Chiney Ogwumike may get all the notoriety, but the Stanford women's basketball team might be planning for next season had it not been for the superior play of her supporting cast.
Amber Orrange and freshman Lili Thompson also played significant roles in leading the sixth-ranked Cardinal to a lopsided 82-57 victory over 14th-ranked Penn State in the Sweet 16 on Sunday at Maples Pavilion in the NCAA tournament.
Second-seeded Stanford (32-3) meets fourth-seded North Carolina, a 65-58 winner over top-seeded South Carolina, in Tuesday's regional final (6 p.m.), with a trip to Nashville and the Final Four on the line.
"It was an ideal day for Stanford basketball," Ogwumike said. "I told them before the game we are all great players collectively and individually. We had that aggressive mindset against them."
Ruef was poked in the eye in the game's first five minutes and responded with renewed vigor and energy, making herself an unpleasant physical presence for the Nitty Lions, a tall, physical team themselves.
"Mikaela is our rock out there," Ogwumike said. "She sees the game well and does the grunt work. We're fortunate to have her."
Orrange never seemed phased by having the constant presence of Penn State's Dara Taylor. She was patient enough to allow Thompson to run things when necessary and she delivered daggers to Penn State's defense with several driving layups. She was 7 of 11 from the field and scored 18 points.
Thompson's best contribution was her stifling defense on Maggie Lucas, the Big 10's Player of the Year who brought a 21.5 scoring average into the game. She was held scoreless in the second half, missing all six of her shots, and finished with a season-low six points.
Stanford held Lucas to under 10 points for just the second time all year, and the first in 25 games.
"The coaching staff gave me a lot of film to watch," Thompson said. "I studied her game and decided I wanted to shut her down and force other people to score. I wanted to limit the number of touches she usually gets."
Penn State coach Coquese Washington acknowledged the defensive job Thompson and her teammates did on Lucas.
"She didn't get many clean looks," Washington said of Lucas. "They made her take tough shots all night. They did an outstanding job."
The teams jousted through the first 10 minutes before Stanford put its foot down and quickly took control of the game.
"We're not conscience of runs," Ogwumike said. "We have high expectations that start with coach Tara (VanDerveer) and we set high goals. Mikaela and I were charged with offensive rebounds, so it's sort of surprising when we hear about runs."
Penn State's Talia East was asked to defend Ogwumike most of the time and the post in general. She shrugged when asked about her assignment.
"She's a great player and does a great job of taking what her teammates give her," East said. "She made some tough shots. I was trying to make things difficult for her. We didn't fluster them at all, they played well."
From the Stanford point of view it was about playing within themselves.
"I thought we played smart," VanDerveer said. "We had to work really hard to win. Lili's defense on Maggie was a positive reason why we won and had great contributions from a lot of people."
NOTES: Among the several former Stanford players at the game were Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Jayne Appel, Kayla Pederson, Lindy LaRoque, Roz Gold-Onwude, Toni Kokenis and Heather Owen.
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