By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Nnemkadi Ogwumike shook off a slow start and finished strong to score 22 points in leading the Stanford women's basketball team to a 75-49 victory over visiting St. John's in the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday.
The second-ranked Cardinal (31-2) meets North Carolina (27-8) in the Sweet Sixteen on Saturday in Spokane.
"It doesn't get easier to play the game," Ogwumike said. "But it helps knowing we've been through this more than once."
Ogwumike reflected her team's performance. Stanford started slow, revved it up and never slowed down.
"Honestly I do what I can when I get out there," Ogwumike said. "At first we were trying to figure out what we needed to do. There was only one person guarding me so I wanted to post up aggressively and stay strong. We really just capitalized on the offense we ran."
Ogwumike helped seniors Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen, Ashley Cimino and Hannah Donaghe remain undefeated at home during their four years at Stanford, something only Tennessee has done. Connecticut can match that with a win on Tuesday.
"It speaks to their consistency," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It was thrilling to have that happen for them. They wanted it so badly. We wanted it for them. Jeanette and Kayla have led the way for four years. What a finish."
And what a legacy.
"That's pretty darn impressive," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "You're speaking about one of the great programs and one of the great coaches. They have played some great teams here. To keep that level of play and that focus night in and night out for 40 minutes over 63 or so games is unbelievable."
That streak includes two wins over opponents ranked first and 11 wins over opponents ranked in the top 10. Stanford has also won 25 straight since its overtime loss at Tennessee on Dec. 19.
"That's definitely something I want to be a part of a year from now," Ogwumike said. "It shows you just how much pride the seniors have in winning at Maples."
Ogwumike missed her first four shots and Stanford was shooting 25 percent from the field at one point.
Ogwumike made 10 of her final 12 shots and the Cardinal finished with a field goal percentage of 53.4 percent.
Fifth-seeded North Carolina beat fourth-seeded Kentucky, 86-74, to reach the Sweet Sixteen at the Veterans Memorial Arena.
No. 11 seed Gonzaga (30-4) will also be in Spokane and face the winner of Tuesday's Louisville-Xavier contest.
The Bulldogs knocked off third-seeded UCLA, 89-75, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane.
St. John's scored the first three points of the second half to close within 38-33. From there Stanford went on a scoring extravaganza, outscoring the Red Storm, 31-4, to take a 32-point advantage heading into the final six minutes. St. John's went nearly nine minutes without finding the bottom of the net in that span.
The Red Storm were all over Stanford through the first 10 minutes, taking a 22-14 edge. The Cardinal reversed the trend, making 11 of their final 15 shots of the half (after missing 10 of 15 to start) and outscoring St. John's, 24-8, to take a 38-30 advantage into intermission.
Chiney Ogwumike and Toni Kokenis both left the game during the first half with injuries. Ogwumike returned with her finger taped. Kokenis, who twisted her left ankle, never came back.
"The last seconds of the game I thought about what we had done over the past four years," Pedersen said. "Walking off the floor I took an extra look and saw Maples packed and all the fans cheering. It was a very special moment."
Chiney finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, Pedersen had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists and sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef played a career-high 22 minutes, scoring five points, grabbing four rebounds and recording four assists.
"Chiney did an awesome job getting the offensive boards and getting the second and third shot for us. Mikaela stepped up big for us," Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. "We've talked about this from day one how deep this team is and how each player has created a role for themselves on the court and with the team."