Look Back: Women's Final Four never in doubt

Never in doubt. Never in doubt. Never in doubt. Never in doubt. Never in doubt. Make sure to repeat it five times. The Stanford women's basketball program under Tara VanDerveer has become a broken record of success. The Cardinal's 81-69 domination of Duke sent the team to the Final Four for the fifth straight year.

A trip to the grandest stage has now become customary. After all, it's been over a half a decade since Stanford (35-1) was not part of the elite season-ending extravaganza.

Can VanDerveer's squad finally push itself over the hump here in 2012 and bring home the school's first national title since 2012? Well, Monday's Fresno tour de force certainly grabbed Baylor's attention. The takeaway heading into Sunday's national semifinal against the Bears: in primetime postseason action, Stanford is not only about the Ogwumikes.

Just two days after South Carolina played straight-up man defense and learned the hard way against the Cardinal, Duke tried another strategy. The Blue Devils knew they had a sturdier interior than the Gamecocks, and they invested themselves in trying to prevent a repeat of Nneka Ogwumike's 39-point Saturday devastation.

With almost frightening ease, Stanford immediately adjusted its approach. A game after attempting only one desperation-heave three pointer, the Cardinal immediately went to the perimeter. Joslyn Tinkle knocked down an early bomb, and Stanford ultimately finished with seven three-pointers. The inside-out attack flummoxed the Blue Devils, who had undoubtedly been bracing for a painful paint pounding. Instead, they saw 13 outside points each from Tinkle and Amber Orrange.

They had to be even more perplexed when Nneka Ogwumike finished with 29 points inside anyway, despite Stanford's newfound offensive emphasis on the perimeter. The Cardinal came from all angles, and that's how they pummeled a Duke team that was fresh off a 74-47 drubbing over St. John's.

The elder Ogwumike's balanced play was a microcosm of Stanford's beautiful, balanced effort. The senior didn't restrict herself to point-blank layups. She also opened up her offensive barrage with a handful of sweet fadeaway jumpers from middle distance. If that inside-out versatility remains on display at Denver's Pepsi Center Sunday, 38-0 Baylor will have its hands full.

As it stands, Brittney Griner and Co. already have a lot on their plate, as they face a Stanford team that has won a school-record 32 straight. The Cardinal can seemingly turn on a facet of their game at the flip of a switch, as was evident with their hot shooting start Monday – despite the fact that they didn't shoot the ball from the perimeter at all in their previous game.

In many ways, actually, Stanford and Baylor are very similar: both teams are centered around excellent post players (Ogwumike and Griner), both have effective supporting casts, and both haven't lost in a ridiculously long time. [Ed: And it's a slap in the face that Stanford and Baylor weren't put on opposite sides of the bracket, so that this game would be for a national title.]

The Bears, of course, have the more explosive star guard in Odyssey Sims. But the Cardinal counter with the fact that they have not one, but two Ogwumikes underneath. Chiney Ogwumike, by the way, scored 12 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against Duke. And there's no question that Nneka, though shorter, is more athletic than her big Baylor counterpart.

The point remains simple: don't get lost in the national media's love affair with Brittney Griner. Stanford's Elite 8 triumph was a resounding one, and it showed that the Cardinal have the talent to derail Baylor's magical campaign. Sunday's contest will be excellent theatre.

And everything that preceded it?

Well, it was never in doubt.


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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