INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The coaches might not be household names. The players aren’t well known _ yet.
The national championship game between Notre Dame and Texas A&M on Tuesday night is a rare showdown in women’s basketball, the first time since 2005 that neither Tennessee nor Connecticut has been involved.
No Stanford, either, and no Baylor. No Maya Moore. No Geno Auriemma.
It’s all good. Just ask Gary Blair, Texas A&M’s entertaining and outspoken coach.
“It’s good for story lines,” Blair said. “Instead of having Brittney Griner or Maya Moore and Geno, but what’s wrong with good old Muffet (McGraw) and Gary and teams that play tremendous team basketball that do not rely on just one player?”
The two schools better known for their play on the gridiron will take the grandest stage in women’s basketball in one of the biggest surprises in NCAA tournament history. Even though both are No. 2 seeds, they got here the hard way.
The Irish (31-7) snapped an 0-20 skid against Tennessee in the tournament and then upset Moore and the two-time defending champion Huskies after going 0-3 against their top-seeded Big East rival this year and 0-9 before that. Texas A&M (32-5) advanced by beating Griner and her Baylor teammates after three losses this season, and then upended another top seed in Stanford in the semifinals.
The result is a title game without a top seed for just the second time, and the first since No. 3 seed North Carolina beat No. 4 Louisiana Tech in 1994.
“Somebody said only one person predicted that it was going to be an A&M-Notre Dame matchup out of all the millions of people who do a bracket,” Texas A&M guard Sydney Colson said. “I think the fact there have been these upsets is really helping out with women’s basketball. I think it will get some of those top-name girls to branch out to other schools and realize it’s not just UConn and Stanford and Tennessee that can win national championships.”
Notre Dame’s sensational sophomore guard Skylar Diggins was one of those girls. She grew up in South Bend and was a die-hard Irish fan who cheered them on as they won their only national championship in 2001.
“I was there, hands on the TV,” said Diggins, who was 10 at the time. “If they lost I’d have been crushed.”
Diggins led the Irish to back-to-back victories over Tennessee and Connecticut _ the first time a team has ever beaten those two juggernauts in the same NCAA tournament. Amazingly, it’s only happened eight times during the same regular season, according to STATS LLC.
“It’s awesome,” Diggins said. “This team is very proud of itself and we’re not done yet.”
There are a lot of similarities between that last title run and this one. Notre Dame also beat UConn in the Final Four after losing to the Huskies in the Big East tournament championship game. The Irish’s starting point guard, Niele Ivey, was a third team All-America like Diggins was this season.
“I’m enjoying the circle. We had our championship reunion in the fall and the team came in,” said McGraw, the Fighting Irish coach. “They presented a ball to this team and said, you know, ‘We’ve won our championship, now it’s your turn.’”