Parity in Women’s basketball present in the Final Four

By Etheria Modacure

INDIANAPOLIS—Etched on the banners hanging from the Conseco Fieldhouse rafters were the names of the previous Women’s Basketball National Championship winners throughout the past 30 years.

Since 1982, when the tournament began, three programs, the University of Tennessee, Stanford University, the University of Connecticut, have won 17 titles.

Before the Final Four began on April 3, Stanford, Tennessee, Baylor University and  Connecticut were all expected to contend for a championship. They were all No. 1 seeds in their respective regions but it would soon turnout to be a title game no one predicted.

Baylor and Tennessee, were upset in the regional finals by the University of Notre Dame and Texas A&M University, two teams that didn’t let their momentum falter during their path to the Final Four.

If experts were right all the time, the suspense of a game would be absent. Notre Dame and Texas A&M didn’t need anyone telling them they were underdogs. It was actually motivation for them as they upset all four No. 1 seeds in the tournament to reach the final game on April 5.

Stanford and Connecticut failed in their quest for a rematch of last season’s championship game by bowing out to the Fighting Irish and Aggies in two highly competitive contests on April 3.

“How about those Aggies?” asked Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair after his team’s victory against the Stanford Cardinal, 63-62. “This is what women’s basketball needs. It needs regional final games and semifinal games like this to be able to sometimes wake up America, to be able to give us credit where credit is due.”

The contest between Texas A&M and Stanford was a classic battle between a team expected to compete for a championship because of its experience and poise and a ballclub that proved everyone wrong with its playing style.

It came down to the final possession for the Aggies with junior guard Tyra White hitting the go-ahead layup with 3.3 seconds remaining. It catapulted a team who had previously upset Baylor in the regional final of the Dallas region.

The next game of the semifinal pitted two Big East Conference foes, Notre Dame and Connecticut, in the Fighting Irish’s home away from home in Indianapolis. The Huskies couldn’t prevent another upset as they lost to Notre Dame, 72-63.

Connecticut’s Coach Geno Auriemma said throughout the season his team didn’t have experience of being a championship contender. When prognosticators were hailing the program to repeat as champions, Auriemma kept

voicing his worries.

“I think what happened is what happens in a lot of NCAA tournaments, the team that plays better that night wins,” Auriemma said. “Not the team everybody puts on the board is supposed to win.”

The seven-time national championship-winning head coach said he got a kick out of experts who said he should fear playing Baylor and Stanford consecutively en route to a national championship. He thought they were crazy, and it wasn’t a given that would happen.

“I think what people have to understand is nothing’s a given,” Auriemma said. “What this night proved was there are good teams, and those teams are not just named Connecticut, Stanford and Baylor.”

When asked if the results of both semifinal games were good for the exposure of women’s college basketball,  Auriemma said people want to see players make plays to win games, not fail to make them and lose.

“Whether anybody is disappointed Stanford and Connecticut aren’t playing [on April 5], that’s irrelevant,” Auriemma said. “The two teams who played the best today and deserve to be playing [on April 5], are the two teams playing.”

The last national championship game not to feature a No. 1 seed  was in 1994 and it ended with University of North Carolina winning the title.

Notre Dame and Texas A&M had similar paths to final game with stellar play from their point guards. The Fighting Irish were led by sophomore Skylar Diggins, while the Aggies were led by senior Sydney Colson.

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said having a championship game with two unlikely teams is nothing but beneficial for the future of women’s collegiate basketball. She said for years Connecticut was a measuring stick and, in some cases, her team would be happy to move in the rankings after a loss to the Huskies.  Now teams could measure themselves against the Fighting Irish and Aggies.

“Other schools say, ‘Wow, look at what Notre Dame is able to do, look at what Texas A&M did, maybe we can do it, too,’” McGraw said.

While the Fighting Irish had the chance to win their first title since 2001, they were unable to pull out a victory against the Aggies.

The final score of the championship game was Texas A&M, 76, Notre Dame, 70. The Aggies were able to win their first title in women’s basketball.

Blair  noted how the bar was raised in the sport that didn’t determine a champion  until 1982.

He said media members didn’t get the unlucky straw in the hat to cover women’s basketball but instead they wanted see basketball played at its highest level.

“Tonight, we gave you that game,” Blair said. “We gave you that national championship game without the so-called powers of the world. The two powers here were the two who earned it and that was Notre Dame and Texas A&M. Either of us deserved this trophy, but we played better in the

second half.”