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March 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Playing like champs Playing like champs (March 09, 2005)

Top-ranked Stanford wins third straight Pac-10 tourney title

by Rick Eymer

The Stanford women's basketball team spent its first day as the nation's top-ranked team playing like champions. Now the Cardinal get a chance to show the country why they deserve their elite status.

Stanford beat Arizona State, 56-42, on Monday night in front of 4,015 fans at HP Pavilion to win its third straight Pac-10 tournament title. It was the fewest points the Cardinal have scored all season and yet they still won by 14 points by limiting the Sun Devils to their season low.

"A lot of time people look at our team and say we're not this or we're not that," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Defense is an important part of what we do. A lot of people don't think we can play defense. Let's keep it a secret."

Stanford (29-2) has allowed opponents to score just 55 points a game; a school record for a season, and the Cardinal lead the Pac-10 leader in field goal defense at .348. Those are numbers which can carry a team a long way into the NCAA tournament, which is Stanford's next stop.

"Being No. 1 is nice but it's a paper ranking," VanDerveer said. "We want to prove it on the court. We want to play six more games."

The Cardinal will likely open play in Fresno for the first two rounds beginning on Saturday, March 19 as the No. 1 seed. They could also meet Arizona State again in regional play in Tempe. Stanford takes a 20-game winning streak into the tourney.

Stanford will find out its tournament fate on Sunday when ESPN announces the 64-team bracket at 2 p.m.

"We have a little bit of time to work on things," Stanford senior guard Susan King Borchardt said. "This is really exciting. It's something we don't want to see end."

Candice Wiggins, voted the tournament MVP after scoring 50 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in the three games, scored 10 of her 16 points in the second half and was a big reason why the Cardinal never lost the lead. She handled the ball, grabbed critical rebounds, blocked a shot and generally played harassing defense on her opponent.

"It's always nice to be recognized but I see the big picture," Wiggins said. "It's awesome to succeed with these people. They are so fun to play with and I still have a lot to learn."

Wiggins has a natural instinct for the game which guides her through tough situations. After scoring 51 points against the Sun Devils during the regular season, she was the focus of a lot of attention. Nothing seemed to be bother her as she went about the business of helping Stanford win another tournament title.

"We can't expect Candice to do all the work," VanDerveer said. "She gives us offense, defense, rebounding and free throws. She's a fabulous player but this train is being pulled by the seniors."

Kelley Suminski, who joined Wiggins on the all-tournament team, played a team-high 37 minutes with just a single turnover.

"You essentially have three point guards on the floor," Arizona State coach Charli Thorne Turner said. "It's hard to press them. Who do you double team? Anyone can bring it up and run the offense. That is a great strength for them and will be a positive asset for them in the tournament."

Stanford also hopes to have senior forward T'Nae Thiel, who suffered a broken bone in her left foot during the 76-45 win over Oregon on Feb. 24 back for the NCAA tournament.

"Thiel is going to help them quite a bit," Thorne said. "She does a great job of running the high-low game and I don't know where her passing came from but she's a great passer this year."

Thiel was on crutches as Stanford received the trophy for winning the Pac-10. The Cardinal have also been without Clare Bodensteiner, Shelley Nweke, Eziamaka Okafor and Jessica Elway for most of the season.

"The most important thing for me is our team being healthy," VanDerveer said. "T'Nae is one of our best rebounders."

After seven lead changes and a tie in the first 12 minutes of the game, Stanford took the lead for good when Borchardt hit a 3-pointer with 8:54 left in the first half.

The Cardinal held Arizona State to two points over the final over the final 5:56 of the first half and took a 29-20 halftime lead.

Arizona State never got closer than six points the rest of the way.

"We were ready to play," Borchardt said. "This game was so important that we wanted to put everything we had into it."

Stanford reached the championship game with a 73-69 win over USC on Sunday.

Stanford avoided the upset bid due largely to Suminski, who scored 17 points, and Wiggins, who scored 24 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. Kristen Newlin added 14 points and eight rebounds.

The Women of Troy held an eight-point lead twice during the second half - the largest deficit Stanford faced against a conference opponent all season - before Suminski guided the Cardinal out of the depths and into the lead by calmly nailing a trio of 3-pointers.

"Kelley is clutch," VanDerveer said. "She makes big plays. She's always in the gym, working on her shot."

Wiggins made sure Stanford stayed in the lead the rest of the way with her clutch shooting and ball-handling skills as Stanford had to overcome its first halftime deficit of the season, and being outshot for the first time all season.

PAC-10 FINALS at HP Pavilion, San Jose Monday Championship ARIZONA ST. (42) Westerberg 3-9 0-0 7, Johnson 3-7 0-0 6, Kovesdy 5-7 0-0 10, Loney 2-6 0-0 6, Buckner 2-10 1-2 5, Pariseau 0-1 0-0 0, Stagg 0-1 0-0 0, Boardman 1-5 0-0 2, Denson 3-8 0-0 6, Rosenthal 0-2 0-0 0, Thigpin 0-5 0-0 0. Totals: 19-61 1-2 42. STANFORD (56) Wiggins 8-15 0-0 16, Newlin 1-3 3-4 5, Smith 2-5 6-6 10, Suminski 4-10 0-0 9, King Borchardt 3-8 1-2 9, Pierce 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0, Kimyacioglu 1-1 0-1 3, Perryman 1-4 2-2 4, Rappahahn 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-46 12-15 56. Halftime -- Stanford 29, Arizona State 20. 3-point goals -- Arizona St. 3-15 (Loney 2, Westerberg), Stanford 4-14 (King Borchardt 2, Kimyacioglu, Suminski 1-5). Fouled out -- None. Rebounds -- Arizona St. 37 (Johnson 12), Stanford 31 (Wiggins 7). Assists -- Arizona St. 13 (Buckner 4), Stanford 3 (Kimyacioglu, Suminski, Wiggins 1). Total fouls -- Arizona St. 16, Stanford 12. A -- 4,015. Records: Stanford 29-2; Arizona State 22-9 All-Tournament Team Candice Wiggins (Stanford), MVP; Kelley Suminski (Stanford); Kristen Kovesdy (Arizona State); Aubree Johnson (Arizona State); Nikki Blue (UCLA); Shay Murphy (USC).

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