April 5, 2011 in Sports

It’s Notre Dame offense vs. Texas A&M defense for title

Philip Hersh Chicago Tribune
Women’s championship game

Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M

Time: 5:30 p.m. TV: ESPN Radio: 1510-AM

This looks like a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

A Notre Dame team whose offense is so good and varied that a Hall of Fame coach who played them four times this season calls the Irish all but unstoppable.

“They’re an impossible team to play defense against,” UConn’s Geno Auriemma said.

A Texas A&M team whose defense is so effectively disruptive from end to end that an All-America player figures it does double duty as the Aggies’ offense.

That is the matchup for tonight’s NCAA women’s championship game in Indianapolis now that No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 8 Texas A&M each used its strength to oust the top two teams in the final regular season poll, Connecticut and Stanford, in Sunday’s semifinals.

“They get a lot of steals. They get a lot of turnovers. And they produce by turning the ball over,” said Stanford star Nneka Ogwumike, who scored half her team’s points in the 63-62 loss to the Aggies.

Using an in-your-face, high-intensity defense, Texas A&M forced 22 Stanford turnovers and scored 21 points off them. The Aggies (32-5), in their first Final Four, allowed Stanford just two baskets in the final six minutes as they wiped out a 10-point deficit.

“They really get up and guard people,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought their pressure is why they won the game (against Stanford Sunday night).”

McGraw, whose team is seeking a second national title a decade after its first, expects the final to turn into a defensive battle.

That might favor A&M.

“A lot of people – I don’t want to say they fear our defense, but I think they really respect what we do on the defensive end,” said Texas A&M point guard Sydney Colson, who had four steals against Stanford.

“We take so much pride on making people feel uncomfortable and making them do things they don’t want to do. So I definitely think that worries them a bit.”

The Irish do have an advantage in that their biggest offensive threat is the player who has the ball the most, sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins of South Bend, Ind.

Diggins, the team’s No. 2 scorer overall, had a career-defining performance as the Irish (31-7) ended a 12-game losing streak against UConn, 72-63.

She wriggled through the lane for layups or passes that gave teammates easy baskets. She stepped back to hit a couple of 3-pointers and stepped up for soft jumpers. The result: 28 points on 10-of-14 floor shooting and 6-of-6 foul shooting, plus six assists and two steals.

“They don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Aggies’ coach Gary Blair said of the Irish. “You’re looking at a team shooting 48 percent. They are shooting as well in the playoffs as they did in the regular season.”

They have met only once before, with Texas A&M winning at a 1995 tournament in Hawaii. They weren’t supposed to meet in the final, expected to be a reprise of last year’s UConn-Stanford title game, which would feature two of the sport’s traditional powers.

“I know we screwed it up for ESPN,” Blair said.

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