Stanford to the Final Four!
It was the merry madness of March at Arco Arena. Culminating an outstanding Sacramento regional, Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker pulled out a special play and it turned out to be a winner. Stanford junior point guard Jeanette Pohlen pulled a "Tyus Edney" (or a "Khalid Reeves" if you are a Maples veteran dating back to 1992) on hard-working #4-seed Xavier with a mad length-of-the-court dash and dish that went down just as the clock expired. Pure pandemonium then reigned. Jayne no longer felt the "payne". Roz couldn't help the tears. This one almost got away from the Cardinal as an uncharacteristically poor shooting night started looking even worse when All-American Jayne Appel got tagged with a questionable push-off foul, her fifth, with four minutes left.
With seconds counting down, the Cardinal's goose appeared cooked. The #1 seed had shot just 35% from the field, had blown two seven-point leads, and was staring at an early exit and a destruction dreams. Destiny, however, had other plans...
Xavier's #4 Dee Dee Jernigan, who with her sketchy short game should give up any plans for playing the game of golf, managed to miss not one, but two wide-open, probably game-icing layups. It was too easy. Somebody in the crowd must have yelled "Noonan!" Somewhere, former Michigan "Fab-Five" forward Chris Weber must feel better about his infamous time-out attempt. Those bricks were worse than Bart Lammerson's memorable masonry against Arizona! (Bart = good guy, poor shot that day). We feel badly for Jernigan, but tournament progression is a zero-sum game.
Make one of those two shots and the Lady Musketeers in all likelihood had punched their ticket. Somehow, they let Stanford have a second life and it became their non-virtual reality. 4.4 seconds to everlasting legacy for Pohlen. 55-53 Cardinal. SportsCenter lead story! Our ladies keep on dancin' at 35-1, with a chance at redeeming that one loss to UConn looming large if they can manage to get through to the finals!
Rough and tumble junior forward Kayla Pederson, who is my top pick in the "whom do you want on your side in a bar room brawl?" draft, refuses to be intimidated by anyone, playing aggressively, but with cool composure. This gal is making 18 & 10 look routine - against top-flight competition. Her last clutch jumper saved the Cardinal's bacon every bit as much as Pohlen's buzzer-beater.
30-win Xavier was obviously no fluke. Amber Harris seemed to tire down the stretch, but there were times when she looked like a lock as a future WNBA lottery pick with 20 points and 7 rebounds. "Special" Jennings may have siblings and nieces named "Gorgeous" and "Beautiful", but she plays basketball with some "nasty" and "vicious". She was an occasional thorn in the Cardinal side until "Rollin' Pohlen" blew past her for the final, decisive hoop. Xavier at times seemed far more athletic than the Cardinal, save perhaps for Pederson and Ogwumike. Jernigan herself had made some remarkably athletic runners and scoop shots earlier in the game. Apparently she prefers the tough ones (I know, "Be nice!").
Surprisingly, Gold-Onwude and Pohlen were non-factors offensively for most of the game, but each managed to come up with a huge trey. Joslyn Tinkle deserved credit for making a couple of great plays, including a sweet basket to tie the game at 51-51 (once again, a freshman showing unbelievable poise!). 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year Nneka Ogmumike is so good that we sense she has an "off game" even when she grabs 15 boards and opens the second half consecutively with three of the better scoring plays of the night. Xavier, with a starting front court featuring towering 6-6 and 6-5 posts, was a challenge even for Nneka's formidable hops and chops.
With admiring 6-7 Cardinal offensive lineman Chris Marinelli looking on from the stands, "Jayne of Appel" busted out the French braids for the Elite Eight, but she clearly was not her normal self as the game wore on and she was in constant foul trouble. This was a "mulligan" game for our "Main Jayne". But barring aggravation of the bum ankle, we pity the fools who count on Appel to have less than great games from here on out. #2 will grin and bear it - hey, another two and we're #1!
Our beloved Cardinal lives to fight another battle, against either Kentucky or Oklahoma. It doesn't matter. The team should feel good about getting a sinister stinker of a game behind them and get back to finishing the business at hand. Veteran skipper Tara VanDerveer will not let her Stanford squad come out "passive" again.
One thing is for certain. You've got to love this team. They did not deserve to go out on a blown defensive assignment. They deserve a second life. They've got it.
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