SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Xavier will be the first team in months to stand up to Stanford. On paper, anyway.
“Love it,” star Stanford center Jayne Appel said. “I hate chasing around the little players. It’s the most annoying thing ever.”
The top-seeded Cardinal have been so dominant in their first three NCAA tournament victories that the starters have had plenty of time to rest late in games, including Appel and her tender ankle.
Coach Tara VanDerveer likes it that way, and she is unconcerned that her team is yet to truly be tested. That could be coming.
“I really feel these games are giving us what we need,” she said.
By the looks of it, Xavier might be able to match up with Stanford in the post when the teams face off Monday night in the Sacramento Regional final for a trip to San Antonio and the Final Four.
The third-seeded Musketeers have the height they hope will allow them to hold their own inside with one of the nation’s most talented frontcourt trios: All-American Appel, Pac-10 Player of the Year Nnemkadi Ogwumike and All-Pac-10 selection Kayla Pedersen.
Xavier center Ta’Shia Phillips is 6-foot-6, while Amber Harris stands 6-5— so the Musketeers could give the 6-4 Appel, 6-2 Ogwumike and 6-4 Pedersen problems.
“It is a game of bigs,” VanDerveer said. “How often do they play against a team with as many bigs as we have, and how often do we play against a team with as big and quality bigs as they have? We’re a little bit of mirror teams, with the inside game being the presence. Their leading scorer’s a post, their second-leading scorer’s a post. Our leading scorer’s a post, second-leading scorer’s a post.”
The Cardinal (34-1) are riding a 25-game winning streak since their lone loss Dec. 23 to undefeated defending champion Connecticut, and they have won their NCAA tournament games by a combined 98 points.
While everybody is eager for a potential rematch with UConn, Appel won’t go there—not yet.
“They have to win to get to that game as well,” Appel said.
Appel has repeatedly acknowledged her senior season won’t be complete without a national championship, and that almost certainly means getting through the Huskies.
Stanford is the last team to beat the defending champs, in the national semifinals two years ago.
“We know we’re going to have our hands full Monday night,” Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. “If UConn has been 1 all year, they’ve been 1A.”
Xavier (30-3) has reached its first regional final in nine years and also has a long winning streak—21 straight—after beating up on Gonzaga 74-56 on Saturday. The Musketeers have never been to a Final Four.
The team’s animated, dancing “Blue Blob” mascot is getting a lot of face time during this special run, too.
It will take a mighty effort on everybody’s part for the Musketeers to make it another victory. The Cardinal not only have three dominant post players but also a guard rotation that can make defenses pay if left unattended. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude hit seven 3-pointers in a second-round win over Iowa, but is nursing a swollen pinkie on her shooting hand that affected her Saturday night after it got “pulled the wrong way” by a Georgia player. She will tape it Monday.
Point guard Jeanette Pohlen scored 12 points and had five assists to one turnover in a 73-36 win over Georgia.
“This is one of few teams in the country that can actually match up size wise,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said of Xavier. “The size is really what you see with Stanford.”
While Georgia thought it could hang with Stanford, the Cardinal’s quick ball movement and spot-on passing to the post made it hard for the Lady Bulldogs to keep up for long.
The Musketeers have other plans.
“It will be fun to finally match up with somebody who matches up inside, rather than chasing around little people on the perimeter like we usually do,” said Phillips, who has 197 offensive rebounds this season.
That stat alone of Phillips’ concerns VanDerveer.
“That’s something that’s extremely impressive to me,” she said.