For a large portion of tonight's semifinal game, the Stanford Cardinal did the things they needed to accomplish to advance to their second-consecutive National Championship game.
And while on one hand the final outcome could be explained by defensive lapses on the part of the Cardinal after freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike fouled out of the game 4:31 remaining, Texas A&M deserves all the credit for hitting big shot after big shot to pull off a somewhat stunning 63-62 victory.
"54 to 44," said TAMU coach Gary Blair, referring to the score with six minutes left in the game. "Ten points. We haven't pulled off a win like that...it's been a long time. But our kids refuse to give up and they refuse to play a team close and have everybody pat us on the back."
So this game was absolutely not stunning because there should never have been any assumption that TAMU couldn't win, but simply because the momentum seemed to be going almost entirely in Stanford's favor as they were up nine points with over five minutes left. TAMU was settling for jumpers, Stanford was controlling the boards.
Then TAMU got on a roll, Stanford faltered without Ogwumike and TAMU simply stepped up and made championship-caliber plays.
And as competitive a game as it was, the last minute was a see-saw whirlwind of pure will and aggression.
After Sydney Colson hit two free throws with 53 seconds left granted her by Melanie Murphy's fouling out, Nneka Ogwumike drew a foul and hit two free throws on the other end to put Stanford back up one. Tyra White came right back with a layup to put TAMU back up by one with 19 seconds left. Ogwumike came right back with a layup on the other end and then Stanford got burned by what propelled them to the Final Four last season.
"Well, obviously we got in a problem after we scored," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We didn't get the ball back and stop the ball, and then when they were able to score - we were looking to a pass to Nneka at the free throw line, and obviously they had two people back on her. And at that point Mikaela Ruef threw it anyway. But that was a play we work on and it didn't run exactly according to plan."
Colson raced up the court after Ogwumike's basket, seemingly catching Stanford off-guard, and found White filling the lanes for a fast break layup that ultimately won the game. Ogwumike finished with a dominant 31 points and seven rebounds, while White led the way for TAMU with 18 points and Danielle Adams added 16 points and six rebounds.
Stanford has nothing to be ashamed of in losing like that to a team like TAMU: this is one of those situations where we set a 40 minute time limit and when that buzzer sounded, the Aggies happened to be a point ahead.
"This is what women's basketball needs," TAMU coach Gary Blair said after the game. "It needs regional final games and semifinal games and final games like this to be able to sometimes wake up America, to be able to give us credit when credit is due."