With a strong fan base cheering them on, Notre Dame looked to put an exclamation mark on its super season.
After knocking out favorites Connecticut and Stanford, respectively, the Irish and Aggies put on a great show in front of more than 17,000 raucous fans last night, but Notre Dame's bid for a second national championship fell short, 76-70, in Indianapolis.
Flustered early by A&M’s harassing ball pressure, Notre Dame regrouped from seven turnovers in the first seven minutes, and an 18-6 deficit near the 13-minute mark, thanks to eight consecutive points from senior Devereux Peters, including a pair of layups courtesy sophomore point guard, Skylar Diggins.
The Irish cut the Aggies’ lead to four, 31-27, on a three-point bucket from senior Brittany Mallory and scored the final eight of the opening stanza, taking a 35-33 lead into the break.
Notre Dame finished the first half on a nine-minute, 21-6 run, turning a 27-14 deficit into the two-point edge at intermission.
The second stanza featured five lead changes with both teams seizing momentum in the well-played contest.
The Irish led by as many as seven, 48-41, with just over sixteen minutes remaining in the contest but then went cold over a crucial two-minute span as the Aggies took back the lead, 50-48, hitting three of four shots and three free throws.
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw explained her thoughts on the change of momentum.
“I thought we took a couple of really bad shots. We probably had a turnover or so in there," McGraw said. "But just really quick shots where we could have got something a little better.”
Notre Dame battled back from A&M's surge to take a one-point advantage with just under nine minutes left in the contest.
The difference maker for the first-time champion Aggies was All-American Danielle Adams, who poured in 30 points to go with 9 rebounds on the night. Adams was unstoppable underneath, scoring 22 points in the decisive second half.
Diggins continued to buoy the Irish and at times played more like a senior than a sophomore, finishing with 23 points to lead the Irish. However, the South Bend star was also guilty of six turnovers on the night, including costly mis-handle in the final minute of the game.
Solid throughout the contest, senior Devereaux Peters poured in 21 points to go with 11 rebounds in the loss. McGraw praised Peters for her efforts.
“She really settled into her game, did a nice job on the boards. I thought she was effective around the basket," McGraw noted. "She scored well. She rebounded well.”
The game's decisive bucket was provided by Aggies guard, Tyra White, who drilled a line drive three-pointer off a baseline inbound pass as the shot clock expired, extending a tenuous 70-68 A&M advantage to a commanding 73-68 lead with just over a minute to play.
Nevertheless, McGraw’s team fought back as Diggins hit a pair of free throws and then pressured the Aggies into a back court turnover, leaving hope for the Irish to claim a second national crown.
The dream comeback fell short as Diggins turned the ball back over in front of the Irish bench, and the Aggies connected on 3 of 4 foul shots to ice the contest.
Following the game, Coach McGraw gave her 31-8 Irish and the many Irish fans in attendance their due.
“What an incredible season. I’m so proud of the team, what they accomplished this year, where we came from in November to get to this point," McGraw said. "It’s really remarkable, the progress that we made this year.”
“I’m just so proud of them right now and so thankful for the support from all the people in South Bend. A lot of great out there in the stands today, and we really appreciate that support.”