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Sunday, March 30, 2008
It wasn't pretty, but Stanford secures a spot in the Elite Eight

By Ted Miller
ESPN.com

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Stanford guard Candice Wiggins, the three-time Pac-10 player of the year, crashed to the floor and into the base of the backboard. For a moment, she stayed down while Cardinal fans went ballistic on Pittsburgh's Taneisha Harrison, who did the decking.

Then, Wiggins got up. Slowly at first; then with more resolve. Which is sort of what second-seeded Stanford did against a scrappy challenge from the No. 6 Panthers.

Stanford, notorious of late for going belly-up come tournament time, proved it can win messy. It proved it can win with the greatest player in program history badly out of sorts. And it proved it can win a brawl.

Stanford led by a mere point at halftime but asserted itself after the break, riding dominating rebounding to a 72-53 victory and an Elite Eight date with top-seeded Maryland, which overwhelmed Vanderbilt in the first game.

How does a team overcome its senior star scoring just 14 points -- nearly six below her season average -- on just 5-for-13 shooting after she scored 57 points in the previous two tournament games? One way is to win the rebounding battle 54-30.

"They really took it to us on the inside," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "The rebounding was a huge factor."

While Wiggins struggled, the Cardinal's two bigs inside took over. Sophomore guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude also provided needed punch from the perimeter.

Jayne Appel, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, scored 22 points and pulled down 13 boards, while 6-4 freshman Kayla Pedersen grabbed 16 rebounds and added 12 points.

That pair also limited Pitt post Marcedes Walker to just two points and four rebounds. She entered the Sweet 16 matchup averaging nearly 14 points and 9.6 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Gold-Onwude scored 15 points, hitting three of her four 3-point attempts. She averaged just 4.9 points this season, fewest among the starting five. At the break, however, nothing felt good for the Cardinal. They led 29-28, but the game was being played at Pitt's pace, and Panthers guard Shavonte Zellous was a whirling dervish, scoring 15 of her 22 points.

Jayne Appel
Jayne Appel scored 22 points to help lead Stanford to the Elite Eight.

The first half featured seven ties and nine lead changes. The second half featured Stanford ahead the entire time.

"[During halftime] I thought about what it would be like to come back here and everybody is going to be like 'I should've. I could've. I would've,'" Gold-Onwude said. "I think that was the feeling I brought out in the second half. That I don't want to have that kind of conversation with my teammates or myself."

Yet Stanford struggled to put away the Panthers. After extending their lead to eight points, the Cardinal lead shriveled to 47-46 with 8:39 remaining. The specter of Stanford's -- and the Pac-10's -- 11-year absence from the Final Four loomed.

But Berenato took a chance. With Walker already on the bench, she pulled Zellous. The defensible thinking was Walker had four fouls and Zellous asked for a breather.

It didn't work out. A 9-0 run followed, the lead hit double-digits and Pitt never threatened again.

This was not a vintage Stanford performance. A team that ranked fourth in the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio went negative -- 13 turnovers to 12 assists.

"It wasn't pretty," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.

Nonetheless, thoughts quickly turned to Maryland, which snagged the No. 1 seed members of the Cardinal believed should have belonged to them.

"I don't think it's ever too early [to talk about Maryland]," Appel said. "We're already talking about them in our locker room, getting a scouting report."

Ted Miller covers college sports for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ted at tedmillerespn@gmail.com.