For the first time in Stanford history, the Cardinal completed an undefeated double – sweeping the Pac-10 regular season and nabbing the conference tournament title with a 70-46 romp over UCLA on Sunday. The Cardinal's road to the title was marred by a few scares on the court, but the ladies from the Farm played some of their best basketball of the season when it all was said and done.
Quarterfinals vs. Arizona
The Cardinal kicked off the tournament Friday in the quarterfinals against Arizona and had their hands full with a feisty Wildcat team. Stanford played well in the first half, even without Jayne Appel, who was still nursing a sprained ankle after missing the regular season finale against Cal. Arizona stormed out of the gate in the second half, cutting the Cardinal's lead to 43-40 with 13:55 left in the 2nd half. With such a tenuous lead, Coach Tara VanDerveer went to the bench for her superstar, and Appel helped Stanford pull away to a 62-49 lead over the next 10 minutes before rolling to a 72-52 win. The Cardinal were led offensively by Nneka Ogwumike, who contributed 25 points, as well as Jeannette Pohlen, who had 15 points on five three-pointers.
Semifinals vs. Cal
The Cardinal moved on to face Cal in a rematch of the final game of the Pac-10 regular season on Saturday night, and took out the Bears early, almost doubling up the Bears in the first half en route to a 64-44 victory. The game was a more complete performance for the Card, as the starters had plenty of time to rest after jumping out early. Appel and freshman Joslyn Tinkle split time in the post, with 19 minutes apiece. In only 28 minutes, Nneka again led all scorers with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The good game for the Cardinal was offset by a scary moment with five minutes left in the game when Cal senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson fell on her head and was removed from the floor on a stretcher. Thankfully, she was released from the hospital after CT scans came back negative. Our thoughts go out to Alexis, wishing her a speedy and safe recovery.
Finals vs. UCLA
The Cardinal's final matchup of the weekend came against a UCLA team that had given Stanford a close game earlier in the year, had a "home court" advantage, and had just secured a big victory over cross-town rival and #3 seed USC. On paper, Stanford had their work cut out for them. On the court, the Bruins were no match for the Cardinal as Stanford ran away with a 70-46 romp to secure the tournament title as four players notched double-digit point totals. The game was firmly in hand for the Card from the get-go, as they jumped out to a 17-9 lead on their way to a 36-19 first half lead. UCLA looked frustrated and lethargic for much of the second half, except for a short burst of energy highlighted by Jasmine Dixon, who racked up 20 points for the Bruins, before she fouled out with five minutes left in the game. The Cardinal were once again led by Ogwumike, who tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds on her way to garnering the award for the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She was followed up by Appel's 15 points, Kayla Pedersen's 12 points (with 11 rebounds to boot), and Melanie Murphy's surprising 10-point performance.
Analysis and Reaction
Stanford's roll through the Pac-10 tournament was truly impressive, and the Cardinal played some of their best basketball of the season, even with Jayne Appel still limited because of her sprained ankle. It's interesting to watch how closely tied the Card's success is to Appel's minutes – the more she played over these three games, the better the Cardinal played. The team aspect of Appel's game was evident early on, as the team's passing was impressive, especially in breaking the soft press that UCLA decided to employ.
The team passing was just as good in the half-court set, but unfortunately many open shots didn't fall like the Cardinal faithful wanted, as Stanford missed their fair share of layups. Even with Appel on the court, Nneka was the key to blowing the door open in the first half. She did it all on Sunday afternoon, scoring, grabbing rebounds, and even taking an offensive foul. The surprise of the game was definitely Melanie Murphy, whose ten points in 18 minutes of action were a welcome sight. Murphy received some significant playing time in this tournament, taking the place of usual backup point guard JJ Hones. Coach VanDerveer deserves a lot of credit for leaving in Mel to get comfortable with the game before she could take off and make a big difference for the Card.
The second half looked like it would get out of hand very early, as UCLA looked very emotional and despondent, but even after Appel had back-to-back breakaway layups, UCLA responded by cutting Stanford's 21-point lead down to just 13 points before Dixon fouled out. All in all, UCLA played a very physical, challenging game, and Stanford flexed all of its offensive and defensive muscle, passing well, shooting well, and forcing UCLA to take a lot of uncomfortable outside shots. Had Jeannette Pohlen (who was only two for ten from the floor) made a few more shots, Stanford's victory would have been even more convincing. Nneka taking home the Most Outstanding Player award was a well-deserved icing on the cake for her, after taking home the Pac-10 Player of the Year award from both the media and the coaches earlier in the week. Stanford fans can certainly take home a lot of positives from this tournament going into the Big Dance.
With Stanford's Pac-10 tournament victory in the books, the Cardinal were a lock to return home for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. The tournament selection show aired Monday, March 15th and fans saw what they expected to see as Stanford was the number two overall seed, #1 in the West. Maples Pavilion will host the one, eight, nine, and sixteen seeds from the Sacramento regional on March 20th and 22nd. Tickets for the tournament can be purchased through GoStanford.com.
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