W. Basketball: Cardinal to face Georgia in Sweet Sixteen

March 25, 2010, 11:13 p.m.
W. Basketball: Cardinal to face Georgia in Sweet Sixteen
Senior center Jayne Appel has been slowed by injury in recent weeks, but she has still posted another All-Pac-10 season. Appel hopes to bring home a championship for the first time, and Stanford's road continues with a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Georgia on Saturday. (MASARU OKA/Staff Photographer)

This weekend, the Cardinal heads to Sacramento to face the Georgia Lady Bulldogs in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. A win on Saturday would put the Stanford women through to the Elite Eight game on Monday against either the Xavier Musketeers or Gonzaga Bulldogs.

No. 1 seed Stanford (33-1, 18-0 Pac-10) was able to play its first two tournament games on home ground, but now it has to leave campus for the ARCO Arena. If the Cardinal can get past No. 5 seed Georgia (25-8, 9-7 SEC), its potential opponents are two teams that both had perfect conference seasons and won their conference tournaments, No. 3 seed Xavier (92-3, 14-0 Atlantic 10) and No. 7 seed Gonzaga (29-4, 14-0 West Coast).

All four No. 1 seeds advanced easily, led by overall No. 1 Connecticut, which annihilated No. 16 Southern and No. 8 seed Temple by a combined score of 185-75. The Huskies will now face No. 4 seed Iowa State, which edged No. 12 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay 60-56 in the second round.

The Cardinal, though, will not be thinking of UConn quite yet, as three games still lie between it and any possible rematch with the nation’s top team.

Last year the regional final was the scene of one of senior center Jayne Appel’s greatest performances, as she posted 46 points in a 74-53 defeat of Iowa State to set up a Final Four clash with UConn. This year, Appel, recovering from off-season knee surgery, may not have reached the benchmarks she set back then, but she is still a key figure in the team and her determination to finish her collegiate career with a national title has so far driven the Card to a record-breaking season.

The Stanford team of 2009-10, which became the first in Pac-10 history to finish conference play undefeated and take the Pac-10 Tournament crown, is now tied for third in Cardinal history for the number of wins in a year and is second with a 24-game winning streak.

Joining Appel at the front, Pac-10 Player of the Year sophomore forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike has had a breakout season, reaching the 1,000 career points mark in the first round, and has an average of 21.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the tournament so far.

This week, both Appel and Ogwumike were named as finalists for the Wade Trophy Player of the Year award, making Stanford one of only three schools to have two players on the short-list of 12. The other two are No. 2 seed Ohio State, who was knocked out by Mississippi State in the second round, and Connecticut.

On defense, most, if not all, of head coach Tara VanDerveer’s early season concerns appear to have been solved. Her two starting guards had standout displays last weekend, with junior Jeanette Pohlen aggressively attacking the basket against the UC-Riverside and Pac-10 Co-Defender of the Year redshirt senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude having her best game in Cardinal colors in the game against Iowa State.

Stanford leads Georgia 6-3 historically, with five of those being in the NCAA Tournament, where the Cardinal narrowly leads 3-2. Though the Lady Dogs should take confidence from their victory in a hard-fought contest against No. 4 Oklahoma State, the Cardinal will be a much tougher proposition.

Freshman guard Jasmine James shone the brightest for Georgia in that game, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but the team also showed strength in depth with its points spread out much more evenly among its players than among its opposition’s.

However, if the Card is able to start this game anywhere near the level it achieved in the second round against Iowa, it will be very hard for the Bulldogs to upset the No. 2 team in the nation. In the opening half, Stanford went 22-29 from the field, tallying over three times as many assists as the Hawkeyes, and Gold-Onwude flawlessly shot a staggering six three-pointers.

The first game between Stanford and Georgia will start at 6 p.m. in the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, and will be followed by Xavier vs. Gonzaga at 8:30 p.m. The regional final will then take place on Monday.

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