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Why Stanford will win

Wearing black, the Cardinal have been on a mission

Posted: Tuesday April 8, 2008 12:19PM; Updated: Tuesday April 8, 2008 1:43PM
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Wade Trophy winner Candice Wiggins dropped 41 points on against Maryland and has her Stanford Cardinal in the national-championship game against Tennessee.
Wade Trophy winner Candice Wiggins dropped 41 points on against Maryland and has her Stanford Cardinal in the national-championship game against Tennessee.
AP
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Click here to read Tracy Schultz's five reasons why Tennessee will win.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt calls the Stanford team, which knocked off tournament favorite Connecticut 82-73 on Sunday, "a well-oiled machine" that's "clicking on all cylinders." That's more than can be said for her Lady Vols, who beat LSU 47-46 in the second worst two-team offensive performance in NCAA women's Final Four history. Will Candace Parker, hobbled though she may be by a recently dislocated shoulder, have another 6-for-27 shooting night? Not likely. Will Alexis Hornbuckle be held to one bucket again? Doubt it.

Tennessee will rebound, both literally and figuratively, and will have all guns fixed on the Stanford team that ruined their Christmas by beating them for the first time in 11 years. Teams don't beat the Lady Vols twice in a season very often. Fortunately for Stanford, this Cardinal team, which starts three sophomores and a freshman, is too young to know that.

Here are five reasons why Stanford will cut down the nets in Tampa on Tuesday night.

1. Candice Wiggins.

No player has played better this tournament than "C-Dub", the Cardinal's dynamic 5-foot-11½ senior guard who was the surprise Wade Trophy winner on Saturday. Wiggins, whose electric play had been little more than a rumor to most fans east of the Rockies before this March, became the first player to score more than 40 points twice in the same NCAA tournament when she dropped 44 on UTEP and 41 on No. 1-seed Maryland. But she does much more than score (27.4 ppg in the tournament), grab rebounds (13 against Connecticut) and find open teammates (4.6 apg in the tournament). She is the Cardinal's leader and emotional catalyst. "She'll make a layup and she's so excited about it that it ignites the team," says sophomore guard JJ Hones. "It gets us going."

2. Offensive balance.

Wiggins and 6-4 posts Jayne Appel (15 ppg; 8.9 rpg) and Kayla Pedersen (12.8 ppg; 8.4 rpg) have been Stanford's main scoring threats all season. But it's Stanford role players who have been overwhelming defenses in the tournament. In the Sweet 16 game against Pitt, sophomore guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who averages 5.1 points, scored 15. In the Elite Eight game against Maryland, Hones, who averages six points, had 23. "When the other players are making shots like they are right now for Stanford, it gives Candice a lot more room to maneuver and a lot more room to do what she wants to do," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, after his team fell to Stanford 82-73 in Sunday's semifinal. "And then she's a really tough matchup."

3. Poise.

Whether it has faced a seven-point deficit to Utah with 17 seconds to go in November, consecutive losses to unranked teams in January, Maryland's blizzard of buckets or Connecticut's ferocious full-court press in March, Stanford has refused to panic. Even walking onto the court at the St. Pete Times Forum in front of 20,000 people -- about five times the size of the crowd Stanford typically plays in front of -- did little to rattle the Cardinal's composure. Says Gold-Onwude, "It's a cliché, but it's true: Once you step on the court, it's just basketball."

4. Confidence.

Against Connecticut, Stanford put on a passing clinic, dishing out 20 assists on 28 field goals. That reflects great discipline -- and great confidence in one another. "Our players don't mind making the extra pass because they trust each other to knock down shots," said assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey.

5. They are tougher than they look, especially in their black unis.

The Cardinal's disappointment at not getting a No. 1-seed was obvious right after the field was announced. But the team has used that slight to great sartorial advantage. Once they had dispatched Cleveland State, UTEP and Pitt while wearing their favored-status white jerseys, the Cardinal players got to don the red-trimmed black uniforms that make them feel "tougher and more together," according to Pedersen, and really started to raise hell. If Stanford can keep its well-oiled machine running, Tennessee will be the third-straight No. 1 seed the women in black take down.

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