‘Intervention’ helped save A&M’s season
INDIANAPOLIS One win away from making history as champion of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Texas A&M understands everything that brought it to this point had a purpose.
The meetings. The yelling. The tears. The eventual laughter.
All of it led to a common goal, one that A&M (32-5) hopes to realize tonight against fellow second seed Notre Dame (31-7) and breakout star Skylar Diggins.
“Those times that we went through at the beginning of the season prepared us for playing Baylor and playing Stanford where you see how tough you actually are ... and how much you trust in your teammates,” senior point guard Sydney Colson said.
For a veteran team with a track record of success and high expectations, chemistry didn’t arrive in a neat package.
Not even close.
The Aggies needed what junior guard Sydney Carter calls “the intervention.” Just as the Aggies were beginning to start practice in mid-October, Colson, Carter and fellow co-captains Adaora Elonu and Maryann Baker sent an important message about commitment and work ethic and buying into the team concept.
“We’ve come so far from the beginning of the year when everyone was bickering,” Carter said. “We were all just fighting amongst each other. We weren’t a team at all. We just banded together.”
The Aggies were blunt then in players-only meetings and just as blunt now.
Call it tough love.
Colson likened the Aggies to sisters. Hard truths can be told, with no one holding a grudge. Colson remembers the message the captains sent, especially the seniors.
“We didn’t want to come into the beginning of the practice with people who
didn’t have the same mind-set we did, who weren’t expecting to go out there and work hard every single day no matter how tiring it was,” Colson said.
The issue went beyond conditioning. The practices build the kind of mental and physical toughness that allows comebacks from 10-point deficits, as A&M accomplished Sunday against Stanford.
“We take great pride in knowing that nobody out-practices us, nobody out-works us,” assistant coach Vic Schaefer said.
Players had stayed through the summer to illustrate their commitment. But reminders had to be made, about the work involved and the task at hand.
“We weren’t actually clicking as we expected to do,” Elonu said. “The first meeting was a testament to how we play and how we have to work as hard as we can.”
Nobody was immune, from freshmen to senior All-American Danielle Adams, a junior college transfer who had been in the program for only two years. Adams had several chats with the leadership group.
“I remember all those meetings,” Adams said, not going into specifics. “We’ve had those issues. We’ve all gotten on the same page, and we’ve all wanted the same goal.”
Elonu said the team didn’t truly coalesce until Big 12 play began. An unexpected late-season loss at Kansas State served as a teachable moment. A third loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament championship game reaffirmed that work remained.
Five victories have followed in the NCAA tournament.
“And we’re one step away from it, and we’re definitely not willing to back down from it now,” Carter said. “So everybody’s just got to pull it together and do it one more time.”