Stanford ready to make run at coveted NCAA title

From the moment last season ended in disappointment, Kayla

Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen made it clear their senior seasons at

Stanford would be incomplete without an NCAA championship.

They reiterated it Wednesday: Another near miss at a national

title won’t do for this star tandem in their final shot at winning

it all.

The top-seeded Cardinal (33-2) head off to their fourth straight

Final Four on Thursday riding a 27-game winning streak and gearing

up for an unexpected semifinal matchup Sunday in Indianapolis with

No. 2 seed Texas A&M after its upset of Baylor.

”It’s incredible to make it to four straight Final Fours, but

at the same time we’re not satisfied with that,” Pedersen said.

”I think that determination, that focus that we’re going to bring

this year and that experience that we’ve lost a bunch of times in

the Final Four, is really going to motivate us for one more

game.”

Stanford hasn’t brought home the title trophy since 1992 despite

reaching the NCAA final twice in the program’s past three trips to

the Final Four. The Cardinal lost the title to Tennessee in 2008

and to Connecticut last year.

Everybody involved insists it’s time to finally get over the

hump, which likely will mean getting through two-time defending

champion UConn for a second time this season.

”Is this team better prepared? Do I have a sense of it? No,”

coach Tara VanDerveer said of the Cardinal’s chances.

Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and Pedersen already have

done so much to leave their legacy, like that school-record 63-game

home winning streak at Maples Pavilion. They never lost on their

home floor for their careers – a mark no other Stanford senior

class has accomplished.

It was Pohlen’s coast-to-coast drive for the winning layup

against Xavier during last season’s special run that sent Stanford

back to the Final Four.

Now, it’s their final try on the biggest stage.

”For Kayla and I and the other seniors, we’re very focused

coming into this Final Four,” Pohlen said. ”It’s tough making it

that far and not coming away with the national championship. I

think it’s motivating us even more and making us even more excited

because we do know this is our last chance at it. We’ve gone this

far. We’re just going to give it all we have.”

Stanford ended the Huskies’ record 90-game winning streak with a

thrilling 71-59 victory at Maples Pavilion back on Dec. 30, holding

UConn star Maya Moore to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting. That after

UConn rallied from a 20-12 halftime deficit against Stanford to win

the national title last April – a result that still stings around

Stanford.

Pedersen said after that demoralizing defeat that she didn’t

want Stanford to be remembered as the team that made it to the last

game and never won.

”As a freshman, sitting there with the seniors and hearing them

declare their passion, to hear they feel so strongly, you want to

help them end their senior year right,” said Pac-10 Freshman of

the Year Chiney Ogwumike.

VanDerveer, trying to win her third national title in 25 years

at Stanford, said the loss inspired her to work even harder than

she already does. She took less time off than usual right after

last season ended.

”I would love that for our seniors. I would love that for our

team,” she said about winning a championship at last. ”There was

one team once, and that was 1990 when we went, and they didn’t cut

down the net at the regional because they wanted the Final Four

net. We want the Final Four net. I look at all the great teams that

aren’t at the Final Four. I’m proud of our team and I’m excited for

our team. We’re going to enjoy the whole process. I don’t want to

be a coach who is all about the end. I want to enjoy the process

and I want our team to enjoy the process.”

Starting in January, VanDerveer envisioned a matchup with Baylor

and 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner deep in the NCAA tournament, and

she started planning for that even then. Assistant Kate Paye

recruited a band member named Andrew – ”I call him Brittney. I

forgot his name,” VanDerveer said – to play as Griner in

practice.

Now, Stanford instead must prepare to face an athletic, up-tempo

Texas A&M team (31-5) that VanDerveer compares to scrappy

Arizona State in the Pac-10. These programs have played just once

before, and it was 29 years ago even before VanDerveer arrived on

The Farm. She was coaching at Ohio State then.

And Aggies versatile All-American Danielle Adams, VanDerveer

compares her to Charles Barkley.

VanDerveer knows the 18 turnovers her team committed in its

83-60 victory over Gonzaga in the Spokane Regional final Monday

night won’t cut it in the Cardinal’s next one.

”We might as well just forget about winning a national

championship if you can’t take care of the ball against Texas

A&M,” VanDerveer said. ”If you don’t understand the value of

the ball, you might as well just go down there and see the (Indy

500) racetrack and get on the bus and come back. Because that is

priority No. 1.”