Women Survive Semifinal Scare

If you thought the Cardinal would cruise to a Pac-10 title this weekend in San Jose, Sunday afternoon's action in the semifinal battle versus UCLA likely surprised you. After holding a double-digit lead through much of the game, Stanford allowed the Bruins a run that would give the underdogs a late 2nd half lead. But the Card's All-American answered the bell in crunch time...

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Stanford Cardinal had one tick left on the shot clock, a very high inbound pass to make and the UCLA Bruins coming at them like the IRS at tax time. There was no set play, only necessity. The Cardinal desperately needed the ball in the hands of their best player, Nicole Powell.

Darned if it didn't end up there, too, some five feet beyond the three-point arc, where the All-American buried a shot that, for all intents and purposes, buried the Bruins in their Pac-10 Conference Tournament semifinal matchup.

"You have one second," said Kelley Suminski, who made the inbound to Powell with 1:56 to play in the Stanford's 69-64 victory over UCLA. "There are no plays."

Well, just one, that is.

"Nicole was open and she was a good option," Cardinal Coach Tara VanDerveer said with a smile. "Out team understands who needs to have the ball at key times."

They'd get no arguments from the Bruins on that. It wouldn't take much to convince UCLA that, when special plays need to be made, the ball migrates to the hands of the special players. The Bruins had been struck by Powell's lightning once before - an instant before the halftime buzzer of a tight Cardinal win at Pauley Pavilion, where the Stanford star chased down her own miss and heaved in a deep three.

"It was a deep flashback," Bruin Coach Kathy Olivier said of Powell's hoist. "There's the reason she's one of the best players in the country."

UCLA's star, Michelle Greco, was underneath the basket when the pass was made to Powell. She instantly knew it was trouble.

"She certainly was not the player we want to have the ball," Greco said of Powell, "with one second remaining."

Greco may have been the Bruin most disappointed at the turn of events. Her hyperkenetic play helped spark a furious Bruin rally from 15 down with just 10:05 to play. UCLA came all the way back, twice forging leads, on Lisa Willis' fifth three of the game with 3:50 left and Jamila Veasley's pair of free throws with 2:54 to play. The conference's team leaders in steals, the Bruins literally were attempting to burglar a win, producing 17 thefts and forcing 24 Stanford turnovers.

But Powell's three-pointer, staking her to a game-high 18 points to go with game-high 15 rebounds, provided, as VanDerveer put it, "the emotional boost" for the Cardinal to fend off UCLA.

The Bruins nevertheless hope the showing made a strong case for their selection at 18-11 to the NCAA tournament. After all, it had required a special showing from their own special player, Greco.

Early in the game, Greco took a shot from teammate Whitney Jones, requiring the two-time Pac-10 scoring champ to don a transperant, protective mask. She just happened to have a perfectly formed model on hand, courtesy of a broken nose she'd suffered in a pickup game against men last summer. Greco sought out the action just after being cleared to play this season; she had to sit out almost the entire 2001-02 season because of a history of mild concussions.

The Bruin senior always brings the mask with her on the road, she says, "because I have bad luck."

No exaggeration. Greco turned an ankle and clashed heads with an Oregon Duck during the Bruins' first-round game on Saturday. However, "I put all that stuff in the back of my head," she said. "We were here to battle."

And battle they did. Until Nicole Powell took the fight out of them with an eerily familiar, three-point bolt.

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