Stanford storms to Final Four -- 83-60 over 'Zags


Stanford storms to Final Four -- 83-60 over 'Zags

March 28, 2011STANFORD PAGE

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Facing a deafening, unfriendly crowd in a hostile and perhaps unfair setting, along with the little blond point guard who had yet to bestopped, the Stanford Cardinal emphatically showed they're still thepowers of the West Coast.

A fourth straight Final Four makes that point impossible to debate.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike dominated the inside with 23 points and 11 rebounds,sister Chiney chipped in 18 points and 15 boards, and the top-seededCardinal ended the surprising run of Courtney Vandersloot and Gonzaga83-60 in the Spokane Regional final on Monday night.

After two years of playing with her sister in the stands watching,Nneka's now bringing Chiney along to the national semifinals after theduo overwhelmed and overpowered the 11th-seeded Bulldogs, who wereplaying about a mile and a half from their campus.

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"This whole weekend she's just been talking about, 'Nneka, I don't know what it really feels like because the last two times I went I was in the stands," Nneka Oguwmike said.

"I was just trying to help her just let her know how exciting it was. ... I think she has so much fight in her that she was just determined to take this team as far as they could."

The Ogwumikes were relentless from the start when Nneka powered through the Gonzaga defense for a layup on the opening possession. When Chiney missed, Nneka was there to clean it up, and visa versa. The size and strength of Stanford was simply too much for the Bulldogs, and their more than 11,000 hometown fans, to overcome on this night.

"They're just a unique combination of strength, obviously skill, but the quickness with which they attack the ball on the boards is phenomenal," Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. "We're not there yet to be able to matchup with these kinds of teams that just have that kind of strength and athleticism inside."

For Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen, Monday night's victory completes a perfect career in reaching the Final Four in every season of their time at Stanford, a run that began by winning the 2008 Spokane Regional final behind Candice Wiggins.

Stanford (33-2) won its 27th straight to match the longest streak in school history and will face the Baylor-Texas A&M winner in the national semifinals on Sunday night.

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"Their hunger is intense, they play every possession hard and we had to match that," Chiney Ogwumike said. "That hunger to win and get every possession was the difference."

Vandersloot did her best to carry Gonzaga (31-5) for a half before the Bulldogs wore down in the final 20 minutes under a bevy of missed shots and a befuddling Stanford zone defense. Vandersloot, who came in averaging 30.7 points and 10.3 assists in the tournament, finished with 25 points and nine assists, including 18 straight Gonzaga points during a 9-minute stretch of the first half.

But Stanford managed to harass Vandersloot in the second half and limited her to just four points. Her stellar college career ended when she checked out with 1:14 left to a standing ovation and a wave to the crowd after leading Gonzaga to upsets of Iowa, UCLA and Louisville to reach the first Elite Eight in school history.

"I was obviously very disappointed that we lost the game," Vandersloot said. "But I couldn't help but enjoy that 10 seconds it was to walk off and hear the fans cheering and I know that deep in my heart they love us and are just as proud of us had we won that game."

Had Gonzaga won, they would have become the first team from West of the Rockies not named Stanford to reach the Final Four since Long Beach State in 1988.
Instead, it's Stanford going to the Final Four for the 10th time.

It helped that Pohlen broke out of her recent shooting slump by five 3-pointers and finishing with 17 points. Lindy La Rocque, averaging less than four points on the season, scored 11, including pair of key 3-pointers in the first half when the Ogwumikes were getting plenty of help from their teammates.

Then the sisters took it upon themselves at the start of the second half to make sure there wouldn't be one more Gonzaga upset. They scored 14 of Stanford's first 16 points to start the half, with Nnemkadi twice ripping away rebounds on Chiney's misses. They combined for 11 offensive rebounds and 26 rebounds total more than Gonzaga's total of 25. Stanford outrebounded Gonzaga by 24.

It helped that the Bulldogs couldn't solve Stanford's zone defense at the start of the second half, missing 11 of their first 12 shots to start the half and shooting just 24 percent the final 20 minutes as their Final Four hopes clanged away.

VanDerveer planned to play just a few possession in the zone until Gonzaga started hitting from the outside. Stanford stayed in the defense the entire second half. They also limited Gonzaga to just four fast-break points.

"We knew what they were looking for and we dodged some bullets that they missed some shots that I think they probably ordinarily made," VanDerveer said. "But this is a very big stage and they've never been on it before and it might change just a little bit of the release. I think we were fortunate."

Kayla Standish added 17 for Gonzaga and Katelan Redmon scored 13. The Bulldogs had gone 29-1 since losing at home to Stanford back in November, their only loss in the city of Spokane in the last two seasons.

Until Stanford solved them again on Monday night.

"Going to the Final Four every year, it's a dream for people. Some people don't even get that close," Pohlen said. "I'm just proud how we stepped up and how people made some huge plays in the second half."

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' skid-snapping win over Rockies


Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' skid-snapping win over Rockies


SAN FRANCISCO — On a day that started with controversy, Giants players called a meeting following batting practice. Perhaps they were talking about when and where to stretch. Perhaps a reminder was given to keep clubhouse complaints in the actual clubhouse. 

Or, perhaps, the players just decided that enough was enough. 

In a rare display, the Giants put a clean and complete game together. They beat the Rockies 9-2 at AT&T Park, getting just their second win since June 11 and snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Rockies. 

