Stanford entered this year’s NCAA Women’s Tournament ranked second in the nation and as a strong number one seed. The Cardinal had been in the Final Four for three consecutive seasons, this one included. The team played extremely well this year and entered the tournament with an impressive 31-1 record.
Stanford opened the tournament against the UC Riverside Highlanders(17-16). Starting strong, the Cardinal scored 8 straight points before Riverside could respond, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Though the Highlanders had some size, sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike and junior Kayla Pederson were able to consistently beat Riverside on their rebounds. Ogwumike, Pederson, and junior Jeanette Pohlen each scored 15 or more points in a comfortable 79-47 win that was never in doubt.
In the second round, the Cardinal faced off against the #8 seed Iowa Hawkeyes(20-14). Stanford had an explosion of offense in this game, with all five starters scoring over 10 points and two starters scoring over twenty. Redshirt senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude was especially impressive, connecting on six three pointers in a row and finishing the game with 26 points. As a team, Stanford shot over 56% and over 61% from three point range. Iowa shot pretty well in the game but was unable to keep up with the Cardinal’s overwhelming offense.
The third round had Stanford play the #5 Georgia(25-9). The Cardinal started out a little slower than usual but the offense soon kicked into gear and started putting tough pressure on the Bulldogs to match them score for score. At half time, Stanford was ahead 15-37, with no signs of looking back. Senior Jayne Appel dominated the paint in the game, scoring 17 points and leading the Cardinal to an easy 73-36. Georgia shot at only 20% and simply could not keep up with Stanford’s solid attack.
Though Stanford up to this point had outscored their opponents by 98 points, they were in for a much bigger test going against the #3 Xavier(30-4) in the Elite Eight. Though Xavier may be a smaller school, they had a legitimate team that was more than capable of keeping up with the Cardinal. Stanford only led by two at half time and was definitely in for a tough game. Xavier’s Amber Harris scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds in the Musketeers losing effort. Xavier never quit and actually had a real chance at winning the game with less than a minute left in play. However, Xavier’s Dee Dee Jernigan missed two wide open layups that would have put the Musketeers ahead and likely would have given them the win. With only 4.4 seconds left on the clock, Pederson inbounded the ball to Pohlen who then dribbled all the way down the court and scored a buzzer beater basket to win the game for Stanford. “[N]o player ever gave up on any game when it may have seemed that the game was out of reach,” said Appel. The Cardinal probably should have lost this game but they kept fighting and took advantage of Xavier’s missed opportunities.
In the Final Four, Stanford had another difficult match against the gritty #3 Oklahoma Sooners (27-11). The Cardinal outplayed the Sooners in the first half, primarily because Oklahoma star Danielle Robinson had trouble finding her shot. Though Stanford had a strong 34-21 lead at half time, the Sooners came storming back in the second half. Robinson suddenly started making pull up shots and jumpstarting Oklahoma’s offense. Ogwumike, however, had a career night to keep Stanford ahead for most of the game, scoring 38 points(the most in semifinal history) with 16 rebounds and two assists. Despite Ogwumike’s performance, Stanford only led by 3 with 16 seconds left after the Sooners made some clutch baskets. At this crucial point in the game, the Sooners put on a full court press to immediately foul on the inbound pass from Pederson. Oklahoma, though, was not able to keep track of Ogwumike, who slipped away from the coverage and scored an easy layup on the completely open basket. This put the game out of reach, allowing Stanford to win 73-66.
In the NCAA Championship game, Stanford was reacquainted with an all too familiar foe in the #1 University of Connecticut Huskies(39-0). UConn was the only team to defeat the Cardinal in the regular season, a fact the team well remembers. Neither team shot particularly well in the first half. Stanford may have led 20-12 but it was not a comfortable advantage. The Huskies leading scorer Maya Moore began to heat up in the second half. Though she only scored 5 points in the first, she scorched the Cardinal in the second and in doing so got her whole team going strong. Stanford was unable to keep up, largely due to Appel’s ankle injury. Appel was ineffective and clearly hurting on the court. She still put in as many minutes as she could to give her team a chance to win. The Cardinal offense was slow to get started and that hurt them. The team shot at only 25% for the game, definitely struggling to make any shots. Stanford managed to close the gap to 6 at the end of the game but for much of the second half UConn’s victory was not in doubt. The Huskies won 53-47 and finished their undefeated season strong.
Though Stanford lost in the final game, their game against UConn was telling of just how good this Stanford team was. They were the only team to be even remotely close to the Huskies all season. The Cardinal led in both their games against UConn at halftime but could not close. Still, they did not have an all together disappointing run, as they did get to the National Championship Game. “Our team got to enjoy the atmosphere that was present in San Antonio,” says Appel, “and got to continue our season to the furthest point possible.”