NCAA

Stanford's Ogwumike sisters eager to face Griner

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Stanford's Ogwumike sisters eager to face Griner

STANFORD -- Stanford sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike are thrilled to take on one mighty, Mile High challenge: stopping 6-foot-8 Baylor star Brittney Griner and the unbeaten Lady Bears.It's a matchup they've both been eagerly waiting for as they lead the Cardinal (35-1) into their fifth straight Final Four this weekend in Denver riding a school-record 32-game winning streak. Nneka Ogwumike faced Griner in an AAU game back in high school, and that's when she insists she learned to shoot 3-pointers because scoring in the paint was a big problem. But the senior feels like everybody else in the country has already faced Griner, and now she's finally getting that chance in her NCAA tournament farewell.

Chiney Ogwumike knows Griner will alter shots and block her fair share, too."I think we have a tall task ahead of us, no pun intended," Chiney Ogwumike said with a grin before practice Wednesday. "I expect my shot to get blocked quite frankly. Embrace it."Stanford is an underdog for a change, and that's fine with 26th-year coach Tara VanDerveer. She hasn't received any text messages, emails or calls with tips on how to pull off the upset against the Bears (38-0)."Everyone just says, Good luck, our money's on Baylor,'" she said, only half-joking.VanDerveer has a couple of tall male practice players who have played as Griner in the past - like last March when Stanford figured it might face Baylor at the Final Four. That was before Texas A&M pulled off a surprising victory against the Bears in the regional final and then beat the Cardinal in the national semifinals on the way to an improbable championship.VanDerveer won't even mind if Griner dunks against her team. It's good for the women's game, after all."That adds excitement," the Hall of Fame coach said. "It's two points. We're not going to have a breakdown about it. As long as it's not the winning basket. If Brittney Griner dunks, I hope she slams a couple home in warm-ups. I'll be sitting right there cheering. She's a special player."Nneka Ogwumike is a load to handle herself, so Baylor's defense will have its hands full. Ogwumike, the likely No. 1 pick in next month's WNBA draft, had 39 points and 10 rebounds in Stanford's 76-60 victory over No. 5 seed South Carolina in the regional semifinals, then added 29 points and nine boards in an 81-69 win over Duke in the Fresno Regional final Monday night."Honestly, if Nneka was 6-8 I'd be terrified of her," said Chiney Ogwumike, who grabbed 17 rebounds in the Duke win. "Her game would be ridiculous. She said, March madness turns you into a monster.' She's playing out of her mind."While these Final Four trips are becoming familiar each March, students and others in the community are stopping the Stanford players and coaches a little more frequently lately considering they all know that Griner and Co. are up next.In fact, VanDerveer was at the grocery store and got startled when she grabbed a carton of milk from the refrigerator only to have a man on the other side loading it congratulate her."Nneka and I went to get Jamba Juice yesterday and got stopped," Chiney Ogwumike said. "Someone said, Are you those twins?' We're like, Yeah, we're the twins.'"In truth, Chiney is the sophomore. Yet both know it's going to take one impressive sister tag-team act to move into the title game and have a chance at the program's first championship since 1992."I'd rather do that than go against tiny little people," Nneka Ogwumike said of going up against Griner's big body in the middle.She doesn't remember a lot from that game against Griner, except that they played at Rice and "it was hard for me to score, obviously."Griner's game was still developing and Ogwumike recalls she was figuring out her fundamentals. How tall was Griner then?"Taller than me," Nneka Ogwumike quipped.VanDerveer is counting on another balanced performance come Sunday night at the Pepsi Center after she got contributions from much of the roster in the win over Duke. While Nneka Ogwumike will run the show, the rest of the team is looking to take some pressure off its All-American forward - especially considering things will be all the more difficult dealing with Griner inside on both ends of the floor.Even 6-3 forward Joslyn Tinkle might find herself helping on Griner. Tinkle - daughter of Montana coach Wayne Tinkle - is eager to prove herself any way she's needed. A year ago as a sophomore, she didn't get off the bench in the NCAA semifinals after playing in every game up to that point.That fueled her for months, and she became a regular starter in January. Tinkle hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists against the Blue Devils on Monday."I just love to be out there, regardless of where I am," Tinkle said. "I'm doing my best to do whatever it is needed for our team."And it's certainly going to take a little something from everyone to get by Griner."We know that we're capable of more. Right now, I'm going in and just enjoying every moment," Nneka Ogwumike said. "It's not every day you play against someone like her. I'm excited. I feel like I'm the only one in the country who hasn't played her."

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

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AP

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game, 30-20 over California on Saturday.

USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight against the Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1), but this was one of the tightest matchups in years as the game was tied early in the fourth quarter.

Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans but also had an interception and was under pressure for much of the day.

It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth quarter after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.

Josh Fatu knocked the ball out of Bowers' hand and Uchenna Nwosu recovered the fumble at the 3. Carr ran it in two plays later from the 2 to make it 23-13.

Ykili Ross then intercepted Bowers' pass on the next possession, setting up Darnold's 4-yard TD pass to Deontay Burnett that put away the game.

Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles.

THE TAKEAWAY

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season.

CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under first-year coach Justin Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.

UP NEXT

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.

CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”