Stanford heads to familiar site: Spokane Regional

Stanford heads to familiar site: Spokane Regional


STANFORD (AP) Tara VanDerveer remembers the moment almost as if it were yesterday: Candice Wiggins and her fellow starters huddled in a circle, holding hands in close-knit celebration after finally ending Stanford's 10-year Final Four drought.

That was four years ago at the Spokane Regional after a thrilling victory over top-seeded Maryland. This weekend, VanDerveer's No. 1 Cardinal (31-2) will return to that very site in the Pacific Northwest needing two more wins to reach a fourth straight Final Four.

"That was a fabulous game," VanDerveer recalled of the regional final. "We had a little chip on our shoulder because we were a No. 2 seed. It was incredibly intense and moving. We want to go back there and recapture that spirit. We have to play well."

Wiggins scored 41 points that night to lead Stanford past Maryland 98-87. The Cardinal went on to upset Connecticut in the Final Four before falling to Tennessee in the NCAA title game in Tampa, Fla. Current fifth-year senior Melanie Murphy was Wiggins' roommate in Spokane during that run.

"Now, it's like returning to the scene of the crime," Murphy said after practice Wednesday, a day ahead of the team's charter flight to Spokane and check-in day at the historic downtown Davenport Hotel. "That year was a huge turning point. The Maryland game finally put us over the hump, back to the Final Four. Then, we had a lot of returners the next year, which allowed us to continue that legacy (of annual Final Four trips) that we had in the 90s."

Stanford is riding a 25-game winning streak after capturing its 63rd straight home victory at Maples Pavilion on Monday night by beating St. John's 75-49. Next up is No. 5 North Carolina (27-8) on Saturday at the Spokane Arena.

Thanks to Murphy's music writing skills and a whirlwind on-campus production over the past two weeks right at Maples, the Cardinal debuted a music video Wednesday to bring some additional hype to the weekend. "I Got Bounce" hit YouTube and Facebook on Wednesday and was already beginning to generate quite a buzz.

"A lot of people think Stanford, we're a bunch of deadbeats," said VanDerveer, who thinks the video could create even more interest for potential Stanford-bound high school students. "It's just the opposite."

Stanford has already played in Spokane once this season, beating Gonzaga 84-78 in a hard-fought game on Nov. 21. The West Coast Conference champion Zags also have advanced to the round of 16 after the 11th-seeded hosts upset No. 3 UCLA 89-75 on Monday night.

A Stanford-Gonzaga regional final would thrill the basketball-crazed Eastern Washington city.

Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen, now the Cardinal's two senior stars, were freshmen the last time in Spokane and playing in their first NCAA tournament.

"I think my favorite memory from that trip was the Maryland game - how hyped we were, how Candice led the way," Pedersen said. "So, yeah, we're both excited to go back to Spokane. I know Jeanette and I really wanted to go back because we had gone there our freshman year. It's a really special place for us and we hope we can get the win."

Make that four more wins, actually.

This group won't be satisfied with just getting to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Not in this special season. Not after leading at halftime in last year's final only to lose to two-time reigning champion UConn, then beating the Huskies in commanding fashion at Maples on Dec. 30 to snap their record 90-game winning streak.

Eight days before that milestone win over UConn, VanDerveer joined North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell in the elite 800 wins club.

Stanford should be at full strength to face Hatchell's tall and aggressive team, which advanced to the round of 16 by beating Kentucky 86-74 on Monday night behind a 55-31 rebounding advantage.

Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Chiney Ogwumike is recovering from a dislocated pinkie finger on her non-shooting left hand that isn't considered serious, while freshman reserve Toni Kokenis has a sprained left ankle. X-rays were negative for Kokenis and VanDerveer hopes she will be ready to go Saturday.

VanDerveer got a kick out of seeing her players' dance skills in the music video, which she said brought this bunch together in a different way.

Yet her job has been to keep everybody on task. The coaches spent Tuesday studying up on North Carolina and game-planning for the physical Tar Heels. The next round is the next step for a team determined to capture the program's first national championship since 1992.

"This would be a fun team to win with," VanDerveer said.

Down on the Farm: Beede earns third win with River Cats on 24th birthday


Down on the Farm: Beede earns third win with River Cats on 24th birthday

Tyler Beede stepped on the hill at Raley Field in Sacramento on Tuesday night one year older and came away with one more win after the River Cats defeated the Memphis Redbirds, 6-2. 

