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February 23, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Stanford seeks to avenge its lone Pac-10 loss Stanford seeks to avenge its lone Pac-10 loss (February 23, 2005)

by Rick Eymer

With the Pac-10 title safely tucked away in its back pockets, the Stanford women's basketball team still have something to prove this week and beyond.

First on the list is exacting a little revenge on Oregon, who visit Stanford on Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Ducks were the last team to spoil third-ranked Stanford's party, booting the Cardinal out of Eugene with a 62-58 loss pinned onto their luggage. It continues to remain the only thorn in Stanford's otherwise rosy conference mark.

"We're focused on Oregon," said Stanford guard Kelley Suminski, who made three 3-pointers against the Bruins to move into third place on the career list with 193. "We have a little payback coming up. We're excited to be playing them."

Stanford (15-1, 24-2) hasn't lost since, and hasn't even come close to losing. Arizona State came within 11 points of Stanford in Tempe and that's the closest a conference team has been to Stanford during its 15-game winning streak.

"We'd like to keep winning at home and we'd like to pay back Oregon," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Mostly we want to keep everyone healthy going into the Pac-10 tournament."

This conference title -- Stanford's fifth consecutive -- wasn't easy. It only looked that way.

Among the 13 conference titles, there have been years in which Stanford didn't actually clinch things until the final game of the regular season.

The Cardinal actually clinched a share of the title when they beat California on Feb. 11. Friday's 88-62 victory over host USC was merely a formality and meant the Cardinal didn't have to share the trophy with anyone else.

Stanford went on to beat UCLA, 81-68, on Sunday to complete its conference road schedule.

Last year, Stanford lost four of its last 10 games to fall into a first-place with Arizona for the title. Two years ago, the Cardinal clinched it with two games remaining. In 2002, Stanford went undefeated and finished six games ahead of Arizona State and Washington.

In 2001, Stanford was in third place with four games remaining and needed to win its final three games to climb into a three-way tie with Washington and Arizona State.

The two previous seasons, late losses to Arizona cost Stanford a share of the title.

Stanford is the only Pac-10 team to win or share five consecutive conference championships, having also done it from 1988 to 1993. The Cardinal won four in a row between 1995 and 1998.

"It's nice to separate yourself from your competition," Stanford guard Candice Wiggins said. "Lately that's what we've been doing."

Wiggins has been separating herself from the rest of the quality freshman in the Pac-10 as well. She recorded her first two career double-doubles in Los Angeles, playing before a large supporting cast of family and friends.

Against USC, Wiggins scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Against UCLA, she had 24 points and 16 rebounds.

"I don't know what to say," Wiggins said. "It's awesome. I saw a bunch of people from my high school in the stands and I saw a lot of family. I'm glad they got to see me play."

Susan King Borchardt and Azella Perryman each added 14 points in the win over the Women of Troy. Suminski had 12 points and Kristen Newlin added 11.

Brooke Smith added 20 points and seven rebounds in the win over the Bruins. She also blocked three shots.

The Cardinal did have something to work on against both USC and UCLA. Stanford had more offensive rebounds than its opponent in nine of the first 13 games. Since then, the Cardinal have grabbed more offensive boards on just two occasions.

"Coach was looking at the Pac-10 stats and saw we were eighth in offensive rebounding," Wiggins said. "So she put a lid on the basket during practice and we sort of killed each other just rebounding."

Stanford entered the weekend second in the Pac-10 in rebounding (39.8) and first in rebounding margin (plus 6.7) so it didn't sit well with VanDerveer that the Cardinal suddenly turned timid on the offensive boards.

The recent innovation at practice resulted in 14 offensive rebounds, the same number as USC. Stanford had 16 offensive rebounds in its previous two games combined.

Overall the Cardinal out-rebounded the Women of Troy, 46-33. USC entered the game as the conference's best rebounding team.

The Bruins gave Stanford all it could handle for much of the first half, leading by as many as seven. Once the Cardinal tied the game at 28, they never gave back the lead, scoring the final 12 points of the first half and taking off in the second half.

Even with the title in hand, Suminski said Stanford won't be taking anything for granted. The Cardinal are looking at the big picture.

"This is very special and I am certainly proud of all the Pac-10 championships won," she said. "I still want a tournament win. It's just going to be harder from here on out."

Suminski, Sebnem Kimyacioglu, Susan King Borchardt, Azella Perryman and T'Nae Thiel will be playing their final home games this weekend, and it's been on their minds for awhile.

"I'm little bit sad about it," Suminski said. "But we'll have a great weekend."

Suminski moved ahead of Jennifer Azzi, Kimyacioglu and Lindsay Yamasaki on the career 3-point list. She's within striking distance of Nicole Powell (201) and career leader Vanessa Nygaard (210).

"That's very good company," Suminski said. "I've played with outstanding players and I've learned from them. I'm excited about being on that list."

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