Stanford has had a rather successful year so far in sports.
The women’s soccer team won their first College Cup in three straight appearances, their third consecutive Pac-12 championship and had the most successful senior class in Cardinal history. These past four years the team (25-0-1 this year) went 95-4-4 overall and 53-0-1 at home.
QB Andrew Luck, presumed to be the Colt’s No. 1 draft pick come April, led his teammates to the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. While the Cardinal lost to Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State 41-38 in overtime, the men still finished the season 11-2, 8-1 ranked fourth.
The third-seeded men’s basketball team (26-11) just hustled to win their second NIT title this past Thursday, March 29, at Madison Square Garden, trampling Minnesota 75-51. Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright, who came off the bench to score 15 points and add six assists, earned most outstanding player.
And this Sunday night, April 1, will be the women’s turn. The No. 1 Cardinal (35-1) will face fellow top-seed Baylor (38-0) and its star 6-8 junior center Brittney Griner – whose name doesn’t need an introduction – in the Final Four.
But if you’re curious about Griner, she leads the Big 12 with 23.4 points per game, adding 9.4 rebounds. She’s swatted away 199 shots and averages a nation-best 5.2 per game, while throwing in 64 total assists. Oh, and she’s dunked twice in the NCAA Tournament, including a two-hander last weekend against Georgia Tech that just made you blink a few times.
But the Cardinal, they have Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a 6-2 senior forward who leads the Pac-12 with 22.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while blocking 39 shots and handling 62 assists. Nnemkadi's sister Chiney also provides the second big scoring punch, and both of them haul in the boards. Both of them will have to deal with Griner on the inside.
While Stanford is a top team, it knows what it’s like to come close only to fall to a powerhouse. The Cardinal finished runner-up in 2010 to Maya Moore and the Connecticut Huskies (39-0) and two years earlier to Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Vols (36-2).
The last time they hoisted up the trophy and cut a net, most of the current players were wearing diapers and onesies. It was 1992 when the team (30-3) beat Western Kentucky in Los Angeles 78-62 and their first championship came in 1990 when the 32-1 Cardinal pushed Auburn 88-81.
The duel between these two teams and two front-runners in Denver will be hot. Ogwumike and her two fellow senior teammates Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque are especially thirsty to not only beat Baylor and play in the championship once more, but to win it all.
Griner has been a frequent face and name this season, but Ogwumike and the Cardinal could pull off one of the few upsets in women’s basketball this tournament.
More notes on the game after the jump.
Graham Watson, Yahoo Sports: "'I think they’ve controlled the tempo,' VanDerveer said of teams that have at least made games against Baylor interesting. "The scores are low. They understand that if your 5-7 guard goes against Brittney Griner, she’s going to need a toothpick to pick out the leather from her teeth. I told our team: This is not a game to show me your macho move to the basket against Brittney Griner. We don’t need it.' "
Seattle Times: "VanDerveer praised Toni Kokenis' strong defensive play this season and at one point described her as the Pac-12's defender of the year. 'She has quickness, speed, anticipation skills,' VanDerveer said. 'I think some of that might be related to her playing soccer. And the hardest thing for me is to get her to use her hands because obviously you couldn't do that in soccer.'"
John Altavilla, Sacramento Bee: "But as Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the likely No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, says, it won't be all about Griner. 'She's obviously a great player,' she said. 'Her size is a huge strength and advantage for her. I think honestly her biggest strength is her team. It's not a one-trick pony. Baylor has a lot of outside threats that you just can't overlook.'"
Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News: It's an intangible that cannot be overlooked. The Bears are hyperaware of the Ogwumikes' success in grabbing offensive rebounds and vow to box out like demons. 'It's going to come down to who rebounds the ball well,' Griner said.