Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 11, 2008

With Wiggins gone, Cardinal women look to next era

by Rick Eymer

Candice Wiggins will go down, quite simply, as the best women's basketball player there ever was at Stanford. The Cardinal Hall of Greatness is filled to capacity with great shooters, great rebounders, great defenders, and, yes, great coaches. Even in that crowded atmosphere, Wiggins stands out.

Wiggins didn't get to go out a winner, even though she is, in every sense of the word, a winner. But she did leave with a lot of memories to go with school and conference records and she leaves behind a legacy that will likely reach legendary status.

"I'm sad that it's over because of how much I love this program, this institution, this team, and my coaches and teammates," Wiggins said, breaking into tears following Stanford's 64-48 loss to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game Tuesday night. "It's that amazing. This season, I could not ever have dreamed of this, so it's more than I could ever ask for."

Wiggins came in averaging 27.4 points in the tournament and opened the game with a 3-pointer, but couldn't find an open look after that. The All-American finished 6-for-16 from the field and left to a standing ovation with just over a minute left in her college career.

"I told the guys in the locker room that I couldn't be any prouder of them," Wiggins said. "I wouldn't want to be on any other team in the country. I've been so honored just to be on this team. I think we should celebrate our season. I think to win the way we did, we did it right, and I'm so proud of this group."

One career ended Tuesday and another career began when the Minnesota Lynx made her the third overall pick of the WNBA draft on Wednesday.

Wiggins will join the U.S. National Team in Chicago for training beginning Sunday before heading to Beijing, China, to compete in the six-nation Olympic test event, which begins April 19. She will then travel to Minnesota to join the Lynx for training camp, which begins on April 20.

Tennessee (36-2) successfully defended its national title with its dominating performance on Tuesday night in Tampa, Fla., avenging an earlier loss to the Cardinal (35-4).

There were 21,655 paying customers at St. Pete's Times Forum to witness the proceedings.

What will Stanford look like post-Wiggins? Perhaps they will not be as dynamic, but certainly good enough to dream large.

With Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen established in the post, and with incoming freshman Nneka Ogwumike, a 6-2 forward out of Texas, certain to make an immediate impact, the Cardinal may be a little more methodical. JJ Hones and Roz Gold-Onwude assume the leadership role from the guard spot. Jillian Harmon, if she stays healthy, could be the most valuable, and already will be the most versatile, player on the roster with her ability to play anywhere on the court.

Wiggins was a high school All-American when she replaced All-American Nicole Powell. She leaves as the NCAA's National Player of the year, only to be replaced by Ogwumike, the Gatorade National Girls High School Player of the Year who averaged 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds while leading Cy-Fair to the Texas State 5-A championship this season.

Ogwumike was on hand in Florida to cheer on Wiggins and Stanford, which was making its first trip to the national finals since 1992 and came so close after coming so far this year. The agony of defeat is difficult to resolves so soon after a wonderfully entertaining season came to a close.

"To have a chance to win a national championship and you just feel like, well, we wasted an opportunity," VanDerveer said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of working with this team, including when we were not playing well, when everything was going wrong. People really worked hard to just kind of stay together and not get upset with themselves or their teammates or their coaches."

The Cardinal, winners of 23 straight before Tuesday, had to battle from behind all season, overcoming season-ending knee injuries to Michelle Harrison and Melanie Murphy, overcoming a pair of conference losses, overcoming a perceived slight in the NCAA seeding, and beating the top-ranked team in the nation to get another shot at the Lady Vols.

The Stanford basketball community, reeling from the events on the men's side the past few days, still took time to honor their all-but-conquering heroines.

VanDerveer and Wiggins remained behind in Florida as Wiggins began her post Stanford career.

Tennessee has won 20 of the 25 all-time meetings between the teams, including all three NCAA tournament meetings. Lady Vols' coach Pat Summitt won her eighth national title.

Wiggins and Cissy Pierce depart as one of the most successful senior classes ever. Tennessee will lose all five of its starters, as Candace Parker became the top overall draft pick in the WNBA.

The Cardinal committed a season high 25 turnovers against a pressure defense that was stifling.

"We did not play well. We did not handle the pressure well," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "The turnovers absolutely killed us."

Each time Stanford pulled within striking distance, the Cardinal hurt itself with a costly turnover or they couldn't get a key defensive stop.

With 1:13 remaining to play, Appel fouled out. Wiggins also left the game at the same time. Wiggins leaves with 2,629 points after scoring 14 against Tennessee. Appel added 16 points and has 1,022 in two years.

"We just gathered together and really just reflected on such a great season and, more importantly, it's like we wanted to just enjoy the moment," Wiggins said.

Pedersen, the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year, added seven points and 10 rebounds as Stanford looks ahead to another season of high hopes and expectations.

"I saw a lot of seniors for Tennessee," VanDerveer said. "We have one senior that plays a lot. We have basically freshmen and sophomores who can only look back and say wow. It was awesome. And they learned how to do things. And to get to the Final Four and

play in this game, I'm really excited for them."

With so many returning players, the Cardinal may very well find itself picked to win its ninth straight Pac-10 title and make another deep run into the tournament. After all, there's still some unfinished business.

Comments

Posted by Alan Mela, a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 11, 2008 at 8:37 am

It has been a tremendous pleasure watching the team play this year, and we look froward to next year with great anticipation. Thankyou!


Posted by Chris Zawojski, a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2008 at 9:10 am

The team's focus and tenacity has been a pleasure to witness all season. A fan rarely witnesses the kind of genuine love for a team and school overtly displayed by Candice Wiggins. Let's all be thankful "the good ol' days" are still here for the women's program as the players stick around for four years, creating continuity and a legacy for themselves as well as their fans. With the men's program in mind (see comment regarding the Johnson departure article) I recommend the athletic department offer more than hugs to the coaching staff.


Posted by sue, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2008 at 1:36 pm



Even though it has different rules, a smaller ball and a terrible

history of womens knee injuries I like the occasional game of womens

basketball



Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2008 at 12:26 am

Please educate me. How are the rules different and what is the difference in the size of the balls? I'm not arguing with you. I just want to know. Or can any of you men explain it.


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