by Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Regardless of how convincing Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer can be, the second-ranked Cardinal (28-1) has clinched a No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA tournament no matter how it performs in the upcoming Pac-10 tournament.
The odds are Stanford will at least reach the championship game, having done so in each of the previous nine conference tournaments, winning seven of them.
Stanford opens the Pac-10 tournament Friday at 1:15 p.m. and will play either Arizona or Washington State, which played Thursday night in the first round.
The Cardinal is attempting to become the first conference team to go 18-0 in Pac-10 play and capture the Pac-10 tournament title.
"We have not clinched the automatic berth to the NCAAs," VanDerveer said. "I'm pretty sure we'll get in but we want to win the tournament and get that automatic bid."
Perhaps the motivation to win the conference tournament is to help sell tickets to the first- and second-round tournament games at Maples Pavilion next weekend.
"It doesn't matter what seed a team is," VanDerveer said. "It's that day, that time and you better show up to play."
VanDerveer hopes senior center Jayne Appel will be showing up at some point this weekend. The All-American sat out Stanford's 63-48 victory over California last week with a foot injury.
"Jayne is out of her boot and she is walking," VanDerveer said. "She went swimming and she's a little sore from that. She's getting treatment and we're hoping it will continue to improve. It looks a lot better than it did a week ago."
Appel was part of a contingent of six Stanford players named to various All-Pac-10 teams.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude was named co-Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday.
Three-time selections Appel and Kayla Pedersen were joined by Ogwumike and Jeanette Pohlen on the 15-player All-Pac-10 team. Gold-Onwude was an honorable mention.
"It would have been nice if we could have three players share the Player of the Year award," VanDerveer said. "I don't think that was ever discussed, but I am happy one of three (Appel, Ogwumike or Pedersen) got it."
Joslyn Tinkle was named all-freshman honorable mention, while Gold-Onwude was named to the All-Defensive Team. Pedersen was honorable mention.
Appel became the eighth Stanford player to earn All-Pac-10 honors three times. She broke the Pac-10's all-time rebounding record, eclipsing former USC great Lisa Leslie, also becoming the seventh player in league history to join the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club.
Appel ranks 11th in the league in scoring (14.3) and second in rebounding (9.9), recording 13 double-doubles this season while helping the Cardinal clinch its 10th consecutive regular-season title and 19th overall.
Ogwumike averaged a conference-leading 18.2 points and was third in rebounding with a 9.4 average.
Ogwumike shoots at a 63.8 percent pace, fourth in the nation. She has recorded a conference-leading 14 games of 20 or more points.
Pedersen recorded career highs in scoring (16.7), rebounding (9.0) and 3-pointers to help Stanford go undefeated in conference play.
Pohlen leads the Pac-10 with a 1.95 assist-to-turnover ratio and is second in the conference with 4.54 assists per game. Pohlen leads the Cardinal with 51 3-pointers and is shooting 35.9 percent from long range.
Gold-Onwude helped Stanford lead the Pac-10 in scoring defense, limiting opponents to an average of 54.3 points.
The biggest concern remains Appel's health. VanDerveer indicated she would play sparingly, if at all, should there be a chance of hurting the foot any further.
"Jayne is very important to our success," VanDerveer said. "We will have to wait and see what she's able to do. At the same time, I liked the way 'Neka and Kayla took the challenge and stepped up against Cal."
Stanford is built upon team chemistry as much as it is on the talented players that make up the roster. The Cardinal might do just fine without Appel this weekend, but it wouldn't go too far into the NCAA tournament without her.
Stanford has stumbled a few times when it had to make do without one of its guards or when one or more of its post players was in foul trouble.
Appel has the ability to keep the Cardinal focused and the opposition honest. Her leadership is as vital as her playing ability.
Either Arizona (13-16) or Washington State (8-21) would enter Friday's contest with much to lose.
The Wildcats enter the tournament on a five-game losing streak after a stretch of four wins in five games over the first half of February, while the Cougars, after dropping 12 of its first 13 Pac-10 games, have impressive victories over USC and Oregon over its final five regular-season games.
"We have to be focused no matter who we play," VanDerveer said. "Hopefully we will have Jayne."