Stanford women banding together for Brittney, Baylor

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Stanford women banding together for Brittney, Baylor

FRESNO -- In keeping with the Nerd City theme of Stanford womens basketball season, the Cardinals secret weapon for the Final Four is going to be a 6-foot-8 alto saxophone player named Andrew Klein, who majors in math and computational science.

A year ago, Stanford thought it might face Baylor and its game-changing center Brittney Griner in the Final Four. So coach Tara VanDerveer asked Andrew to come practice with the team and took to affectionately calling him Brittney.

But, last year Baylor got bounced by Texas A&M and Andrews contributions went unused.

RELATED: Stanford trounces Duke to reach Final Four box score

Now its time to get the alto sax player back on the floor because Stanford will face Griner for the first time ever, in the NCAA semifinal next Sunday in Denver.

Im really looking forward to the matchup, said senior Nneka Ogwumike, who will have played in the Final Four in every year of her Stanford career.

Stanfords streak started a year before Nneka arrived on campus. When youve been to five straight Final Fours its hard to imagine that you can be considered an underdog.

But thats exactly what Stanford will be in Denver.

Nobody is giving Stanford a chance against Brawlin Baylor and Big Game Brittney, who was ejected from Mondays victory over Tennessee for coming off the bench when a fight broke out. Griner wont be suspended -- she came out to play peacemaker, rather than get involved in the fight. Besides, the NCAA would be nuts to eject the biggest draw in the womens game.

Everyone wants to see Griner. And everyone expects Stanford to suffer the same fate as all of Baylors other opponents this season: a loss.. Baylor is undefeated this season, 38-0

VanDerveer doesnt mind being discounted.

We dont get a chance often to be an underdog or be totally overlooked, she said.

But she was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer for a reason. When asked how she would contend with Griner, VanDerveer said,

Ill think of something. We will have a game plan.

It will be a new game plan because Stanford has never faced Griner. Thought the other top teams -- No. 1 seeds UConn and Notre Dame -- have already had to contend with Griners game changing presence, Stanford has avoided her for three seasons.

Im excited, said Ogwumike, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Fresno Regional, scoring 39 points on Saturday and adding 29 points in Mondays 81-69 victory over Duke. I feel like everyone but us have played against her.

Ogwumike faced Griner once -- in high school in Texas.

Thats when I learned to shoot the three, she said.

Time to start shooting over the alto sax player.

Ann Killion is a regular contributor to CSNBayArea.com and Chronicle Live.

Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

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Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

PROVO, Utah — Saint Mary's knows all about the raucous atmosphere at BYU. The Gaels hadn't won in Provo since 2013 and had only come out on top in three of their previous 12 trips.

Make it four out of 13.

Calvin Hermanson scored 17 points and No. 22 Saint Mary's cruised to a 70-57 victory over BYU on Saturday night, snapping a three-game road losing streak to its West Coast Conference rival.

"It's definitely one of the tougher places to play for us," Hermanson said. "Coming in here we know it's a huge crowd and we know they can get riled up on any 3-point shot or any run they make. We wanted to try to limit their runs and their big plays.

"The second half was pretty unbelievable how quiet the crowd was. It felt great for us."

With two games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Gaels (24-3, 14-2) clinched a second-place finish in the conference standings behind top-ranked and undefeated Gonzaga.

Saint Mary's controlled the game most of the night, riding its staunch defense on one end and running efficient offense on the other. The Gaels were able to get to the rim consistently, but also knocked down 10 3-pointers.

BYU (19-10, 10-6) shot 39.7 percent from the field and connected on four 3s.

Evan Fitzner had 15 points for Saint Mary's, including 11 in the second half.

"We didn't turn the ball over and we shot the ball well," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said, "and were able to get some separation and then it made it tough on them. We kind of just wore them out after that.

"We're a little different team with Fitzner out there. He spaces the floor," Bennett added. "We just play a little different with Fitzner out there versus Jock (Landale). It's nice to have a Plan A and Plan B."

Saint Mary's took a 41-30 lead into halftime thanks to Hermanson's hot shooting and plenty of that trademark defense. The Gaels began the day ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, then held the Cougars to 37.9 percent shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes.

Saint Mary's shot 57.1 percent at the other end, including a 3-for-4 effort from Hermanson from behind the arc.

"I feel like we're better than we showed tonight," BYU guard TJ Haws said. "That team made a lot of runs on us. Tough defensive and offensive team. Very poised and disciplined.

"I want our team to just fight. When they punch us in the face, I want us to punch them right back."

BYU kept Landale under control in the half — and in foul trouble throughout — but Saint Mary's scored 22 of its 41 first-half points in the paint.

Eric Mika had 18 points for BYU, and Yoeli Childs added 13.

"The key to the game was that they were comfortable the entire time in our gym," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "That's on us. We need to be ahead. We need to get them to speed up a little bit because they're a little bit uncomfortable.

"But the game went pretty much exactly how they wanted it to go and we couldn't flip it. We couldn't get on top."

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary's: The Gaels will be the No. 2 seed in the WCC tournament. No. 1 Gonzaga secured the regular-season title Saturday with a win over Pacific. An early December defeat to UT-Arlington is the Gaels' only bad loss this season, with the other two coming against Gonzaga.

BYU: The Cougars likely needed a win against the No. 22 team in the country to make an argument for the NCAA Tournament off their regular-season credentials. BYU has lost all three games against ranked opponents by double digits, including to Saint Mary's twice, and doesn't have a signature win. The Cougars get one last chance against Gonzaga next Saturday.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

No. 22 Saint Mary's might find itself moving up a bit after No. 17 Florida State and No. 21 South Carolina lost on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary's: Travel to face Pepperdine on Thursday.

BYU: Play at Portland on Thursday.

Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

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Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

BOX SCORE

STANFORD -- Dorian Pickens scored 23 points, Reid Travis had 19 with nine rebounds and Stanford held on to beat California 73-68 on Friday night.

Marcus Allen added 11 points for the Cardinal, who overcame an early 12-point deficit to beat their cross-bay rivals for the 21st time in the last 24 meetings between the two teams at Maples Pavilion.

Stanford (13-13, 5-9 Pac-12) won for only the second time in seven games and split the season series with California.

Pickens had nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as part of a 20-5 run in the second half when the Cardinal pulled away.

After California closed within 62-56 on Grant Mullins' 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining, Allen made two free throws and Pickens scored on a jumper from the free-throw line as he was falling backward onto the court.

Jabari Bird scored 23 points and set a career-high with seven 3s for the Golden Bears (18-8, 9-5). Ivan Rabb added 16 points and 13 rebounds after being slowed by foul trouble in the first half.