Stanford’s players returned to a warm welcome on campus Wednesday, yet none of the Cardinal were too keen on celebrating being a close second in women’s college basketball.
Stanford lost in the NCAA title game to Connecticut on Tuesday night in San Antonio and it clearly still stung a day later despite a throng of supporters gathered at Maples Pavilion to greet them back in the Bay Area. There weren’t many smiles among the players as they were introduced to several hundred fans and faculty.
Tara VanDerveer’s team fell 53-47 in a game Stanford (36-2) led 20-12 at halftime, and the Huskies won their 78th straight game to complete back-to-back unbeaten seasons. The Cardinal’s only two losses this season came to UConn.
That was enough to earn a call from President Barack Obama on Wednesday during the team’s bus ride to the airport.
“If it was just at halftime, we’d have a different celebration today,” VanDerveer said. “Most of you watched it on television. You saw a really interesting game. Neither team could shoot the ball well.”
Star center Jayne Appel, a key to the program reaching the past three Final Fours, wasn’t with the team for its return after she flew to New York with top Stanford assistant coach Amy Tucker for Thursday’s WNBA draft.
Stanford revealed Wednesday afternoon that not only did Appel play on a tender right ankle all tournament – she missed all 12 of her field-goal attempts in the championship game and didn’t score in one of her worst performances – but she also has a stress fracture in an outer bone on her right foot.
The school said with rest Appel could be fully healed in three to four weeks, so it’s uncertain whether the start of her WNBA career could be affected. The 6-foot-4 Appel has been using a walking boot to protect her foot and ankle when not playing.
“Jayne Appel was a great warrior for our program,” VanDerveer said. “If you could see the size of her ankle, her basketball heart is huge. I told her to forget her last game. Without Jayne we never would have gone to the Final Four three years in a row and the championship two out of three.”
Stanford shot 26.5 percent in the title game compared to UConn’s 32.8. The Cardinal looked awfully glum as they were brought into Maples and presented one by one, highlights of each woman showing on the main elevated scoreboard above midcourt.
VanDerveer’s last national championship came in 1992 – and the 24th-year coach is determined to make another run for the trophy next season with much of her team returning, saying, “We need to double our efforts.”
The Cardinal get back sophomore Pac-10 Player of the Year Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who will be joined by the nation’s No. 1 recruit and her sister, Chiney. Also returning are forward Kayla Pedersen and point guard Jeanette Pohlen.
Two-time reigning champion UConn comes to town in December for another highly anticipated matchup between the nation’s Nos. 1 and 2 programs of late.
“This is a little bit of a bittersweet ending,” VanDerveer said. “It is true the further you go, the harder it is to lose. This is really hard.”
Aside from Appel, a big loss will be guard and top defender Rosalyn Gold-Onwude.
“As a team we’re so proud of the season we had,” she said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say we’re not disappointed by an opportunity missed. For all of us there will be little ghosts that haunt us from last night.”