TEXAS A&M VS. STANFORD: 7 P.M. ET SUNDAY (ESPN)
Why Stanford will win …
From top to bottom, Stanford may be the strongest team at this year’s Women’s Final Four, but the Cardinal will need everything clicking to get past the pesky pressure defense of Texas A&M.
The Cardinal has experience with four upperclassmen in the starting five, including seniors Jeannette Pohlen and Kayla Pederson, who have helped Stanford advance to four consecutive Final Fours. Those four upperclassmen are also scoring in double-figures, and lead a team that ranks fifth in the nation in scoring offense (79.8 ppg), as well as fifth in field goal percentage defense (33.5) and sixth in rebound margin (11.6).
“They are a complete team that has no weaknesses,” Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said.
Blair is especially envious of how Stanford recruited sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike from Cyprus, Texas, right out his backyard … and he should be. The Ogwumikes combined for 76 points and 40 rebounds in the Spokane Regional, accounting for 49.0 of the Cardinal’s scoring and 41.7 percent of Stanford’s rebounds.
“(The Ogwumikes) just kill you on the boards,” Blair said. “They just constantly move without the ball. And that’s what a basketball coach looks for, is somebody that can do something when they do not have the ball.”
Nnemkadi leads the Cardinal in scoring throughout the NCAA tournament with 21.5 points per game and a 61.4 field goal percentage, while Chiney paces Stanford with 10.8 rebounds per game while adding 14.3 ppg.
Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, will be directing the group from her point guard position, and brings 14.6 points per game, 167 assists and 44 steals to the table. She and her teammates will need to protect the basketball against a Texas A&M team that leads the country in turnover margin.
Pederson is a solid contributor in both scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.0 rpg), and knows from previous experience that the Cardinal’s accomplishments won’t automatically send them home with a trophy.
“I think what we need to do is take care of the ball,” Pedersen said. “I think we need to rebound the basketball and make sure we get a lot of possessions, and I think that’s probably the main thing.”
But more than talent or strategy, this game may come down to who wants to win more, and Stanford undoubtedly has the edge there. The Cardinal does not want to return home without a title this time.
“They’re playing very motivated, playing hungry,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “They’re very excited.”
– Amy Farnum, NCAA.com
Why Texas A&M will win …
Having “climbed the mountain” by topping Baylor for the first time in four tries on Tuesday night, Texas A&M must maintain its focus as the Aggies take on Stanford. The only fresh face in the Women’s Final Four, Texas A&M is making its first appearance in the national semifinals, and according to head coach Gary Blair, they intend to make this a regular destination.
Defense wins championships, and the Aggies are the second team in NCAA Championship history to hold each of their four opponents under 50 points. The only other time that happened was top-seeded LSU in 2005, which is also the last time the Final Four took place in Indianapolis (RCA Dome). Texas A&M also leads the nation in turnover margin, forcing 8.25 more turnovers per game than they commit. Creating turnovers and points off turnovers will play a key role for the Aggies to advance to the NCAA Championship game on Tuesday night.
Senior point guard presence is a commodity every head coach loves to have in the postseason and head coach Gary Blair has an extremely experienced point guard in senior Sydney Colson. With Colson’s experience running Blair’s various offensive sets, the Aggies are poised to attack on offense. Colson averages over 10 points per game, as do teammates Tyra White (13.6) and Danielle Adams (22.3). White and Adams are both over 1,000 points in their Aggie careers.
While Colson handles the backcourt, Danielle Adams is a presence in the middle. A transfer from Jefferson College, Adams has racked up 1,340 career points and 502 career rebounds in just two seasons with the Aggies. She was the only five-time Big 12 Player of the Week this season and became the first A&M player in program history to be named a first-team All-American by both the Associated Press and WBCA. She broke a 31-year-old A&M single-game scoring record on Feb. 12, putting up 40 against Kansas.
While this may be the Aggies first trip to the Final Four, it is the second time Blair has taken a squad to this stage. He previously took Arkansas to the Final Four in 1998. Final Four experience, like senior point guard leadership, can be critical to victory.
Finally, despite all of its success as a program, Stanford has never made the NCAA Championship game in consecutive years. In its four Championship Game appearances, the Cardinal won the title in 1990 and 1992, but lost in 2008 and 2010.
– Amy Hughes, NCAA.com