Stanford sets its sights on a national title

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Stanford sets its sights on a national title

March 16, 2011STANFORD PAGE WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL PAGE
NCAA TOURNAMENT SCOREBOARD

STANFORD -- (AP) Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen have a long list of streaks going in their final season at Stanford.

Three straight Final Four berths they hope to soon turn into a fourth. A 23-game winning streak since a pair of December defeats at DePaul and Tennessee -- including that thrilling 71-59 triumph over Connecticut on Dec. 30 that ended the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak. Pac-10 Conference regular-season and tournament titles each year, and 57 consecutive victories against conference opponents.

The one remarkable run they can wrap up with two more NCAA wins: a perfect record on their home floor in Maples Pavilion for their four-year careers.

RELATED: Stanford roster stats

There is much bigger unfinished business for this bunch, too. The Cardinal haven't won it all since 1992 after near-misses in two of the past three NCAA finals.

Winning two more at home is the first step. Stanford is riding a school-record winning streak of 61 in a row at Maples -- and extending that run to 63 straight victories would send seniors Pedersen and Pohlen out in style having never lost in front of their supportive home crowd.

"Not many people can say they've done that," junior leading scorer Nnemkadi Ogwumike said of going undefeated at home. "That's pretty special. It's kind of like their senior night wasn't their senior night."

Stanford (29-2), the top seed in the Spokane Region, will host Big West champion and NCAA first-timer UC Davis on Saturday in the first round of the tournament. The Aggies (24-8) are the 16th seed.

A Stanford victory would set up a second-round date Monday night in Maples against the winner of Saturday's first game between eighth-seeded Texas Tech and ninth-seeded St. John's.

RATTO: Consistency shadows VanDerveer's genius
While Pohlen is always cautious not to get ahead of herself, finishing up unbeaten on campus would be a special feat and a strong beginning to what she hopes ends with that elusive championship in Indianapolis on April 5.

"I think that would be amazing if we didn't lose here on our home floor," said Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year. "It would be awesome."

Even with that monumental December win at home over the mighty Huskies, Stanford knows it is March and April when things truly count. All summer, the Cardinal were left to contemplate what went wrong in last year's final loss to UConn.

Stanford -- 36-2 last season with those lone losses coming at the hands of the Huskies - fell 53-47 to Connecticut in the 2010 NCAA title game after leading 20-12 at halftime. UConn won its 78th straight game to complete back-to-back unbeaten seasons.
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It may very well take getting through Maya Moore and UConn again for Stanford to complete its mission.

"It's really a special team and we're going to give it our absolute best shot," said coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team had to rally in the second half last Saturday to beat UCLA 64-55 in the Pac-10 tournament final, the Cardinal's fifth conference tournament crown in a row on the heels of their 11th straight regular-season title.

VanDerveer, who has the most versatile roster in her quarter-century tenure on The Farm, said that loss in last year's NCAA final made her a better coach, persuaded her to work even harder in her 32nd overall season as a head college coach.

That energy rubs off on the players she brings in to keep this program on the rise, such as Ogwumike and her Pac-10 Freshman of the Year sister, Chiney.

Or those two senior starters who believe it's finally time to put Stanford back on top.

"Our goal for the season, like other teams, is a national championship," Pohlen said. "We'll keep working on it. I was confident in last year's team, too. This year, we just have a great team overall."

Pohlen put it quite simply.

"We're going to have to beat everybody," she said.

When Pedersen and Pohlen were freshmen, do-everything guard Candice Wiggins carried the Cardinal back to the Final Four at long last after a 10-year absence. When Wiggins departed, she left the reins to VanDerveer's latest group of stars at Stanford.

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Now, this program expects to reach the Final Four every season.

While VanDerveer joined the elite 800-win club back on Dec. 22 with a victory at San Francisco, a team coached by former Stanford great Jennifer Azzi, she has always been all about her players and preparing them to have success at the right time.

Is this finally the year?

RELATED: NCAA statistics

"I love the similarities between the '90 and '92 teams with this team, and I'd love that to continue," VanDerveer said. "Honestly it's hard for me to believe this is really happening. This year has gone by so quickly. As a team, we know we can only play six more games together."

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's skid-snapping win over White Sox

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USASTI

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's skid-snapping win over White Sox

BOX SCORE

The A’s six-game road trip got off to a promising start Friday as they try to reverse their fortunes away from Oakland.

Jharel Cotton shined over five innings before leaving because of a blister on his right hand, and the bullpen took care of things from there to complete a 3-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Considering the A’s came in just 9-25 on the road so far, this was the rare occurrence of them taking control early and staying in control while wearing the road grays. Now the A’s just hope the victory didn’t come with a steep price.

In addition to Cotton (5-7) leaving after a blister opened up on his right thumb, shortstop Chad Pinder left with a strained left hamstring. The severity of that injury wasn’t immediately known.

