Shooting from the outside

Jeremy Stone
Yahoo Sports

TAMPA, Fla. – It could finish with the worst three-point shooting percentage in Stanford history.

It's hard to believe that the same Stanford team that will play Tennessee for the national championship here Tuesday night, the one that needs four three-pointers to break the NCAA tournament record, hadn't made 10 treys in a game until February.

The Cardinal's perimeter game consisted of whatever senior All-American Candice Wiggins could provide. All-Pac-10 center Jayne Appel and Wiggins provided a formidable inside-outside punch, and Pac-10 freshman of the year Kayla Pedersen provided steady rebounding and complementary scoring.

The rest of the team seemed unable to find any offensive rhythm.

But while Stanford is scoring at precisely the same clip as it did earlier in the season, it has become a much more fearsome offensive force than the team that still managed to beat the Lady Vols in December.

"We kind of had the big three and no one else," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It was always about Jayne and Kayla and Candice. But probably the reason that we're here is because we do have that balance and the improvement of Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, the improvement of JJ Hones, the contributions that Jillian Harmon is able to make and Jeanette Pohlen."

VanDerveer has trimmed the rotation to those seven players, but all seven contributed in the 98-87 win over Maryland in the Spokane Regional final and in Sunday's 82-73 win over Connecticut.

"I talked to a couple friends of mine," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, "and they said, 'You know what the key to beating Stanford is?' I said, 'All right, what?' 'Well, Kayla Pedersen has to go one-for-something and Hones has to go one-for-something and the other perimeter player has to go one for something, and then Wiggins and Jayne Appel can have whatever they want.'

"Well, that didn't happen (Sunday). And that's what makes them the team that they are right now. They're a very difficult team to play right now. Very difficult."

Tennessee appears ready for the challenge, having limited both Texas A&M and LSU to 46 points apiece in its last two games.

But Stanford still managed 73 points against the Lady Vols in their overtime game at Maples Pavilion in December, even though it was before Hones was a regular in the rotation and played only nine minutes.

Since then, and particularly since Harmon started missing games in February due to a stress reaction, Hones has shouldered more of the offensive load and become an often lethal outside threat.

"She's stepping up, hitting big shots, whether it's going to the basket, hitting pullups, knocking down the three ball," Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "She's adding a new dynamic to their offense."

Pedersen, too, has expanded her offensive game. Though Wiggins earned most of the ink for her 41-point performance against Maryland, Pedersen's trio of three-pointers – plus Hones' first-half daggers – made the Cardinal impossible to contain.

"The coaches came up to me halfway through the season, and they told me they wanted me to be a three-point threat and I needed to start taking them," Pedersen said. "So I've been shooting them in practice a lot. And I think that them having confidence in my shot has really helped my confidence in my shot."

That confidence wasn't constant earlier in the season, particularly in an early January trip to Los Angeles that resulted in a pair of bad losses and almost certainly cost the Cardinal a No. 1 seed. At the time, that lost weekend seemed to nullify the breakthrough victory over Tennessee just two weeks earlier.

But Stanford has won 23 straight games since and set a school record with 35 victories.

"If that hadn't happened, the team mutually agrees we would be an extremely different team, for the worst," Hones said. "(We) needed that to be where we are.

"We needed to remember it was bad before, but we were able to overcome. We have to seize the day."

They're one win away from sending Wiggins out a champion.