Cardinal start chase for 1st NCAA title since '92

Published April 02, 2011

| Associated Press

Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen have run through nearly every emotion possible this week — even before their Final Four game.

The two Stanford seniors were relieved just to reach Indianapolis. They are determined not to leave this Final Four empty-handed. And they are eager to get back to work Sunday against Texas A&M.

Somehow, they've even found a way to — get this — relax heading into their final weekend as college teammates.

"I'm just trying to enjoy every moment, trying to have fun," Pedersen said Saturday. "Whatever happens, happens, just as long as all of us lay it all out there for each other."

The semifinal shapes up as a clash of styles.

The Cardinal (33-2) have four scorers averaging in double figures and score 79.8 points per game as a team, but Texas A&M has a shutdown defense and Stanford isn't playing at Maples Pavilion where it has won 63 straight.

Texas A&M (31-5) is only the second team in tourney history to limit four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer, and six of the last eight Aggies opponents have failed to top 50 points.

All-American forward Danielle Adams and teammates Sydney Carter and Sydney Colson cracked jokes during their media availability, and coach Gary Blair even brought out a step ladder and measuring tape at the end of the 1-hour practice — stealing a scene from the movie "Hoosiers," which was filmed six miles away at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Texas A&M also added some down home language to the discussion

"We say howdy," coach Gary Blair said in his opening comments Saturday. "You're supposed to say howdy back. Most of y'all are just getting up, I understand."

On the court, there's no Southern hospitality.

Blair, who made the Final Four in 1998 with Arkansas, is back with the same game plan that shocked top-seeded Baylor on Tuesday. The Aggies will pressure Stanford's guards for 40 minutes, hoping to score off turnovers, and use the versatility of Adams to put additional pressure on the Cardinal defense.

It was good enough to get the Aggies within a game of playing for their first national title in their first trip to the semifinals.

"I think we'll be pretty successful making them uncomfortable, making them run something they don't really want to run because it's just the style of defense we play," Carter said.

Stanford understands.

The Cardinal have spent all week devising a plan to beat the Aggies pressure, while trying to answer questions about the self-inflicted pressure they've felt since blowing a 20-12 halftime lead against UConn in last year's title game.

They got some measure of revenge in December's rematch, a 71-59 victory that ended Connecticut's record-setting 90-game winning streak. But they have more in mind than just a regular-season win over the Huskies, who play Notre Dame in Sunday's second game.

The good news is that they're used to playing on the big stage.

"Whether it's interviews, all the different things that you've done, there's a certain routine and you don't feel as, maybe, just stressed about things," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It you're five minutes late, maybe the first year you were worried."

So the only real concern for Stanford is whether the seniors can finish the job.

"We're just very focused. Maybe a little more relaxed," said Pohlen, the Pac-10 player of the year. "Kayla and I have talked about it's such a privilege to be here, and we're very grateful to have been able to make it this far for four years. But we definitely haven't got the job done, so we're very focused."

Over the past four seasons, the dynamic duo has done just about everything from setting school records for games played (149 and counting) to all-league and national honors to the run of four straight of Final Fours.

But there's one glaring omission: No national championships.

Instead, the Cardinal settled for second two of the last three years, losing to Tennessee in the 2008 title game and Connecticut last year and now they're back on a clear-cut mission — winning the school's first title since 1992.

"Any time you come to three or four Final Fours and you've not achieved the prize, it humbles you," said freshman Chiney Ogwumike, who went to the previous two to watch her older sister, Nnemakdi. "We came here to win a national championship."

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2011/04/02/cardinal-start-chase-1st-ncaa-title-2/