April 4, 2010

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Nnemkadi Ogwumike put Stanford ahead early, then took control in the final minute to secure a spot in the national championship game.

Ogwumike scored Stanford's first eight points and the final seven - in the last 51.3 seconds - to make sure the Cardinal never trailed on the way to a 73-66 victory over Oklahoma on Sunday night in the women's Final Four.

Ogwumike, playing in front of family and friends just three hours from her Houston-area home, scored a career-high 38 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. She also had two assists, a block and a key steal in the final minute to put Stanford in the title game for the second time in three years.

"We talked about playing with fire and I think we lit that fire tonight," said Ogwumike, the Pac-10 player of the year.

Next up for Stanford (36-1) is UConn or Baylor on Tuesday night. The Cardinal will be seeking their first national championship since 1992.

If UConn advances, as expected, Stanford would get another crack at the only team it has lost to since Jan. 18, 2009, having fallen in last year's Final Four and early this season. It also would be the first title game pitting the top two teams in the final Associated Press regular-season poll since 2002.

The Cardinal are the last team to beat the Huskies - in the 2008 NCAA tournament semifinals.

"We're excited to be playing on Tuesday night," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "This is just great."

An Oklahoma team that never quit this season got within 66-62 and 67-64, yet Stanford kept getting the ball to Ogwumike and she always knew what to do.

She made a layup in traffic, then threw a 50-foot inbounds pass to set up a breakaway layup. In the final minute, she made five of six free throws and scored her own breakaway layup off an inbounds pass when Oklahoma (27-11) somehow lost her. Right after that, she came away with a steal that led to the final points of the game.

Ogwumike didn't really get much help.

Jayne Appel had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Kayla Pederson had 12 points and nine rebounds, but the rest of the team combined for four baskets. The Cardinal went 1 of 15 on 3-pointers and missed nine free throws. Ogwumike missed a pair of 3s, but was 12 of 13 from the foul line, her only miss coming in that final-minute surge.

This was the second straight close call for the Cardinal, who needed a buzzer-beating layup to get past Xavier in the regional final.

"I think we're a little jittery," VanDerveer said. "You know, we missed some really very makeable baskets."

Oklahoma was knocked out in the Final Four for a second straight season, although just getting this far was quite a feat. OU came into the season trying to replace Courtney and Ashley Paris, then five games in lost Whitney Hand, the previous season's conference player of the year, to a knee injury. Oklahoma also endured the nation's toughest schedule.

Coach Sherri Coale's Sooners kept up that attitude in this game. They were down 17 in the first half and trailed by 16 with 8:31, yet kept rallying.

Sparkplug point guard Danielle Robinson was a big part of OU's slow start and a big part of its recovery. All of them. She, too, could've used more help.

A big reason Oklahoma made it to the final weekend was because someone different always stepped up. The Sooners spent most of this game looking for someone to do so, and never really found it. They were especially hurt by missing 26 of their first 32 shots; they got back into the game by making 50 percent in the second half.

Robinson led the Sooners with 23 points and six assists.

Abi Olajuwon - playing in front of her father, Hakeem Olajuwon, for the first time in her four-year college career - had 12 points and nine rebounds. Nyeshia Stevenson added 15 points.