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Stanford eager for Baylor's big challenge

Graham Watson
Yahoo Sports

DENVER – Stanford senior forward Nneka Ogwumike says she couldn't have scripted a better matchup for the Final Four than playing against Baylor's Brittney Griner. Seriously.

Even though they both grew up in Houston, the two had played against each other only once in AAU. On the college level – on a national stage – Ogwumike almost went her entire career without facing Griner, a player many believe is revolutionizing the game.

On Sunday, the two will meet for a chance to play for a national championship in a showcase of two of the best post players in women's basketball.

"I was excited from selection Monday that Baylor was on our side, and I'm so happy we get to play them, especially with me being a senior," Ogwumike said. "I don't want to say that I didn't get to play her before I left, so I'm looking forward to it."

Of course, Ogwumike knows this isn't just an opportunity but also a trial. Griner is 6-foot-8, 6 inches taller than Ogwumike. Griner's standing reach is 9 feet, which is taller than some NBA players, and her wingspan is a ridiculous 7 feet, 3½ inches. Oh, and despite her size, she has the athleticism of a 5-7 guard.

"She's not just big, she's athletic and she has skills, which makes that kind of a triple dagger," Ogwumike said. "It's going to be a challenge and I'm excited. I'm stepping up to it, and I know our entire team is as well."

Griner is an amazing force on defense, but Ogwumike and Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said the focus will be on stopping Griner's offense. Of course, 38 teams have tried to do that this year and 38 have failed. Only 12 teams have held Griner to fewer than 20 points and only three to fewer than 15. Texas A&M had the most success, holding her to 11.

But after a review of all 38 games – including games against Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders limited Baylor's offense by using as much of the shot clock as possible – the Cardinal feel as if they have a pretty good gameplan. VanDerveer wouldn't give away her secrets, but she did note what other teams did well against the Lady Bears.

[Baylor's Kim Mulkey battling Bell's palsy with plenty of attitude]

"I think they've controlled the tempo," VanDerveer said of teams that have at least made games against Baylor interesting. "The scores are low. They understand that if your 5-7 guard goes against Brittney Griner, she's going to need a toothpick to pick out the leather from her teeth.

"I told our team: This is not a game to show me your macho move to the basket against Brittney Griner. We don't need it."

On the flip side, VanDerveer said as difficult as it will be for Stanford to match up with Griner, Griner might also have a tough time with a wily post player such as Ogwumike.

"Who has Baylor played against that's like Nneka?" VanDerveer asked. "She's got a pretty versatile game."

While Griner and Ogwumike will be in the spotlight, the other interior matchup between Baylor's Destiny Williams and Ogwumike's sister, Chiney, could prove pivotal in the outcome of the game. Griner actually noted that Nneka and Chiney had "sister instinct" on the floor, which made them tougher to play.

"They have played together so long that they can anticipate what the other person is going to do," VanDerveer said. "So you do have that sister factor on the court, just X's and O's, passes, screens, things like that."

But Stanford knows that without discipline against Griner and the Lady Bears' other post players, the matchups won't matter.

"If you don't follow your rules on defense, then things don't go your way," Nneka Ogwumike said. "I think our defense is something that a lot of people kind of look over. We do a really good job of following our rules and our coaches do a great job of scouting and letting us know what we have to do. … We don't just look at Baylor; we look at things we've done well in different situations. And, I mean, watching the tape, it's going to be a challenge. But I'm really excited."

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