Ogwumike helps Stanford to advance
Cardinal survive feisty Gamecocks, head to Elite Eight again
FRESNO, Calif. -- Nnemkadi Ogwumike wants one final shot at an NCAA championship.
She would like nothing more than to carry her Cardinal to another Final Four, and she had 39 points and 10 rebounds in top-seeded Stanford’s 76-60 victory against No. 5 seed South Carolina on Saturday night to get one win closer.
Now, Duke is all that stands in the way of a trip to Denver and the program’s fifth consecutive Final Four.
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Ogwumike shot 14-for-22 and made 11 of 12 free throws, and Toni Kokenis added 12 points and seven boards as the Cardinal (34-1) ran their school-record winning streak to 31 games with a hard-fought victory.
Markeshia Grant scored 14 points and made four 3-pointers and La’Keisha Sutton had 18 for scrappy South Carolina (25-10), which hung tough in its first regional semifinals since 2002 despite a significant height disadvantage.
Stanford will play Monday night against Duke, which beat St. John’s 74-47 in Saturday’s first game at the Save Mart Center.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer topped her former U.S. Olympic star Dawn Staley. The two captured a gold medal together in the 1996 Atlanta Games, with VanDerveer taking a year off from Stanford to coach the Americans.
But it wasn’t as easy as Stanford usually has it - South Carolina’s guards regularly answered on the offensive end after baskets by Stanford. The Cardinal received their biggest push since a 74-71 overtime victory against rival California at home in Maples Pavilion on Jan. 28.
Nneka Ogwumike took over down the stretch, even playing with three fouls for the final 17:20.
She scored on a leaping layin off a reverse pivot with 9:23 left to put her team up 56-48. She hit one free throw with 8:54 to play, then drew a charge on Ashley Bruner moments later before scoring over Bruner for an 11-point lead of 59-48. Staley quickly called timeout.
Kokenis had a steal in the backcourt and drove the full length of the floor for a three-point play with 5:10 remaining to make it 68-54 and cap a 9-0 Stanford run.
Joslyn Tinkle banked in a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to end the first half with Stanford leading 36-30 despite getting points from only four players. Nneka Ogwumike shot 7 for 12, while the rest of the team went 7 of 20.
The Cardinal got a couple of scares with Chiney Ogwumike going down twice. She hit the ground awkwardly on her braced right knee on a first-half rebound attempt. She was undercut by South Carolina’s Courtney Newton, but the sophomore stayed in the game after being helped up by her big sister.
With 15:11 remaining, she drove the lane and was bumped by Ebony Wilson. She stayed on the ground in pain, grabbing to stretch her troublesome right knee while holding her sister’s hand. Chiney Ogwumike sat down and iced the knee before returning less than a minute later.
The talented Ogwumike sister tandem combined to score their team’s first 10 points and the Cardinal led by as many as 10 in the first half.
South Carolina advanced to the NCAA’s round of 16 for the third time in program history and first under fourth-year coach Staley. And this group looked drastically different from the Gamecocks team that took a 70-32 whipping on Stanford’s home floor in Maples Pavilion on Nov. 26, 2010. That day, Staley asked VanDerveer to spend a few minutes with the South Carolina players in the locker room after the Hall of Famer earned career victory No. 797.
The Gamecocks beat six ranked opponents this season but couldn’t pull off the upset this time.
VanDerveer eliminated Staley from the NCAA tournament again. The Cardinal beat Staley during her college career at Virginia in the NCAA semifinals in both 1990 and `92, and Stanford went on to win it all both times. But VanDerveer’s teams haven’t captured a title since `92.
Likely WNBA No. 1 pick Nneka Ogwumike hopes to do her part to change that.