Sports

Stanford women hope a second shot at UConn won't miss

Stanford has been here before: a berth on NCAA women's basketball's biggest stage against a team that seemingly appears unbeatable.

The sixth-ranked Cardinal gets a second chance to make a good first impression this weekend in Nashville, Tenn., getting the honor of sharing the same court with top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut.

Stanford earned the right to play the Huskies by beating North Carolina, 74-65, in the Stanford Regional final on Tuesday in Maples Pavilion.

The Cardinal (33-3) knows all about Connecticut (38-0), having played the Huskies every season for a number of years.

"Four All-Americans," Stanford Tara VanDerveer said Wednesday. "They are big and they are not a one-trick pony team. (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) doesn't just shoot 3's. She puts the ball on the floor and she goes for offensive rebounds. (Stefanie Dolson) does not just post up. That's what you find with great players; they can do it all."

The game is scheduled for Sunday at 6 p.m. (ESPN), with the winner advancing to the championship game on Tuesday. The Huskies beat the Cardinal, 76-57, in the second game of the season in Storrs, Conn.

"Our team knows their team pretty well," VanDerveer added. "I'm sure they know us too."

Notre Dame (36-0) and Maryland (28-6) play in the other national semifinal at 3:30 p.m.

This will be the sixth meeting between Stanford and the Huskies in NCAA tournament play, the fourth time in the national semifinal, and the first since the 2010 national championship game, in which Connecticut won, 53-47.

Stanford beat the Huskies twice in their previous five meetings, the last time in the 2008 national semifinals.

The Cardinal also ended UConn's historic 90-game win streak in 2010 in a nonleague game.

Thanks to players such as fifth-year senior Mikaela Ruef, who had a career-high 17 points to go with nine rebounds against the Tar Heels, junior point guard Amber Orrange, who kept the Cardinal alive with 12 of her 14 points scored in the first half, junior Bonnie Samuelson, who added 13 points, hitting clutch 3-pointers and free throws, and freshman Lili Thompson, who scored 10 points and was Stanford's defensive MVP in the regional, Stanford is no one-trick pony either.

Cardinal senior Chiney Ogwumike may be the best player in the country, but she still needed help to lead Stanford past North Carolina.

The reason Ruef was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player was because of her ability to change the course of the game with a trio of 3-pointers and forcing the Tar Heels to change their game plan.

"In the NCAA tournament we had five people average double figures," VanDerveer said. "That's not what happened in the regular season. It was a great example of team basketball. Yes, we have a star, an All-American but it was great for Mikaela to be named the Outstanding Player. What a relief for Chiney to know she can trust her teammates and doesn't need to do it all."

In addition to all her other attributes, Ogwumike also helped the Cardinal break North Carolina's press with her ball-handling skills. That should not go unrecognized as Stanford prepares for Connecticut, which is fully capable of applying the pressure on defense.

"I had this weird premonition after we beat Penn State and everybody said it was Mikaela's best game ever," Ogwumike said. "I said I thought her best was yet to happen and then it did happen."

(VanDerveer quickly added she still hopes Ruef has yet to play her best game. "It was a great game in Maples," she said).

Orrange may not have played her best either, according to VanDerveer.

"When we lost in the Pac-12 tournament, that lit a fire under everybody," she said. "Something got to Amber too. She's played excellently through the tournament. She's energetic and the better the competition, it seems the better Amber plays."

A sentiment echoed by both Ogwumike and Ruef.

"Sometimes when things go wrong Amber comes through for us," Ogwumike said. "She knows when she needs to be aggressive. Sometimes she leads by her actions."

Added Ruef: "She can decisive. During a free throw, I went up to her and asked to run something. She said no, I want to run the triangle. She can take control."

After a season-long search to find the right starting small forward, VanDerveer has settled on senior Sara James.

"We've won every game Sara has started," VanDerveer said. "She's easy to start, too. She cares about the team and she wants to win. Sara hustles and is being physical. I also like what Bonnie can bring off the bench."

Samuelson leads all players with 14 3-pointers in the NCAA tournament. When she's on, it extends defenses and breaks down zones.

"Everybody buys in. They all know their roles," VanDerveer said. "Everybody understands they are part of the production. Some are on stage; some are behind the scenes doing lights or the curtain. Everybody is a part of making it a success. This team gets what it is about playing on this stage."

NOTES: In two years, Stanford is hoping to have a third Samuelson sister play in Maples Pavilion. That would be Katie Lou, who just finished her junior year at Mater Dei High in Orange County. She was recently named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in girls' basketball. The 6-foot-3 Samuelson averaged 26 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists during a 26-2 campaign.

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