March 24, 2008
Last season, Stanford came into the NCAA tournament on an impressive run, earned a No. 2 seed and seemed primed to advance to the regional semifinals with the first two games at home.
But the Cardinal were upset in the second round, a fate they'll hope to avoid when they host No. 7 seed UTEP on Monday, with a trip to the Spokane Regional on the line.
Last season, Stanford had won 27 of its last 28 games before falling 68-61 to 10th-seeded Florida State in the second round at Maples Pavilion, as star Candice Wiggins shot just 5-of-15 from the field. The Cardinal had reached the regional finals the three previous years.
The current squad - also seeded second - enters Monday's matchup looking for its 20th consecutive win after capturing the Pac-10 regular season and tournament titles, but the players seem determined to avoid another upset.
"We definitely want to get out of here, and the feeling in the locker room is that we will get out of here," Stanford guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said. "This year our goal is Tampa (the Final Four), and that hasn't always been the case on other teams I've been on. We have all the pieces."
A pregame speech by Wiggins helped spark Stanford (31-3) to an 85-47 first-round win over Cleveland State on Saturday - the Cardinal's 14th straight win at Maples Pavilion.
"I talked about how special Maples is and don't let people come in and beat us in our own gym," Wiggins said.
The senior, Stanford's leading scorer with 19.1 points per game, had just 13 points against Cleveland State, but Cardinal sophomore center Jayne Appel more than made up for it with a career-high 33 points on 14-of-19 shooting along with 12 rebounds in just 25 minutes.
The 6-foot-4 Appel had an easy matchup, with at least four inches of height on every one of Cleveland State's players.
"I think Jayne handled it perfectly and she just said, 'Play my game' and our team looked for Jayne," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Everyone, they were going for Jayne and Jayne delivered."
Appel may have a tougher matchup in the second round against 6-foot-5 UTEP center Izabela Piekarska, who's in the nation's top 25 with 2.4 blocked shots per game.
But it was the Miners' speedy backcourt that led UTEP (28-3) to a 92-60 first-round win over Western Kentucky on Saturday in the program's NCAA tournament debut. UTEP's three starting guards - Natasha Lacy, Jareica Hughes and Kasia Krezel - combined for 51 points on 18-of-35 shooting and 16 assists.
"One thing about our team is when we get our running game going we can be pretty explosive," coach Keitha Adams said. "We got that going and hit some 3s. You put that combination of running it, taking it to the basket and dropping the 3-point shot, and it was rolling on all cylinders."
The 23rd-ranked Miners rebounded from a 73-57 loss to SMU in the Conference USA title game, which snapped their 23-game winning streak.
They haven't faced a ranked team since 2004, and haven't defeated a ranked opponent in seven tries - all against Louisiana Tech - in seven seasons under Adams. They've never faced the fourth-ranked Cardinal.