Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 5, 2010

Stanford women continue their preparation for NCAA title bid

No. 2-ranked Cardinal (17-0, 27-1) can finish off perfect year in Pac-10 by beating host Cal

by Rick Eymer

Jayne Appel has plenty of motivation as the Stanford women's basketball team prepares for its regular-season finale Saturday at California. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:10 p.m.

The ultimate goal is the national championship but in the meantime there are things which she and her team can work on correcting.

"It was be bad if we were content," Appel said. "We need to handle pressure better and we need to rebound better. Ultimately we need to work on all things."

On the surface, the second-ranked Cardinal (17-0, 27-1) has little to fret over. There's another Pac-10 championship banner to jam into Maples, the top seed in the conference tournament is assured and likely a top seed for the NCAA tournament.

"We're not guaranteed anything in the NCAA," Stanford's Kayla Pedersen said. "So winning the (Pac-10) tournament would be great, and, of course, trying to show everybody why we deserve a No. 1 seed."

This is not the time to relax though, the players insist. It's, really, time to focus even sharper, to make things crisper, to take their game to another, higher, level.

"We have challenges ahead," Pedersen said. "We'll see how we can use these last two games to get us ready for California and to go into the Pac-10 tournament with some momentum."

The Cardinal, which has won 18 straight since losing to Connecticut, also can claim its first undefeated conference season in eight years.

"They are so consistent day in and day out with what they do," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "You have to give them credit."

Appel, in particular, has become more of a presence the past two weeks. She became the Pac-10 all-time rebounding leader in last Thursday's 63-42 win over Arizona State and has 13 of her career 45 double-double contests this season.

"It's her senior year and it's March," Turner Thorne said. "She's really stepping it up and I'm sure she will continue to do so."

The Cardinal beat Arizona, 75-48, last Saturday.

During the wining streak Stanford has won 15 games by 20 or more points.

"Every team gives you a puzzle to solve," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.

The Stanford men are also motivated to play California in its noon regular-season finale Saturday at Maples Pavilion and for different reasons.

Winning the last game would send the Cardinal (7-10, 13-16) into the Pac-10 tournament on a positive note and into the offseason upon which it has something to build.

The tournament seeding is of more immediate concern and when Stanford might have to play. The dreaded Wednesday game looms nightmarishly on the horizon. The Cardinal rests in sole possession of eighth place (seventh when you remove USC from the equation) and on the brink of having to play the first day.

Worse than playing the first game of the tournament is the shame associated with finishing so low in the standings. Only the bottom two teams are eligible for the opening act.

"It's good that we have a week before our last game," Stanford senior Landry Fields said. "I expect we will work hard in practice and hopefully bounce back."

Whoever winds up playing Wednesday will have to play three additional games in as many days to win the tournament title and the Pac-10's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Never before has the conference tournament held as much importance for teams on the bubble and otherwise. Talk has it that unless someone else rather than Cal wins the tournament, only one Pac-10 team will be going dancing.

The RPI ratings, as of Monday, have three conference teams — California (21), Washington (53) and Arizona State (54) — ranked among the top 65. The Huskies and Sun Devils are definitely on the bubble, which should help Stanford this weekend.

A pair of wins by each would guarantee both, at the least, a good, long look as well as second and third in the conference.

If those two teams win out, then Stanford could finish as high as fifth in the conference. That's providing the Cardinal can beat Cal, which has already clinched a tie for the Pac-10 title and the top seed in the conference tournament.

"Any time you play against your rival you're always going to get up for it," Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. "It doesn't matter what the records are, you can throw them out. I expect we'll be prepared for a tough challenge against Cal."

It would also be nice if Washington State splits its two games as long as the loss is to Oregon.

In the end it's all about pride for the Cardinal, and sending Fields off on a winning note. The postseason is another story.

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