Stanford women beat Duke 81-69 to reach Final Four

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Stanford women beat Duke 81-69 to reach Final Four

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FRESNO -- Nnemkadi Ogwumike hoisted the regional championship trophy high into the air with both arms and showed it off for all the Stanford fans to see.Not quite a Mile High. She hopes that comes next.Ogwumike will end her sensational senior season right where she has the rest: at the Final Four. In Denver this time.Ogwumike made it happen on both ends of the floor with 29 points and nine rebounds Monday night despite constant double-teams, sending top-seeded Stanford past No. 2 seed Duke 81-69 in the Fresno Regional final for the Cardinal's fifth straight Final Four berth."This started before I even came to Stanford. I always wanted to be part of the culture," she said. "This never gets old. Not a lot of teams get to say that they've gone. For me to get to say I've been on four times, that's a lot to ask for."Little sister, Chiney, did plenty to seal the Denver trip, too - along with everybody else. Chiney Ogwumike grabbed 17 rebounds to go with 12 points and freshman Amber Orrange came through with 13 points and four assists as the Cardinal extended their school-record winning streak to 32 games.They all hope there will be one more piece of hardware to haul home to The Farm before Nneka Ogwumike is through.Bring on Brittney Griner and unbeaten Baylor (38-0)."We would love to hoist that trophy up a mile high," Chiney Ogwumike said. "Coach is like, anything's possible, you never know, don't count us out.'"RATTO: The Van Derveer Era defines 'The tedious monotony of victory'
Stanford (35-1), looking for the program's first national title since 1992, will play Sunday night against the Lady Bears at the Pepsi Center."We don't get the chance often to be an underdog and totally overlooked," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said.Chelsea Gray had 23 points, four rebounds and four assists and Shay Selby scored 11 in her final college game for Duke (27-6), which fell short of reaching the program's first Final Four since 2006. The Blue Devils never got clicking on offense the way they had in their three NCAA wins."It was a good run," SeIby said. "I think this one probably hurt the most. When you're a sophomore or junior, it's, Oh, you have next year.' I have no next year. Hopefully I can say I left something with them that will help them for next year."The projected No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, Nneka Ogwumike scored in the paint, on the perimeter, on leaping putbacks and even by knocking down a pretty 10-foot turnaround jumper late in the first half as the Cardinal built a comfortable 40-25 lead at the break."It was unfortunate for us. We tried to defend the inside and the outside. They hit some nice shots," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.Stanford boasted a strong rooting section that made the three-hour trip from the Bay Area to the Save Mart Center, including Cardinal football coach David Shaw and his wife, Kori. The couple sat alongside former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.In a matchup dubbed "nerd on nerd" by Chiney Ogwumike for the schools' rigorous academic standards, Stanford's smart girls aced their latest final. But this group has its sights set on winning two more to make good on the most important test and give Hall of Fame 26th-year coach VanDerveer another long-awaited championship.Just as she has wanted all season during a challenging schedule featuring games with Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas and Xavier, VanDerveer got contributions from most everybody in a balanced effort.Joslyn Tinkle knocked down two 3-pointers in the opening five minutes and also made an early steal, then hit another 3 with 4:26 left that put Stanford ahead by 13. She finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists.On Saturday, Nneka Ogwumike almost single handedly carried the load, scoring 39 points in a 76-60 regional semifinal win over South Carolina."What I really liked about this game is we got contributions from different people," VanDerveer said.Gray, with another 50 or so family and friends cheering the guard who grew up about 75 miles north in Stockton, converted a three-point play with 10:46 remaining to pull Duke within 52-44, but the Cardinal answered yet again. Toni Kokenis rolled in a 3 on the other end.Selby, who had a quiet night until midway through the second half, made a three-point play with 9:48 to go to keep her team close. But Duke missed three key scoring opportunities the next time down.The Blue Devils switched to a zone in the second half after that same move worked so well in a 74-47 rout of St. John's, but Orrange and Kokenis successfully drove and dished - and they also handled Duke's trap press. Kokenis had eight of Stanford's 21 assists."First, we allowed them to get 81 points. We're not going to beat a team if it doesn't start on defense," Gray said. "They're a very strong group. If one doesn't have the shot the other one is looking for them."Elizabeth Williams, Duke's star 6-foot-3 freshman playing with a stress fracture in her lower right leg, quickly scored to make it 48-39. She scored 12 points while playing much of the game in foul trouble.Stanford got a scare with 6:51 left in the first half when Nneka Ogwumike scored on a drive to make it 30-16 and then turned into Kathleen Scheer's right elbow. She briefly went down and took a seat for all of 1:23.Stanford began the game 7 for 11 and had assists on each of those baskets, and the Cardinal limited Duke to one attempt thanks to Chiney Ogwumike's six rebounds in the opening 8 12 minutes. Stanford held a 9-3 rebounding advantage after getting outboarded 38-36 against South Carolina two nights earlier. That became a focus for both teams in this game.Duke was held to just 39.7 percent from the field, going 3 for 14 from 3-point range. That was a big change for a Blue Devils team that had shot above 50 percent in the first half of its previous six games, and went 53.7 percent overall Saturday night to follow up its season-best 65.6-percent performance from the field in a 96-80 second-round win over Vanderbilt in which they dished out 28 assists.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.