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.

Cal blows huge halftime lead, dropped by Oregon on Brooks' game-winner


Cal blows huge halftime lead, dropped by Oregon on Brooks' game-winner


BERKELEY -- Dylan Brooks hit a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds to play to cap a comeback from 16 points down and No. 6 Oregon beat California 68-65 on Wednesday night to keep its hopes alive for a Pac-12 title.

The Ducks (25-4, 14-2) trailed by 16 points early in the second half and were down 10 with just over 4 minutes left before rallying for the win that moved them a half-game behind Arizona for first place in the conference. Oregon holds the tiebreaker.

Brooks led the Ducks with 22 points and Chris Boucher added 18.

Jabari Bird scored 20 points to lead the way for the Golden Bears (18-9, 9-6), whose hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth were dealt a big blow with this loss.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Boucher, Dylan Ennis and Payton Pritchard cut Cal's 10-point lead to one with just under 3 minutes left. Boucher then gave the Ducks their first lead of the game with a layup that made it 62-61 with 1:48 to go.

Grant Mullins and Brooks traded jumpers before Bird missed a contested 3-pointer with 28 seconds to go. Tyler Dorsey hit one free throw before Ivan Rabb tied the game with a putback of his own miss with 9.7 seconds to play.

That set the stage for Brooks, who hit the 3 that set off a wild celebration for the Ducks.


Oregon: The Ducks finished the season undefeated at home where they have a nation's best 42-game winning streak. They need to prove they can win away from home if they want to have success in the postseason. This comeback win was a start but the task will only get tougher in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments.

California: The Bears had been seeking a signature win to boost their hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But they blew the lead and a chance at that win as they fell to 1-6 against ranked teams with the only win coming last month at then-No. 25 USC. Cal could get another shot at a top team next month in the Pac-12 Tournament.


Oregon: Visits Stanford on Saturday.

California: Hosts Oregon State on Friday.

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Raul Alcantara, who could factor in as a starting or long relief option for the A’s, is experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring.

Alcantara, who made five late-season starts last season in his first big league call-up, threw the pitch for the first time to hitters Tuesday, so he’s still in the infant stages with it. The A’s would like Alcantara to develop a solid third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup, though he does dabble with a curve and cutter too.

“In general, we’re looking for a ball that’s gonna dive, something where the bottom’s gonna fall out,” Oakland bullpen coach Scott Emerson said.

Alcantara, 24, faces crowded competition for the No. 5 starter spot with Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn among those also going for it. Claiming the last spot in a seven-man bullpen is a possibility, though the A’s could surely utilize a second left-hander to go along with Sean Doolittle.

Making Alcantara’s case more interesting is that he’s out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make it through waivers unclaimed before the A’s could send him down.

Alcantara throws a hard changeup that clocked 86-87 miles per hour last season. Ideally, Emerson said his splitter would settle in the low 80’s.

Speaking through interpreter Juan Dorado, Alcantara said he’s gradually getting a feel for the new pitch.

“Obviously it’s a little more difficult on the hitters to know that there’s a different pitch,” he said. “They’re used to me throwing a fastball, a cutter and a change, and now implementing a split would just help me out to show them something different.”

CAMP BATTLE: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who re-signed with Oakland in the winter on a minor league deal, offers depth as a potential swing man who can start or relieve. Detwiler went 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA in nine games (seven starts) last season for the A’s. Those numbers look ugly in a short sample size, but Melvin values the veteran beyond what the stats show.

“I think he liked being here and we wanted him back.”

QUOTABLE: “I must be a little behind this year because the guys are hitting me a little harder than they normally do. Healy took me over the batter’s eye three times in a row.” — Melvin, who throws a couple rounds of batting practice every day.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s will hold a pair of two-inning intrasquad games Thursday at the Lew Wolff Training Complex, with both set to start at 11:40 a.m.