The Stanford women's basketball team made some program history while advancing to the NCAA Final Four following an 83-60 dismantling of Gonzaga in the Spokane Regional final on Monday night.
The top-seeded Cardinal (33-2) will be making its fourth straight trip to the national semifinals for the first time in school history.
"We are very excited to go back to the Final Four," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "I'm very happy for our seniors."
The true senior class of Kayla Pederson, Jeanette Pohlen, Ashley Cimino and Hanna Donaghe is the first group of Cardinal seniors to make four consecutive trips to the national semifinals.
"We feel on top of the world right now, going 4-for-4," said Pedersen. "And Nneka is 3-for-3."
Helping them get there was junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who dominated inside by scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Her freshman sister, Chiney, added 18 points and 15 rebounds as the Cardinal tied a team record with its 27th straight victory -- first set last season.
Neka was named the Most Outstanding Player in the regional for the second straight year while Chiney was named to the All-Regional Team along with Pedersen.
After having her sister watching in the stands the past two seasons, Neka and Chiney Ogwumike now have the chance to play together in the national semifinals.
"This whole weekend she's just been talking about, 'Nneka, I don't know what it really feels like because the last two times I went I was in the stands," Nneka Oguwmike said. "I was just trying to help her just let her know how exciting it was. I think she has so much fight in her that she was just determined to take this team as far as they could."
Senior Jeanette Pohlen shook off a poor shooting performance in Saturday's win over North Carolina by scoring 17 points and adding five assists to help the Cardinal reach the Final Four for the 10th time in school history, tying Louisiana Tech for third-most all-time.
"Going to the Final Four every year, it's a dream for people and some people don't even get that close," Pohlen said. "I'm just really proud of how we stepped up and how people made huge plays in the second half and how we rebounded. We really owned the glass tonight. I'm just really proud of how people stepped up and how people made some huge plays in the second half."
Gonzaga, the No. 11 seed and the highest seed to reach a regional final, was led by senior Courtney Vandersloot, who finished with 25 points and nine assists. However, she scored just four points in the second half after a 21-point outburst before intermission kept the Bulldogs (31-5) close at 47-38.
"We went with a zone (in the second half) and I think that threw them off their rhythm," Vanderveer said of the Bulldogs, who saw Stanford go on a 10-0 run to grab a 61-40 lead with 13:21 left in the game after Vandersloot had scored her only basket in the second half when Gonzaga shot only 23.5 percent from the floor.
The Ogwumike sisters scored eight of those 10 points while Stanford's defense clamped down on Vandersloot and her teammates. Gonzaga made only 1 of 11 shots during Stanford's run. Neka finished 9-for-11 from the field.
"When they stopped scoring, we kept scoring," Neka Ogwumike said. "I'm just really excited to win this game with my team."
Pedersen added eight points and 12 rebounds for Stanford, which held a 49-25 advantage on the boards. The Cardinal also made 12 of 20 three-points (60 percent) while holding Gonzaga to six of 21 (28.6 percent).
"I think they beat us in every category," Vandersloot said. "They were a better team and they are going to be tough to beat. I definitely wouldn't be surprised if they took it all."
Pedersen now has 1,256 career rebounds, just seven shy of tying Jayne Appel's all-time Stanford and Pac-10 record of 1,263 boards.
Gonzaga came into the game as the nation's top-scoring team, averaging over 86 points a game. Stanford limited the Bulldogs to just 22 points in the second half.
"We knew what they were looking for and we dodged some bullets that they missed some shots that I think they probably ordinarily made," VanDerveer said. "But this is a very big stage and they've never been on it before and it might change just a little bit of the release. I think we were fortunate."
Stanford hit four straight three-pointers in the second half -- three by Pohlen and one by Lindy La Rocque (11 points) -- to grab a 79-51 lead.
Stanford and Gonzaga had met earlier this season with the Cardinal holding on for an 84-78 victory in Spokane earlier this season. This time, however, Stanford dominated in the paint and shot 57.4 from the field to end the Bulldogs successful season.
"Some people might take this for granted, but I think we're very grateful to be going," Pohlen said of reaching the Final Four. "It's just mind blowing."
Stanford will play the winner of Tuesday night's regional final between Baylor and Texas A&M in the NCAA semifinals next weekend in Indianapolis.
In the Dayton Regional final on Monday, No. 2 seed Notre Dame upset No. 1 Tennessee, 73-59, to end a 20-game losing streak to the Volunteers while advancing to the Final Four.