Final Four Preview: Stanford vs. Oklahoma

After barely escaping the Elite Eight, the Stanford Cardinal will return to their third consecutive Final Four in San Antonio. The Alamodome is sure to be rocking when the Card tangle with the Oklahoma Sooners on Sunday, as the high-flying offenses look to put on a show.

The Cardinal come to the Lone Star State off one of their most uneven, but dramatic wins of the season. The Cardinal shot a paltry 35.3 percent from the floor against Xavier, but escaped when Jeannette Pohlen made a runner to beat the buzzer and keep the Cardinal alive with a 55-53 win in Sacramento.

The Sooners, on the other hand, dominated Kentucky with an 88-68 win in Kansas City to punch their ticket to the Final Four. Their win over the Wildcats was hard-fought though, as the girls in blue blitzed out to a 17-4 lead before the Sooners rallied to take the lead 43-39 at halftime. After a 15-5 run to open the second half, the Sooners secured the victory that sent them to San Antonio.

With each game now being the biggest game of the season for the Cardinal, let's check out the Sooners' stats and see what Stanford might try and do to send them home to Norman.

The Tale of the Tape

The No. 3-seeded Sooners (27-10 overall, 11-5 in the Big 12) have had their share of struggles this season, but they come into the Final Four playing well, having cruised through the NCAA tournament so far. Oklahoma's ten losses this season came to very familiar and very big-name opponents, as they fell to Tennessee, Baylor, Nebraska, Connecticut, and Texas A&M twice, including in the Big 12 Championship game.

In the Big 12 Tournament, OU did get some revenge on Baylor, beating the Bears 59-54 in the first round of action. The Sooners then took down Oklahoma State 74-69 in the semifinals before falling to the Aggies 74-67 in the Championship game.

In the NCAA tournament, the Sooners have snuck though their bracket, as they were a No. 3 seed that few expected to make it this far. But after beating South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock in the first two rounds, the pivotal moment in this tournament for OU came in a 77-72 victory over Notre Dame in Kansas City. Tied at 66 after two halves of play, the Sooners and Irish headed to overtime, where senior Nyeshia Stevenson hit a three-pointer with 4.4 seconds left in overtime to keep the dream alive with a 77-72 victory.

The Sooners' success comes from a spectacular starting five, as Stevenson is part of a quartet of players who average in double figures. Junior Danielle Robinson leads the way with 16.6 points per game, followed by Stevenson's 14.5, senior Amanda Thompson's 13.1, and rounded out by Abi Olajuwon's (the daughter of NBA Hall-of-Famer Hakeem) 10.7 PPG.

This is the Sooners' third trip to the Final Four, having made the trip in 2002 and in 2009, when they fell to Louisville in the national semifinal game. Superstar All-Americans led those two Final Four teams, with senior guard Stacey Dales leading the way in '02, and All-Everything forward Courtney Paris dominating the boards in ‘09. This Sooner team doesn't have that same kind of electric single player, but they keep winning with terrific teamwork and some fine shooting, as they shoot 43 percent from the floor and average 72 points a game. The Sooners also have plenty of power on the boards, pulling down 40.8 per game, only four less than the Cardinal average.

84 Feet to Glory

On the Stanford side of the court, the Card escaped with a narrow victory in their Elite Eight matchup, and the game was one of the worst games (at least statistically) that the Cardinal had played for quite a while. The Cardinal struggled with Xavier's toughness and ability to block the lane, as the size of the Musketeers forced Stanford to take uncomfortable, forced shots. Xavier was one of the few teams all season that could match up physically with Stanford, and it certainly showed, as the Musketeers were one booted basket away from likely sending the No. 2 overall seed back to the Farm.

There was much for fans to be critical of in this game, including some questionable calls that led to Jayne Appel fouling out with four minutes left in the game. The offense looked very out of sync, and throughout the second half a few possessions had no tangible offensive game plan other than hoping Nneka Ogwumike would score. While the Cardinal were lucky to pull off this win, it's somewhat encouraging for Stanford to overcome a challenge like Xavier before the Final Four, where the Cardinal are hankering to break through for a national championship.

Bummer Sooner?

This matchup looks to be an interesting one for the Cardinal, because it will require the starters to match up on every player on the floor, seeing how many OU scorers are a threat to put points on the board. OU doesn't have the same size as Xavier, so the Cardinal will be able to use the "Big Three" a little more effectively this game. I think the key to the game will be how well Kayla Pedersen plays, because her misses from three (one basket in six attempts) against Xavier could have catapulted Stanford to an double-digit victory had they fallen, and she needs to play a complete game to provide that major offensive threat that has kept defenses off-balance all year.

At the same time, Oklahoma has fallen to almost all of the elite teams they have played this season, and their losses have come when those teams make big-second half runs because OU only plays a seven or eight-player rotation, leading to second-half fatigue that good teams have been able to exploit - something that Stanford is great at doing. In the end, I expect the game to be tough in the first half, but Stanford should be able to pull this one off in the end, and reserve a seat to take on Baylor or UConn for the NCAA title.

Keep it here on the Bootleg for all the best NCAA tournament coverage!


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