Jeff Samardzija continued his hot streak, the lineup was opportunistic and flashed some power, and the defense sparkled at times. Here are five things to know from the throwback night … 

—- Samardzija walked off to a standing ovation after throwing 112 pitches. He was charged with two earned in 6 1/3 innings. Ignore the record and ERA for a second — his FIP is 3.37 and his xFIP is 2.95. He really is having a very good and underrated season. 

—- Here’s another one for your Samardzija file: Over the past two months, he has 82 strikeouts and three walks. 

—- It was a good day in the race for another Brandon Crawford Gold Glove. Adeiny Hechavarria, one of the few in the National League who even approaches Crawford, was traded to the Rays. Crawford added to the reel by gunning a runner down on third and making a nifty spin-and-throw in the fourth to rob Ian Desmond of a hit. 

—- There are nights where Denard Span looks like a game-changer, and this was one of them. He had a single, walk and triple in his first three plate appearances, scoring twice as the Giants built a 5-0 lead. He was spry in center, too 

—- Nolan Arenado was 0 for 4. Apparently that’s legal now. (It was actually his ninth 0 for 4 or worse against the Giants, in 81 games.)

—- Bonus sixth fact since the Giants won a game: Sam Dyson, acquired basically for free, is the new setup man. That didn’t take long, and it probably won’t be changing anytime soon. Dyson gave up a single but struck out the other three batters he faced. 

Russell Westbrook wins NBA MVP; Rockets, Bucks take two awards


Russell Westbrook wins NBA MVP; Rockets, Bucks take two awards

NEW YORK — Russell Westbrook moved past Oscar Robertson and kept right on going to the top of the NBA.

Westbrook was voted MVP on Monday night after setting a record with 42 triple-doubles during his historic season. He led the league with 31.6 points and added 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, joining Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double for the season and breaking Robertson's single-season record of 41 triple-doubles in 1961-62.

"I remember growing up just being home, playing the video games and stuff with my pops, and my mom sitting there and my brother and just talking about maybe one day I could be the MVP. Obviously I was joking at the time," Westbrook said.

"But now to be standing here with this trophy next to me is a true blessing, man, and it's an unbelievable feeling, something that I can never imagine."

Westbrook's victory ended the first NBA Awards show, which included two wins apiece for the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks.

He received 69 first-place votes and 888 points from a panel of 100 media members and a fan vote to easily beat Houston's James Harden, who had 22 first-place votes and 753 points. Kawhi Leonard was third with nine first-place votes and 500 points.

Westbrook succeeded Stephen Curry, who had won the past two MVP awards. The point guard who plays with defiance on the court got choked up during an acceptance speech in which he brought some teammates onto the stage with him.

The Thunder went 33-9 when he had a triple-double, riding Westbrook's record run into the playoffs in their first season after losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors.

"Oscar, guys like him, Magic Johnson, those guys, obviously I wasn't able to see those guys play, but just to look back at history and see the things that they did, it's something that I looked up to as a kid," Westbrook said.

"I never thought I would be able to say that I broke Oscar Robertson's record, and that's just a true blessing."

Earlier, Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon became the first player not picked in the first round to win NBA Rookie of the Year in the common draft era, beating out Philadelphia's Dario Saric and Joel Embiid.

Brogdon was the No. 36 overall selection out of Virginia. The common draft era began in 1966.

"I think it's an example for guys that are told they are too short, they are not athletic enough, they are not real point guards, they are not real shooting guards," Brogdon said. "I just think it's an important message for people to see, and it can be done. It just takes a lot."

Teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo won the Most Improved Player award.

Houston coach Mike D'Antoni won his second Coach of the Year award, and the Rockets' Eric Gordon was Sixth Man of the Year after setting a record for most 3-pointers off the bench in his first season as a reserve.

"Obviously I'm just proud of the team and the way they responded all year. Great organization," D'Antoni said of the Rockets' 55-win season.

"This is not an individual award. This is a lot of people, a lot of hard work goes into it, and I'm the recipient of some pretty good players."

In his first season coming off the bench, Gordon set a single-season record with 206 3-pointers by a reserve. He averaged 16.2 points to help fuel the Rockets' run to the surprising No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and edged former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala of Golden State by 32 points.

Golden State's Draymond Green won the Defensive Player of the Year, ending Leonard's two-year run. Leading the league in steals from his do-everything role with the NBA champions. He had a franchise-record 10 steals in a Feb. 10 game at Memphis while recording the first triple-double in NBA history without scoring in double figures, adding 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

The NBA formerly gave out its individual awards at various points throughout the postseason before switching to the awards show this season and presenting them all at once in front of the league's top players and stars from the entertainment world.

Two of the best moments came during segments that didn't include the NBA's six individual awards.

Bill Russell was presented the first Lifetime Achievement award, welcomed on stage by fellow Hall of Fame centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. The 11-time champion as a player and the league's first black coach first pointed at them and joked that he would have kicked their butts, then told them: "You have no idea how much respect I have for you guys."

Former Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams was given the SagerStrong Award for the strength he showed after his wife was killed in a car crash in Oklahoma City. He was given a colorful jacket like the ones worn by Craig Sager, the longtime Turner Sports reporter who died of cancer this past season.