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.

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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.

KILLION: Only one elite Bay Area college basketball team

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."

David West is coming up big for the Warriors

David West is coming up big for the Warriors

OAKLAND -- David West is as much a cleanup man as he is a basketball player.

The veteran power forward, masquerading as a center for the Warriors, cleans up behind teammates, cleans the clocks of opponents and probably cleans his plate after every meal. And he’d hit fourth in any manager’s batting order.

The Warriors during their renaissance haven’t had such a personality. They’ve been a fun bunch, enjoying life, each other and their pillaging of the NBA.

West, 36, brings a more laconic dynamic, and it’s on full display as the Warriors lean into the final weeks of this regular season. He’s a leader who is producing and, more and more, winning over a fan base that was somewhat skeptical early this season.

“David West has been playing brilliantly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday night, after West came off the bench for a highly efficient 14-minute stint in a 114-100 win over the Kings.

Showcasing sharp passing, splendid shooting, solid rim protection and his usual old-jerky toughness, West totaled 8 points, four assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. The Warriors were plus-8 when he was on the floor.

Such production, it seems, is a bit of a bonus.

“He’s been very good for us as a veteran leader,” Draymond Green said. “He’s been playing well, but just his presence also has meant a lot to this team.

“D-West is just kind of a no-bull---- type of a guy. He doesn’t say much. But when he does, you know it means a lot. And everybody hears him.”

Said West: “It’s just about adjusting and learning personalities. Obviously, this group has been very successful. I just try to add my 2 cents where I feel like it fits. Try not to over-talk people. I speak to guys directly and just make sure that we’re all on the same page.”

West is in his 14th season. Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003, he also has played for the Pacers and, last season, the Spurs, before joining the Warriors in July.

The question at the time was whether he still had a lot to give. West is a two-time All-Star and one of the most widely respected players in the league. But did he still have the legs to compete at a high level?

The answer is visible, particularly over the past month, since he returned from fractured left thumb on Feb. 23. West is shooting 53.0 percent from the field, he’s rebounding consistently and he has proven to be a spectacularly good passer -- easily one of the best in the league among big men.

Earlier this week, to quell any lingering concerns about how much athleticism he still has, West rose up and dunked over a crowd of three Dallas Mavericks. It was clock-cleaning at its finest.

“I’m just getting more comfortable,” West said, referring to his game and his locker-room influence. “We’ve developed good chemistry, communicating, harping on our defense more than anything else at this moment, because we feel that’s going to give us a chance if shots aren’t falling.”

West is on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, $1.55 million. He sacrificed bigger dollars for a chance at his first championship. He’s doing his part. And he neither takes nor leaves any mess.

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

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AP

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.