Texas A&M ladies top Baylor to reach Final Four

Texas A&M Danielle Adams (23), Sydney Carter, center, and Sydney Colson, left, celebrate after Texas A&M beat Baylor 58-46 to win the NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional final, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

March 30, 2011 3:19:07 AM PDT
As the Texas A&M team bus arrived for a game with an NCAA Final Four berth on the line, coach Gary Blair wanted to give his players some parting words of motivation.

He thought about something along the lines of, "Don't get off this bus unless you're going to play aggressive."

Then an assistant coach reminded him what he told his 1998 Arkansas team that was in the same situation.

Blair smiled and, for the first time since that day 13 years ago, he used the same line -- similar to what he'd planned, but stronger.

"Don't get off this bus unless you expect to win," he said.

And the Aggies did just that Tuesday night, seizing the lead right from the start and never letting down in a 58-46 victory over nemesis Baylor to earn a trip to the national semifinals for the first time in school history.

They will play perennial power Stanford in Indianapolis on Sunday night.

"We're going to the Final Four, but it will not be worth it if we do not win it," Blair said.

The Aggies (31-5) came in having lost eight straight games against their Big 12 rival, including the previous three this season against the Lady Bears and All-American Brittney Griner.

"Nobody likes to play anybody four times. Nobody, it's no fun," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. "I said it yesterday, I'll say it next week. This is supposed to be March Madness. When you've earned a 1 and 2 seed, it's not fun."

Despite shooting only 34 percent, despite newly minted All-American Danielle Adams scoring only six points, A&M never trailed and never flinched. Even when top-seeded Baylor (34-3) got within seven points with 4:16 left, the Aggies pulled away again.

Sydney Colson sealed it with a steal that she took all the way to the rim for a three-point play that jumped the lead back to 11.

Her teammates jumped from the bench in joy, while the Lady Bears sat frozen, realizing their season was all but over.

"We knew the game was ours at that point," Colson said. "We didn't want to act like it was a huge deal. ... The score at the end showed how hard we worked. We came out focused. We put that 0-3 past behind us and just came out together."

Texas A&M had blown a nine-point lead midway through the second half in Waco last month. They squandered a 12-0 start in the Big 12 championship game against Baylor just more than three weeks ago, two days before the brackets were unveiled with the NCAA making them the top two seeds in the same bracket.

"They chose to put us in the same region, two very good teams both of us could have been in the Final Four and we both should have been in the Final Four," Blair said. "But sometimes that's the way it goes and you have to realize we were not making excuses when we were put in this region. We embraced it."

Baylor and Griner, who played in the Final Four last year in the 6-foot-8 center's freshman season, will have to settle for the Big 12 regular season and tournament trophies the still-young Bears already won this season.

Sydney Carter led A&M with 22 points, including 15 by halftime when A&M already had an 11-point lead. Colson had 12 points while Tyra White had 10 points and nine rebounds.

Griner, coming off a 40-point game Sunday against Wisconsin-Green Bay after scoring 30 the game before that, had 20 points and nine rebounds. But she struggled shooting, missing plenty of short shots she usually makes.

"Just my shots wasn't falling," Griner said, barely audible. "It wasn't anything A&M did. Just poor shooting."

Melissa Jones, the only senior who played significant minutes for Baylor, scored 13 points and had seven rebounds. Jones, the gritty guard who played the tournament without full vision in her right eye after banging her head late in the season, buried her face in her hands after looking at the box score.

"It's just hard to deal with this because we just didn't play well. It's just one thing to, you know, just walk out knowing that you gave it everything you had. But we didn't tonight," Jones said. "That's what's so stressful and so frustrating is that we didn't give our best effort. "

Griner made only 6 of 18 shots from the field, including a missed dunk attempt, and missed seven of her 15 free throws. Young guards Odyssey Sims and Jordan Madden were a combined 0 of 8, and the team had 20 turnovers -- that A&M turned into 16 points.

Baylor had only four points off 13 Aggies turnovers. That's a 12-point difference there, the same as the final margin.

Carter had a 3-pointer, an assist and a jumper in the game's first 2 minutes for a 7-0 lead. The Aggies were coming off a 41-point rout two days earlier.

"Once we beat Georgia, the feeling began then," Carter said. "There was definitely confidence, an all-around confidence going around the locker room before the game. ... We told ourselves this is our game."

Blair, in his 26th season as a head coach, was also an assistant coach for two national championships at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s when Mulkey was the point guard there.

Mulkey is the only person to win national championships as a player, assistant coach and head coach. She has 298 victories in her 11 seasons at Baylor, which had never been to the NCAA tournament and was the Big 12's worst team when she arrived. They won the national title six years ago in Indianapolis.

"She'll be back in next year. Don't worry about my girl Kim," Blair said. "They're that good and they've got more ammunition coming in."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APTV-03-30-11 0447CDT

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