Posted: Sunday March 20, 2005 1:10AM; Updated: Sunday March 20, 2005 1:33AM
Stanford's Candice Wiggins continued her sensational freshman campaign by leading the Cardinal to a dominating 94-57 tournament-opening win over Santa Clara.
By Richard Deitsch, SI.com
Perhaps those granola-eating, sun-dappled West Coast basketball players are better than we thought. The Pac-10 Conference went 4-for-4 on Saturday including No. 2 Stanford's 94-57 rout of Santa Clara. The gritty Broncos hung with the Cardinal for much of the first half -- they were even up two with a little more than six minutes left -- before conference player of the year and all-world freshman Candice Wiggins decided the game was over. Stanford opened the second half with a 28-3 run (now that's a run) and played like a team upset at being a No. 2 seed. Consider the message sent to the tournament selection committee -- at least for one night. In addition to USC's impressive victory over Louisville (65-49) and Arizona State rout of Eastern Kentucky (87-65), the conference produced the biggest upset of the day as No. 10 Oregon defeated No. 7 TCU in the Tempe Region. That was particularly surprising given some of TCU's victories this year (Michigan State, Georgia, Oklahoma). Plus, the Horned Frogs had the best player on the court in senior Sandora Irvin, who entered the game ranked 11th in the country in scoring at 20.1 points per game, second with 12.0 rebounds and third nationally with 4.5 blocks. Irvin added six blocks to finish her career with 480 (an NCAA record) but she fouled out with a couple of minutes left and was merely an observer during crunch time.
PLAYERS WHO IMPRESSED
Well, Wiggins is as good as advertised. Lord, she is going to be obscene down the road. Right now she's merely great. What stands out is her athleticism and how she attacks the basket with serious elan. "I don't know how you stop this kid," gushed Kara Lawson, the Sacramento Monarchs' guard and former All-America at Tennessee who broadcast the game for ESPN. Neither did Santa Clara. The freshman rebounds, defends, she's a terrific passer, and can beat people off the dribble whenever she wants. It's also nice to see that she hits her free throws. She finished with 29 points including 11-for-11 from the line. Wow.
Catherine Kraayeveld, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, has some serious stones. With the Ducks clinging to a 54-53 lead with 17 seconds left, she hit two huge free throws to give Oregon a three-point lead. She finished with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and presents serious matchup problems with her outside shooting. But she's going to be tested severely on Monday with the Baylor duo of Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon. They combined for 34 points and 13 rebounds in a walk-in-the-park win over Illinois State (neither played more than 26 minutes).
Middle Tennessee State senior guard Patrice Holmes was tremendous in an upset of No. 5 N.C. State. She finished with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting and hit the game-winning jumper with 1.6 seconds left.
AND ONE WHO DID NOT
Jacqueline Batteast didn't look like an All-America on Saturday and Notre Dame is going to exit the tournament quickly if it plays as sloppy as they did against UC Santa Barbara, which turned up the defensive pressure and forced the Irish into an ugly 32.7 percent from the field. Batteast, which usually rhymes with Beast of the East, finished 4-of-14 from the field and 0-for-3 from the line. She needed strong games from Megan Duffy (18 points) and Breona Gray and a questionable call late to bail the Irish out: Gaucho center Kristen Mann was called for traveling after hitting an underhand circus shot that would have cut the lead to 2 with 1:56 left. Then Duffy hit her own circus shot (a right-handed prayer from the baseline) that ended the threat. The Irish play Arizona State on Monday. It's been a tough month for the Bonds clan: Karena Bonds, the cousin of San Francisco's Barry Bonds, went 0-for-4 for UCSB in 19 minutes.
Keep your eye on the opening game of the Philadelphia Regional as No. 6 Temple faces No. 11 Louisiana Tech at Storrs, Ct. The Owls (27-3) have been squawking about a lack of respect for such a low seed. Now it's time for Dawn Staley's team (led by junior forward Candice Dupree) to prove to the committee that they were slighted. They'll face a Lady Techsters squad that is nowhere near as strong as previous squads but it's still one of college basketball's Tiffany programs with a star guard in Erica Taylor. The Lady Techsters were gassed in the WAC final against Rice but they'll be raring to go come Sunday. It should be a terrific game. Late tonight Pat Summitt goes for career win No. 879 against Western Carolina, which is coached by Kellie (Jolley) Harper, a former Lady Vol great who helped Summitt accumulate many of those wins during the run of three championships in the late 1990s. A win ties Summitt with Dean Smith for NCAA record of 879 all-time victories. ESPN2 will cover this story pretty tightly so expect some interesting retrospective features on Summitt's career.
Get used to this, ESPN, because I plan on mentioning it as much as possible: The time has come to add real-time scores on the screen for the games being played simultaneous to the one in your broadcast area. Running the usual Bottom Line ticker at the bottom of the screen -- even at an accelerated pace -- just doesn't cut it. Especially as the ticker wades through spring training scores, PBA bowling results, and all the finals from previous tournament games.
CBS debuted its Game Trax technology this year to keep viewers abreast of every live game and it's a welcome addition. Is it worth it? Well, ESPN constantly reminds television writers that the women's tournament is one of its biggest sports properties. That's terrific, and bravo for the promotional arsenal they put behind it. But if you want viewers to respect your tournament as big-time -- even if the scores are in the blow-out range which they usually are in the opening rounds -- you have to give them as much information as possible. And that means real-time scoring on the screen
It's worth noting how good Lawson is as an analyst. Last year I wrote in Sports Illustrated that she was by far the best addition to the network's tournament coverage, and she's even better with an additional year of experience. The best analysts have an innate sense of the game and give you something you didn't know before. They are also over-prepared. Yesterday, after lead announcer Dave O'Brien mentioned how Harvard had upset Stanford in the 1998 NCAA Tournament, the only No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in either the men's or women's tournament, Lawson quickly added that what was lost in the story was how Stanford stars Kristin Folkl and Vanessa Nygaard had been hurt prior to the tournament (the implication being that Stanford was not nearly as good as its seed by the time of that game). Even if it was a setup prior to the break, it's tremendous context for the viewer. Here's hoping ESPN brings Lawson to Indianapolis and includes her in some capacity during its Final Four coverage.