Wiggins Returns, Card Advance to Pac-10 Semis

The suspense was suspended on Saturday at the Pac-10 Tournament when junior Candice Wiggins took the floor for the first time in two weeks. A new drama unfolded when #9 seed Arizona trailed by two points at halftime. Wiggins and freshman Jayne Appel pushed #1-seeded Stanford to victory, 65-55. With the quarterfinals at HP Pavilion in San Jose untelevised, this account of the action is a must read.

"To win without risk is to triumph without glory."
        - Pierre Corneille (1606 - 1684), The Cid, 1636

Freshman Jayne Appel scored her forth double-double of the season on 18 points and 13 rebounds, and a hero returned to her rightful place in battle.  The #1-seeded Stanford Cardinal squared off against the #9-seeded Arizona Wildcats Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Women's Basketball Tournament.  Arizona defeated the Oregon State Beavers, 69-54, during the first round of play, a game which saw Wildcat junior Ashley Whisonant score a career-high 23 points.  Stanford enjoyed a first-round bye and entered the contest rested and hungry for victory.

Arizona won the tip, and Stanford and Arizona traded field goals and three-pointers.

Junior Candice Wiggins, starting her first game since February 17 at Oregon, scored a field goal under the glass on a beautiful pass from fifth-year senior Brooke Smith, who was out near the elbow.  Sophomore Jillian Harmon scored a three-pointer, giving hope to the Cardinal faithful that an additional outside threat may develop for Stanford.  Senior Kristen Newlin picked up a foul, which brought in Appel at the first media timeout.  5-5, all tied up.

Stanford makes an early run

The Cardinal showed patience on the perimeter and looked for holes in the Wildcat zone defense.  The orders were to pound the ball inside, and consecutive possessions by both teams resulted in no points.  Wiggins broke the ice with a three-pointer, assisted again by Smith, and Appel put back her own rebound for two.  Arizona called a timeout to figure out where things went wrong during this 5-0 Cardinal run.  Stanford switched to a defensive zone, and the Arizona field goal drought continued.  The Wildcats found two points on free throws from a Smith foul.  Harmon scored on an impressive baseline drive and racked up another three-pointer, with a highlight-worthy assist from Appel (her feet never touched the ground during this lightning quick, inside-out pass).  Arizona added a bucket off a second-chance rebound, but Stanford's transition offense found it way too easy to find Appel for an uncontested layup.  20-9, Stanford.

Arizona stops the bleeding

Junior Cissy Pierce came in to give Wiggins a quick rest, as Appel made the front of two free throws.  Harmon scored again on transition offense, on a long pass from Appel, and Arizona gave it right back with an offensive charge foul.  Arizona found the hole when fouled by freshman Melanie Murphy, and the Wildcats converted the three-point play.  Turnovers and misses by both teams staled the air.  Freshman Michelle Harrison swiped a ball away from a Wildcat, tipping the ball to Smith, who found Wiggins for a three-shot, but missed.  Harrison collected the rebound and made a great pass to Newlin, who was fouled while shooting.  Newlin made the front of a pair of free throws.  Arizona rebounded, and Whisonant drained a three.  Smith received another great entry pass, but was fouled before shooting.  24-15, Stanford.

Joan sees enough

Smith missed her one-and-none.  Wiggins missed a three on the offensive rebound, and Smith made a big-time hustle play to get back on defense and block the Whisonant lay-up.  Arizona tried to press the Stanford in-bound, and the Cardinal broke it like they're playing connect-the-dots.  Pierce got a steal that lead into an easy layup.  Appel tipped away a Wildcat ball to Pierce, who found Smith on the free throw line; Smith made a turn-around jumper look easy.  Arizona Coach Joan Bonvicini called a timeout to give her team some direction, up close and personal.  She must have been convincing.

Arizona gets a run of their own

The Wildcats came out of their timeout down 13 points, 28-15.  Despite a block from Newlin, and an impossible stop by Wiggins of a two-on-one Wildcat fast break, the Cardinal would not find the hole for the remainder of the half except for a Smith jumper from the bad angle that could have been a three.  The Cardinal endured five misses and three turnovers, as Arizona went on a 13-2 run to close the half and ran to the locker room with sugar plums and upset victories dancing in their heads.  30-28, Stanford.

Adjustments at the half

Although the Cardinal suffered a meltdown during the last five minutes of the first half, there were some important developments in Stanford's game.  Wiggins was on the court for 18 minutes and was 3-of-7 field goal shooting (2-of-6 from three-land).  Harmon also dropped a pair of threes and was leading the Cardinal with 10 points at the half.  The outside shooting threat for Stanford, once thought extinct, was found again and was an obvious contributing factor for the ease of the inside game for Appel.  For the Wildcats, Ashley Whisonant had scored 14 points and was on pace to break her career single-game scoring mark, set the previous night.   Shutting her down would be key for a Stanford victory.

