Top-seeded Stanford opens NCAAs at home vs. Tulsa
Surprisingly, Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike feels little pressure
this NCAA tournament.
Not when an entire nation is eyeing whether Brittney Griner and
No. 1 Baylor can defend their championship.
And even if the top-seeded Cardinal are seeking a sixth straight
trip to the Final Four and would face a possible showdown with
Pac-12 rival California in the Spokane regional final with a berth
to New Orleans at stake. It’s largely up to Ogwumike this year with
her big sister, Nneka, long gone and now a WNBA star and reigning
rookie of the year with the Los Angeles Sparks.
”This year more than ever it’s no pressure, even though we have
a 1 seed. The whole world has framed it Baylor versus the field,
right?” Ogwumike said before hitting the practice floor Saturday.
”Honestly, it’s really worked in our favor because we feel no
First, Stanford (31-2) will face No. 16 seed Tulsa (17-16) in
its NCAA opener at home in Maples Pavilion on Sunday. In the second
game of the day on Stanford’s campus, eighth-seeded Michigan
(21-10) will face No. 9 Villanova (21-10).
The Tulsa team won 10 of its final 13 games and five in a row
after an improbable run to the Conference USA tournament title as
the sixth seed – led by senior Tiffani Couisnard, who balances her
basketball and school life with being mother to a 2-year-old
”We kept renewing our minds, refocusing, and remembering that
anything is possible,” Couisnard said. ”If we just give it all we
have, we can achieve anything and we can win. I think that
mentality is what we bought into.”
Second-year Golden Hurricane coach Matilda Mossman has Tulsa
back in the tournament for the first time since the program
advanced to the second round in 2006. While beating Stanford at
home is a daunting task, so was the road Tulsa had to take to get
”If we didn’t believe the unexpected could happen, we wouldn’t
have made the trip,” Mossman said. ”For our program, it’s the
first step in getting our program back to our 2006 days. Before the
conference tournament started, we told our team that there are two
types of teams left: There’s the team that is finished playing,
they’re ready to turn in their gear, they’re ready for their spring
break, they’ve checked out. The other type of team is the team that
doesn’t want their season to end.”
If the season is going to continue past Sunday, Tulsa must find
a way to slow down Pac-12 Player of the Year Ogwumike, with her
averages of 22.4 points and 13.1 rebounds. Mossman’s plan is for
her players – two or three of them at a time – to match Ogwumike’s
energy on both ends of the floor.
Longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer isn’t ready to make any
bold predictions about her current team returning to the Final
”We don’t have as much firepower as we have in the last five
years, this is probably in a lot of ways the least, maybe talented,
and least in some ways tournament-experienced team,” she said.
”My experience has been in some ways that takes some pressure off
of people, and hopefully they can play loose and excited basketball
like we did when we were in Hawaii to beat Baylor.”
That victory on Nov. 16 in Honolulu is the lone blemish on the
Lady Bears’ 32-1 record.
VanDerveer’s team has often been inconsistent since then, most
notably in an embarrassing 61-35 loss at home to Connecticut on
Dec. 29. That snapped the Cardinal’s 82-game, home-winning streak
”We don’t have Nneka, we don’t have Kayla (Pedersen) or
Jeanette (Pohlen) or Jayne Appel or Candice Wiggins. Those are
first-round draft picks,” VanDerveer said. ”This is a tough
puzzle to put together, but I would never underestimate this group.
The strength of this team is their cohesiveness. There’s not a
selfish bone in the body of anyone in this locker room. We will
have to play well. This hasn’t been like a perfect season.”
While VanDerveer won’t rule out the return of Toni Kokenis in a
limited role before this season ends, she isn’t counting on it,
either, saying ”it’s not looking good.” Kokenis hasn’t played
since Feb. 3 at Oregon State because of an undisclosed medical
condition, but said Saturday she is still hopeful of playing for
the Cardinal next season.
In fact, VanDerveer must figure out what defensive combinations
might work best to take Golden Hurricane leading scorer Taleya
Mayberry out of her game. She is averaging 18.7 points.
”You miss someone with great tournament experience, her
athleticism,” VanDerveer said. ”She is someone you’d want
Michigan has reached back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first
time since 2000-01, with a familiar NCAA coaching face in Kim
Barnes Arico. She took St. John’s to the Fresno Regional semifinals
last season before losing to Duke, and lost to Stanford at Maples
in the second round of the 2011 tournament.
”Every year,” Barnes Arico said, smiling. ”It’s sunny this
Now, back in the Bay Area to play the NCAAs for the second time
in three years, she leads the Wolverines into a matchup she knows
well from her Big East days.
Barnes Arico spent 10 years coaching against 35th-year Villanova
coach Harry Perretta.
”It’s kind of a bummer it’s Harry and he runs that system,”
Barnes Arico said. ”It took me a long time at St. John’s to be
able to beat them and be able to stop them.”
And Perretta wasn’t thrilled to see Michigan and Barnes Arico
when brackets were announced Monday. He would have preferred a team
that didn’t know his motion offense so well. Perretta recommended
Barnes Arico for the Michigan job, too.
The teams play similar perimeter-oriented styles. In fact,
Perretta has taught Barnes Arico aspects of the motion offense.
”We usually do better against teams that either the coach
hasn’t seen us very much or the team hasn’t seen each other very
much,” Perretta said.