March 30, 2009

Buy Game Photos! | Stanford-Iowa State Highlights

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -The Big Appel is headed back to the Final Four after a low-post performance surpassing anything in Stanford's long, illustrious basketball history.

Jayne Appel had a career-high 46 points and 16 rebounds in the third highest-scoring performance in NCAA tournament history, overwhelming Iowa State's helpless defense and securing Stanford's second consecutive Final Four appearance with a 74-53 victory in the Berkeley Regional final on Monday night.

Stanford's physically imposing center with neon-pink fingernails and a dancer's grace also surpassed Candice Wiggins' single-game scoring record for the Cardinal (33-4), leaving little doubt about Stanford's 20th consecutive victory and eighth Final Four berth.

Only Drake's Lorri Bauman (50 points in 1982) and Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes (47 in 1993) have scored more points in an NCAA tournament game than the 6-feet-4 Appel, who made 19 of her 28 shots before being mobbed by her teammates at the final buzzer.

At the Final Four in St. Louis, the Cardinal will meet the winner of Connecticut's Trenton Regional final meeting with Arizona State. Stanford is the last team to beat the undefeated Huskies, doing it in last season's semifinal game in Tampa.

Amanda Nisleit scored 17 points for the Cyclones, who couldn't hit enough 3-pointers to overcome Appel's awe-inspiring effort. Iowa State (27-9) has made the regional final twice, falling short in 1999 and again this season.

Alison Lacey, who scored 29 points in Iowa State's comeback win over Michigan State in the Berkeley semifinals, managed just two on 1-of-10 shooting against Stanford.

Appel scored 27 points in the first half, two more than the fourth-seeded Cyclones' entire roster. The junior barely let up in the second half, breaking Wiggins' school record on one last low-post move with 1:43 to play.

The Cyclones' 38-point loss to the Cardinal back in late November didn't prepare them for the rematch. Appel scored just six points in that meeting in Hawaii, but she was Stanford's primary option on almost every possession this time -- and even if Iowa State had known, there wasn't much the Cyclones could do.

Appel dazzled the sympathetic Bay Area crowd with one beguiling move after another, seemingly oblivious to Iowa State's flailing attempts to guard her with single coverage. Tough enough to physically dominate the low-post mosh pit, but slick enough to emerge without a scratch, she carried Stanford to a 13-point halftime lead, leaving Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly grinning in frustration on the bench.

Stanford is headed to its eighth Final Four, but last season's loss to Tennessee in the national title game was its first appearance since 1997. After a decade of disheartening NCAA losses, coach Tara VanDerveer's teams finally have reclaimed their tournament toughness -- and Appel's relentless presence obviously is one monstrous reason.

Only eight players in NCAA tournament history have scored at least 41 points in a game. Stanford has done it three times in the last two years: Wiggins twice last season, including a 41-point effort in the regional final, followed by Appel's biggest game yet.

Stanford left no doubt of its game plan from the opening possession. Appel won the tap, immediately got the ball down low, rebounded her own miss and scored from the other side of the hoop. She scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first 7:44 before VanDerveer put her on the bench for a breather.

The Cardinal rarely deviated from their plan to feed the ball to Appel, who made 13 of her 19 shots in the first half to fall just shy of her 29-point performance in the first half during last season's NCAA tournament against Cleveland State.

Appel then scored the first six points of the second half, surpassing her previous career high and staking Stanford to a 44-25 lead. Iowa State never began fouling Appel pre-emptively, despite her unimpressive free-throw shooting in recent games.

Appel matched Marissa Coleman's 42-point performance for Maryland last Saturday on two free throws with 5:46 to play. She matched the Stanford record on a hook shot with 3:48 left.

Haas Pavilion was the site of Stanford's last loss, to archrival Cal on Jan. 18, but its stands were filled with several thousand Cardinal faithful who made the easy drive across San Francisco Bay.