March 21, 2011
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NCAA Tournament Central
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -
Tara VanDerveer walked off the court with a star senior on either side, the perfect home record in place at last thanks to four years of spectacular play from Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen.
And, in this game, Stanford's dominant sister duo.
The top-seeded Cardinal fell behind early and the Ogwumike sisters took it upon themselves to do something about it. Preserving that home winning streak was top priority - along with extending this NCAA tournament run, of course.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 22 points, little sister Chiney added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Stanford overcame a slow start to reach the round of 16 with a 75-49 win over St. John's on Monday night.
The Cardinal (31-2) captured their school-record 63rd straight victory at Maples Pavilion, capping a perfect run by the seniors on their home floor for their careers - the first group in school history to accomplish that feat.
"The last seconds of the game, I thought about what we've done the last four years," Pedersen said. "As I was walking off the floor, I took an extra look around. It was a special feeling."
Stanford advances to play Saturday against No. 5 North Carolina in the semifinals of the Spokane Regional, the very site where the Cardinal won four years ago to end a 10-year Final Four drought.
Centhya Hart scored 15 points to lead scrappy St. John's (22-11), which fell in the second round for the second straight year and still has never won twice in the tournament.
Pedersen had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists in her final game at Maples and Pac-10 Player of the Year Pohlen wasn't as sharp as usual in scoring eight points in her last hurrah at home.
Pohlen received a standing ovation when she sat down for good with 4:09 to play. Pedersen followed to her own cheers less than a minute later. It was largely because of these two that this group became the first batch of seniors at Stanford never to lose at home.
"Whew," VanDerveer sighed, considering the accomplishment. "It speaks to their consistency. It was thrilling to have that happen for them. ... They wanted it so badly. We wanted it for them. Jeanette and Kayla have led the way for four years. What a finish."
But this one was all Ogwumike. Nnemkadi Ogwumike shot 10 for 16 and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Chiney aggressively crashed the boards for six offensive rebounds, creating second chances for her team while playing on her 19th birthday.
Two days earlier, it was Stanford's hot shooting from long range that led to another victory in the program's quest for a fourth straight Final Four. This time, it was dominant inside play and timely rebounding by the star sisters from Texas that carried the Cardinal into the round of 16 with their 25th straight win since a pair of road defeats at DePaul and Tennessee in mid-December.
St. John's went 5:03 between its first and second field goals early in the second half as Stanford methodically extended its lead and turned the game into a rout. The Cardinal went ahead by 20, 57-37, on Pedersen's 3-pointer with 11:24 remaining.
"I don't think they were bad shots, but we were rushing a little bit trying to get back," Hart said.
Top Stanford reserve Toni Kokenis left the game 2:20 before halftime with a left ankle injury and didn't return to the bench until the 11:01 mark of the second half - receiving a rousing ovation from the predominantly Cardinal-crazed crowd of 5,904. She scored 11 points with three 3-pointers in Stanford's 86-59 first-round victory over UC Davis on Saturday.
VanDerveer said Kokenis would have a precautionary X-ray but that she is expected to play Saturday.
Sophomore forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle provided key minutes off the bench in the second half. Stanford's balance and depth does in most teams.
"There was only one person guarding me so I wanted to post up aggressively and stay strong," Nnekmadi Ogwumike said. "We really just capitalized on the offense we ran. Chiney did an awesome job getting the offensive boards and getting the second and third shot for us. Mikaela stepped up big for us. We've talked about this from day one how deep this team is and how each player has created a role for themselves on the court and with the team."
The Red Storm seemed refreshed from the start, and they knew they had no choice but to play better to stand a chance against Stanford on its home floor. Yet this Cardinal team tends to wear down and eventually overpower opponents, as St. John's found out over the final 20 minutes.
The Red Storm began the game 12 for 21 after shooting 35 percent and committing 21 turnovers in a 55-50 win against Texas Tech in its NCAA opener. But they couldn't sustain the pace, missing 18 of their first 20 shots after the break while getting pounded on the boards - finishing at 36.7 percent from the field after a 50-percent first half.
"We weren't knocking down shots. We made shots early," Red Storm coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "Their depth and their length and the little combination of everything they have wore us down. I think we got really tight. We got tired."
St. John's came out in man to man defense and tried to keep a hand in the face of perimeter shooters considering the Cardinal hit a season-best 13 3-pointers against UC Davis. It worked for a little while.
Stanford began 2 for 9 to 5 of 8 by St. John's, with the Cardinal falling behind 11-7. But Chiney Ogwumike hit the offensive glass to give her team second chances on three different possessions in the opening five minutes.
After Stanford went ahead 14-11 on Pohlen's 3-pointer with 13:20 left in the opening half, Da'Shena Stevens scored back-to-back baskets to start an 11-0 Red Storm run. Then Nnemkadi Ogwumike made four straight baskets for Stanford to spark the Cardinal, who built a 38-30 halftime lead.
Stevens finished with 11 points and Nadirah McKenith had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists for St. John's.