Beede, now 24 years old, didn’t churn out his most impressive or dominant performance, but he limited hits and found a way to earn his third win of the year. On the night, he completed 5 1/3 innings pitched and only allowed four hits and two earned runs. He did, however, walk more batters (3) than strikeouts (2), which is his lowest strikeout total in a game this season. 

Those numbers shouldn’t be too surprising when looking at Beede’s trends this season on the mound. In his nine starts for the River Cats, he is walking slightly more batters than last year when he was in Double-A Richmond, and he’s significantly striking out less batters. Through 49 innings pitched, which leads the River Cats, Beede is issuing 3.31 walks per nine innings (3.24 BB/9 in 2016) while only striking out 5.88 batters per nine, compared to 8.25 K/9 last year. 

Instead, the Giants’ top pitching prospect is turning to ground balls, setting him up smarter for the future. After forcing seven groundouts to three flyouts on Tuesday, he is now rolling ground balls 56.5 percent of the time, an increase from 47.9 percent last season. 

Sacramento plays in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. All teams outside of the River Cats, who are last in the league with a team batting average of .238, are averaging just over five runs per game and almost one homer every game. Beede, isn’t letting the ball fly through air and has only allowed three homers off of him this season. This plays well for his and the Giants’ future. 

Whenever Beede finds his way to San Francisco, he doesn’t need to rely on his mid-90s fastball to get outs. The strikeouts will come, but life will be much easier watching a Gold Glove infield scoop up grounders for years to come. 

While Beede waits his turn to join the bigs, he’s showing maturity on the hill and stayed undefeated at home on a birthday night to remember. 

Around The Horn

— The Giants’ top power prospect, Chris Shaw, has been called up from Double-A Richmond to Triple-A Sacramento. Shaw, 23, played only first base in the minors before this season, but has transitioned to left field. He played 18 games at first and 18 games at left for the Flying Squirrels, registering no errors in the outfield. 

— Kelby Tomlinson is working in center field while with the River Cats. Insider Alex Pavlovic spoke to Bruce Bochy about the move

— Bryan Reynolds, the Giants’ top pick in 2016, finished a home run short of the cycle on Sunday. He went 5-for-6 with four RBI in the San Jose Giants’ win. On the season, Reynolds now has 14 multi-hit games in 38 games played. Here’s the breakdown: Six two-hit games, seven three-hit games and one five-hit game. 

More Curry-Durant pick-and-roll? Mike Brown: 'I love Steve, but...'

More Curry-Durant pick-and-roll? Mike Brown: 'I love Steve, but...'

The Warriors led the NBA in offensive rating (113.2) during the regular season.

The Warriors are second in the league in offensive rating (115.8) in the playoffs.

Scoring is not an issue.

But will we see the Warriors run more pick-and-roll in the NBA Finals, specifically the Steph Curry-Kevin Durant combination?

"Steve (Kerr) isn't really into this much," interim head coach Mike Brown told ESPN's Zach Lowe. "He's more about spacing and movement -- and that's fantastic. I love Steve, and wherever I might go, I'm going to incorporate a lot of stuff he does.

"But in the playoffs, sometimes you have to attack a mismatch. When I need a bucket, that's what I'm going to do."

Mr. Kerr -- your response?

"Mike is right about me, but I also recognize the need to do it more as defenses get tougher," Kerr told ESPN. "It's about finding the right balance between isolating when we need to, and keeping the flow that makes us who we are."

During the regular season, the Warriors ranked last in pick-and-roll possessions per game -- both when the ball-handler ended the possession, or when the roll/pop man ended the possession.

Steph Curry averaged 6.1 pick-and-roll possessions per game -- 28th in the NBA.

That number is up to 7.5 per game in the playoffs.

“I think we’re still at our best when we’re simple about what we’re doing,” Curry recently told Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group. “Whether it’s pick-and-roll and you’ve got everybody spaced. You’ve got shooters where they need to be. You’ve got the dive man where he needs to be with space to put pressure on the rim. 

"You’ve got a ball-handler playmaker with it that can come off and shoot it, get a bucket. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be more complex than that. We’ve got the awareness that, that needs to happen.”