Don't blink, or you'll miss it

With the possession arrow favoring the Wildcats, Arizona laid it in and tied the ball game.  Facing a zone defense, the Cardinal unleashed a torrent of lightning quick passes on the unsuspecting Wildcats.  Smith landed a jumper from a Harmon rocket pass.  A Wiggins to Harmon to Smith pass flew at breakneck speed, but Smith got an unlucky bounce on the rim.  However, Harmon was there for the rebound and was fouled.  Harmon hit the front of the pair of free throws, and Arizona converted the next possession to cut the lead to one.  Another tic-tac-toe, bang-bang-boom pass (that never dipped below six feet) found its way from Wiggins across to Smith and inside to Newlin for two points.  The referees stop play because Brooke Smith spontaneously started bleeding; no foul was called, so how did she end up with those scratches?  I digress.  Misses and turnovers by both teams wasted the time away, although Harmon's clampdown defense prevented an Arizona backdoor pass that should have been easy points.  Appel caught an inside pass from Harmon, and while still mid-air, looked for a kick-out target.  Finding none, she turned and dropped the rock into the hole.  Arizona's Whisonant answered with a pair of field goals, and having had enough of this pound-the-paint stuff, Arizona sagged in on Appel.  The #9 seed made the colossal mistake of leaving Wiggins wide open on consecutive possessions.  "Wrongo-dongo," said Wiggins* as she dropped back-to-back three pointers to extend the Cardinal lead to seven.  Appel tipped another ball away from Arizona to Smith, who threw it away down-court to a sprinting Pierce, too far ahead of her.  Or did she?  Pierce somehow chased Smith's pass down before it went out of bouncds, a physical feat not believed unless witnessed.  Pierce collected the ball and drove the hoop for two.  Coach Bonvicini could not take it anymore and called a timeout.  45-36, Stanford.

Getting ugly

A Stanford turnover led to an Arizona field goal.  A Pierce miss was forgiven, as Arizona turned it right back over to the Cardinal.  Wiggins stole the ball from Whisonant, who gunned it to Appel, who fired it to Smith for a textbook jumper.  Harmon was called for a foul while defending, and Arizona bagged its two free throws.  Things were scoreless for a couple of minutes as both teams battled for control.  Arizona tried to press the inbound pass by Stanford at every opportunity but fell back when the Cardinal brought it in.  Both teams racked up misses, including an awful Cardinal drought of free throws, layups and jumpers.  Harrison broke the tension by putting back a Smith miss.  A Wiggins steal found its way back to Harrison, who dropped a beautiful pass from under the glass to Appel, who sent the ball through the ring.  51-40, Stanford.

Another trombone player down

Appel committed a foul, and Arizona missed the front of a one-and-none.  Smith at the elbow found Appel on the glass for an easy deuce.  It's getting real easy to find Appel now.  Appel picked up a steal and was fouled.  The freshman center went to the line to make the front of two free throws.  Arizona started shooting nothing but threes and made one triple in three consecutive attempts.  Arizona started backcourt pressure on Wiggins, and she brought the ball down without incident, each time.  An Appel defensive rebound was kicked out to Wiggins, who started a three-on-one Cardinal fast break; Wiggins faked right and dropped in the layup to complete a brilliant fast break transition.  Appel swatted a Wildcat shot into the Arizona band, and Coach Bonvicini called for a timeout to go "back" to the drawing board.  56-44, Stanford.

Anybody got any ideas?

Down by 12 with 04:13 to play, Arizona pulled a rabbit out of their hat.  Wildcat senior Joy Hollingsworth went "junior high" on the Cardinal and inbounded the ball off Smith's back.  Luck just wasn't with her or the Wildcats, as Hollingsworth missed her trick-play layup.  Stanford would eventually extend their lead to 14 with 02:19 to play, and at that point Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer rotated the bench for mop-up time.  Arizona would close the gap in garbage time, but Stanford kept the lead.  65-55, Stanford, final.


Appel finished with her double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds).  She at one point late in the game had a Wildcat hanging on her and caught a hard pass in the paint one-handed.  Appel keeps making huge strides of improvement and will be key for the NCAA Tournament run.  Smith had nine points and six assists.  Harmon scored 11 points, 10 of those in the first half.  Stanford allowed Whisonant only four more points before she fouled out with 37 seconds remaining.  The story of the game was the return of Candice Wiggins, with 16 points and 12 from beyond the arc.  Wiggins means everything to the success of this Stanford team.  She is the cornerstone of the Cardinal offense, as opponents cannot stop her scoring threat from anywhere on the court.  That outside shot opens up the inside offense for the fabulous threesome of Newlin, Smith, and Appel.  Her offensive firepower and leadership calms and focuses the rest of the team, and they start to find their own shots, with her in the game.  Next up, the Women of Troy in the semifinals

*  The author wants to make it clear that Candice Wiggins did not actually ever say "wrongo-dongo," at any point during the game - at least not audibly enough for him to hear from his seat 13 rows up.

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