway through the first half.
Diggins capped the burst with another three-point play that made it 41-38 with 13:17 left and brought the pro-Irish crowd to its feet and left Geno Auriemma’s team reeling.
The Irish extended their lead to 47-40 a few minutes later before UConn cut the deficit to four on Bria Hartley’s 3-pointer.
Brittany Mallory and Natalie Novosel hit consecutive 3-pointers to make it a 12-point game with just over 7 minutes left. Moore did her best to try to rally her young team, but the Huskies fell short.
Texas A&M 63, Stanford 62
INDIANAPOLIS — Texas A&M’s defense was good enough to upset two No. 1 seeds.
They will find out Tuesday night if it is good enough to win a national championship.
Sydney Colson drove the length of the floor and found a cutting Tyra White for a layup with 3.3 seconds left to give the Aggies a thrilling 63-62 victory over Stanford. The teams traded leads five times in the final minute, capping A&M’s remarkable rally from a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes.
And they’re not finished yet.
“It’s time to make history,” Colson said.
The Aggies (32-5) already have done that by punching a ticket to their first title game. But beat homestate favorite Notre Dame or two-time defending champion Connecticut on Tuesday night and the Aggies (32-5) will have far more to celebrate.
This comeback will not be soon forgotten.
When Stanford took a 54-44 lead with 6:01 to play, most people at Conseco Fieldhouse assumed the Cardinal were heading to a third title game in four years.
But the Aggies changed the game with their oppressive defense.
Stanford (33-3) managed only two more baskets the rest of the night, and A&M’s aggressive offensive moves got them back into the game.
Then came the 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, Danielle Adams was called for a foul on Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike. The upset Adams got up and started running toward the Aggies bench, with one of the referees telling her to calm down. Ogwumike made both shots to give Stanford a 60-59 lead.
“It was hectic, you know,” Aggies guard Sydney Carter said. “Everybody was saying 30 seconds for the rest of y’all’s lives.”
Turns out 30 seconds was still an eternity for these teams.
A&M came back with White’s layup with 19 seconds to go, only to have Ogwumike answer with a tough layup 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 dished to White for the winner.
White finished with 18 points, and a slow-starting Adams had 16 points to lead the Aggies.
The Cardinal were led by Ogwumike’s 31 points and Jeanette Pohlen had 11, but went home empty-handed from the Final Four for a fourth consecutive year.
“It’s hard,” senior Kayla Pedersen said. “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.
They held Stanford’s potent offense 18 points under its average, and forced them into 22 turnovers. Even being the first tourney team to top 50 points against Texas A&M in a game wasn’t enough Saturday.
“They are extremely athletic. They play extremely hard,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They get the loose balls. I thought we played very well to get the lead. We had to do some things we didn’t have to do all season long against anyone else. It came down to one play. They had two three-point plays when we were up 10.”
TOURNEY NOTES: Former Purdue players Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and FahKara Malone were among the participants in the “So You Want to be a Coach” program that concluded on Sunday. LaChina Robinson, who has facilitated the program since 2005, said the goal is not just to help women land coaching jobs but to succeed when they do. Indiana’s Felisha Leggette-Jack, Sylvia Crawley of Boston College and Saint Louis coach Shimmy Gray-Miller are among the coaches involved. “It’s really an in-depth look into what it’s like to be a coach,” Robinson said. “We bring in panels of head and assistant coaches at some of the best programs in the country.” The seminars are for players who have exhausted their eligibility or graduated within the past year.