Sports

Stanford women hit the road so they can play at home

Stanford has played women's basketball in hostile environments and in idyllic situations from Alaska to Puerto Rico. The Cardinal has opened the NCAA tournament in places like Missoula, Mont., College Park, MD, Norfolk, VA and Norman, Okla.

This year, sixth-ranked Stanford (29-3) will be introduced to a couple of first-time experiences: playing South Dakota (Saturday at 3:30 p.m. PT on ESPN2), and playing in Iowa, home to the 'Field of Dreams' ball field and plenty of corn.

The Cardinal, seeded second in the region, hopes the trip to Ames, Iowa will be the first step toward its own field of dreams and bring it closer to Nashville, home to this year's Final Four.

One of the biggest motivations for Stanford, which claimed its 14th consecutive Pac-12 regular-season title, is getting to stay home for regional play. Two wins in Iowa equals a berth in the Stanford Regional tournament next week.

"We just want to win there and come back here," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I'm happy to see we are all healthy and that's the No. 1 goal. I feel we can beat anyone when we are healthy and playing well."

VanDerveer was a little surprised the Cardinal was asked to travel to Iowa, especially with first- and second-round tournaments available in Los Angeles and Seattle. But, hey, no big deal.

"I don't care where we play; I'm itching to get back out there," said All-American Chiney Ogwumike, who would feel comfortable playing a pickup game in the driveway of somebody's house.

"At this point it's all about the 'X's' and 'O's' and getting the job done."

Ogwumike hopes she can help the Cardinal reach the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years, missing out last season when No. 4 seed Georgia knocked off then-No. 1 seed Stanford, 61-59, in the Sweet Sixteen.

Stanford is the second seed in the regional despite having fewer losses than any team with the exception of undefeated Connecticut and Notre Dame, having an RPI rating of three, and having the fourth-best road record in the nation. The Cardinal went 12-2 against teams in the NCAA field.

"The No. 1 seed did us no good last year," VanDerveer said. "The seeding doesn't matter. We have to play well. Let this be a chip on people's shoulder. I think it can be good for us."

Ogwumike said any perceived slight works to Stanford's advantage.

"We want as much fuel (added to the fire) as we can," she said. "Everyone is putting themselves on the line. Everyone is stepping their game up."

All good news for VanDerveer, who watched USC beat the Cardinal in the semifinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Trojans went on to win the tourney title, earn the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA, and then awarded a No. 7 seed and sent to Knoxville, another head-scratching decision with Westwood just down the 405 from USC.

"These players have not been in this situation before," VanDerveer said of leaving the state for the opening rounds. "They took it to heart. They realized that, hey, we have to fix things."

Stanford has won 24 of its past 30 NCAA tournament games dating to a second-round loss, at home, to Florida State in 2007. The Cardinal also remains the only basketball team, men's or women's, to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed (1998).

"I think we found our energy," said Ogwumike, who took her last final exam on Thursday and is academically through with school work. "We're more focused than ever before. The losses were a slap in the face and we had to shake ourselves. We have to go out there and assert ourselves, play aggressively."

South Dakota (19-13) beat Denver, 82-71, in the Summit League final to earn the program's first NCAA tournament bid. The Coyotes entered the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed.

South Dakota, located in Vermillion and with head coach Amy Williams in her second season, are led by the play of guards Nicole Seekamp (15.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Raeshel Contreras (13.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg).

The host Cyclones and 10th seeded Florida State play earlier Saturday, with the winners meeting Monday for the right to play at Maples Pavilion. The Stanford Regional will be held Sunday March 30 and Tuesday April 1.

Ogwumike hopes to have those two final home games. She is the only player to rank in the national top 10 in scoring (26.8 ppg, third), rebounding (12.3 rpg, seventh), field-goal percentage (61.0, third) and double-doubles (24, sixth) through March 16.

The senior forward from Cypress, Texas swept the Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards for the second straight year, with the defensive honor being her third in a row.

Meanwhile, Stanford junior Taylor Greenfield hails from Huxley, Iowa, 17 miles southeast of Ames.

"Life is unpredictable," Ogwumike said. "We were excited when our name was called and then we looked and thought, 'Ames?' A second later it dawned on us that Taylor is from Iowa and that's something to look forward to."

South Carolina, which earned the No. 1 seed in the Stanford Regional, was sent to Seattle for its first two rounds. The Gamecocks lost their regular-season finale to Tennessee and then lost to Kentucky in the second round of the SEC tournament. They also own a win over USC, but are 9-4 against the NCAA field.

Tennessee, UConn and Notre Dame also were awarded No. 1 seeds. Stanford, which topped Tennessee this season, is one of five teams going to the NCAA tournament from the Pac-12. Joining the Cardinal are USC, Arizona State, California and Oregon State.

South Carolina could face an inspired young North Carolina team in the regional semifinals before potentially playing host Stanford, which might have to face third-seeded Penn State in the semifinals.

The fourth-seeded Tar Heels and their stellar freshman class, led by Diamond Deshields, beat the Gamecocks in December. The Tar Heels also could have coach Sylvia Hatchell back on the sidelines at that point. The Hall of Famer battled leukemia during the regular season. Her status is unknown for the tournament.

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