Here’s five things you need to know from the opener of this three-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field:

-- Davis hits No. 19: Khris Davis gave Cotton some early cushion with a two-run homer off Mike Pelfrey (3-6) to center field in the first. It was Davis’ team-leading 19th long ball, but just his third in 22 games this month.

-- Another solid outing for rookie: Coming off a strong 6 1/3-inning outing against the New York Yankees, Cotton again looked in control Friday before having to leave. The right-hander held the Sox to three hits over his five innings, striking out three and walking one. It’s unknown whether the blister will affect his availability for his next start, but the A’s learned with Rich Hill last season how nagging a blister can be for a starter.

-- Ninth-inning nerves: The final score didn’t indicate how tense things got for Oakland in the ninth. Closer Santiago Casilla gave up two singles to start the inning. After Avisail Garcia flied out, Todd Frazier hit a pop up behind first. Yonder Alonso couldn’t haul it in and the ball dropped, but Alonso alertly threw to second to get a force out. Then Matt Davidson sent a deep fly ball to center that Jaycob Brugman hauled in at the warning track.

--- Joyce powers up: In the fifth, Matt Joyce lit into a 3-2 pitch from Pelfrey and homered to center field to put the A’s ahead 3-0. It was the ninth homer for Joyce, who continues to provide some of the spark the A’s are looking for in the leadoff spot.

-- A double ejection: : White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson and manager Rick Renteria both were ejected for arguing a fifth-inning play after Anderson hit a dribbler near home plate that surprised him by being called fair.

Sharks' draft pick Norris possesses 'Logan Couture attributes'

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USATSI

Sharks' draft pick Norris possesses 'Logan Couture attributes'

CHICAGO – Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is typically restrained in his public praise for players in the system. “We don’t like to over promote our prospects” is a phrase he’s used countless times.

That’s what made his instant comparison of Sharks first round pick center Josh Norris to a current core player so unexpected.

“We think – I hate doing this, but I’m going to – [Norris has] a lot of the Logan Couture attributes to him,” Wilson said on Friday at United Center, shortly after presenting Norris with a teal sweater.

Wilson also made note of Norris’ confidence, which was evident in the 18-year-old’s media availability. Norris described himself as “a 200-foot player. I think I can give you a little bit of everything: power play, penalty kill, faceoffs, can chip in offensively. I think I kind of do a little bit of everything.” He added that he attempts to pattern his game to Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak.

Like most players that aren’t top five selections, Norris isn’t likely to make the NHL roster in the fall. He’s set to attend the University of Michigan in the fall.

Still, Wilson suggested that it might not take long for the six-foot, 189-pound Oxford, Michigan native to make the leap.

“He’s a kid, the way he plays and the way he thinks, he potentially could fast track. So, we’ll see,” Wilson said.

Norris had some familial help on his journey to draft day. His father Dwayne had a few cups of coffee in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques more than two decades ago, playing 20 career games from 1993-96.

Dwayne Norris was right there to congratulate his son, who was no sure thing to go in the first round as the 34th ranked North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting.

“He just said how proud of me he was, and it was kind of a big moment we had that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Norris said about his conversation with his father.

Norris’ stats suggest he has an ability to create offense, as he posted 27 goals and 61 points in 61 games for the U.S. National Under-18 team last season, and added 12 goals and 26 points in 25 games in the USHL.

“I think I’m a little bit of a goal scorer and a playmaker,” Norris said. “I think I’m really good in my defensive zone. I think I have a lot of upside on the offensive side of my game that I’m going to continue to work on.”

Wilson said: “We think he’s a mature player.”

Norris had a strong showing at the NHL combine, leading all 104 draft-eligible players in attendance in five of the 14 fitness tests. Those results, along with a strong interview, made Norris an appealing target for San Jose.

“He’s arguably one of the most athletic guys in the combine,” Wilson said. “His interview was phenomenal. If you go back in his history in big games he’s stepped up in a big way, and that’s the type of guy we’re looking for.”

Norris, who played baseball as a shortstop until age 13, said: “I wasn’t too nervous going to the combine. … I just tried to make good impressions on teams. The physical testing aspect of it, I’ve always been a pretty good athlete.”

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Norris will make his first-ever trip to California in early July to take part in the Sharks’ development camp.

* * *

Just before the Sharks’ contingent made its way to the stage to select Norris, Wilson was spotted talking with Washington general manager Brian MacLellan. After a brief exchange, MacLellan shook his head, and Wilson went back to the San Jose table and gathered his group to head to the podium.

Asked about the chat, Wilson said it was not about the 19th overall pick.

“We were actually looking at some other things, some other picks that we had,” Wilson said. “Some teams had reached out to us, and we’re planting our seeds a little bit for tomorrow already.”

The draft concludes on Saturday, with the second round beginning at 7 a.m. PT.