Sunday, March 29, 2009
Iowa St. gets second shot at Stanford
By Ted Miller ESPN.com
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Thirty-eight points.
That eye-popping number is not just an elephant trumpeting in the room before Stanford and Iowa State square off Monday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) for a berth in the Final Four. It's a mastodon with huge tusks swinging in giant circles, obsessing a media contingent that can't get past the Cardinal's margin of victory during a regular-season meeting between these two teams in November.
The final score from Hawaii on Nov. 29: 83-45. Stanford by 38.
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly knew the barrage of questions was coming, and he didn't dodge them.
Lindy La Rocque and Stanford crushed Iowa State in November, 83-45.
"We embarrassed ourselves; we embarrassed our basketball program," he said. "I think it was one of the only times all year where we were enamored or stunned by the jersey that we were facing. If it was a fight, they would have stopped it early -- real early."
The box score, evidence of what happens when a team fecklessly gapes in awe at a perennial power, promptly was taped to the locker room wall.
What's revealing about that box score, however, is what it doesn't reveal -- which is much about who the Cyclones are today.
For one, Alison Lacey scored zero points in that game. And she was playing 2-guard. In Iowa State's dramatic 69-68 win over Michigan State on Saturday, she scored 29 points as the team's point guard.
In fact, Lacey, Amanda Nisleit and Heather Ezell, who switched places with Lacey in mid-January, combined for 60 points against the Spartans.
In November against Stanford? They combined for wait for it two. They spent most of the game hanging their heads on the bench in expectation of a postgame fire-and-brimstone sermon from Fennelly.
"They punched us in the mouth and we crumbled," said Lacey, a native of Canberra, Australia. "I sat on the bench for a lot of that game for good reason."
Obviously, that point total also means the Cyclones' sharp-shooting troika didn't connect on a 3-pointer in the November game. They had nine of them against Michigan State on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
"We shot the ball really well," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, recalling her team hitting an Iowa State-like 13 of 31 3-pointers. "I think Iowa State had an uncharacteristically bad game."
That's something both teams agree on. Moreover, not unlike Iowa State's desire to forget about the previous game, Stanford's players mostly claimed they couldn't remember it. They also cast aside any idea that the previous meeting might make them complacent and overconfident -- words, by the way, introduced by VanDerveer as potential pratfalls.
"We're not overconfident at all," Jillian Harmon said. "We have one more game to reach the Final Four."
A return trip to the Final Four -- the Cardinal lost in the final to Tennessee last year -- has been the goal all season for Stanford. The players say they never wavered or doubted they could get there, even with the graduation of consensus All-American Candice Wiggins or the season-ending knee injury to point guard JJ Hones.
That sets up another interesting contrast. Stanford, ranked No. 2 in both polls, clearly sees its 13th Elite Eight as a stopover before its destination. Iowa State, ranked 18th in the AP Top 25 and 19th in the coaches' poll, is thrilled with its second trip to the Elite Eight, which comes a decade after the first. In 1999, in fact, Iowa State upset another giant, then-No. 1 seed Connecticut, for its first appearance in the regional final.
The magnitude of Saturday's victory hung with Lacey when she awoke Sunday morning. "We're in the Elite Eight!" she screamed at roommate Ezell. "We keep saying it."
That's not all good for Stanford. Perhaps the Cyclones will be able to play loose with nothing to lose.
Moreover, just because Stanford looks better on paper -- five starters are 6-foot or taller and each average in double figures -- doesn't mean Iowa State can't make the Cardinal uncomfortable. If the Cyclones, who average eight treys per game and have connected on 10 or more in 14 games this season, get hot from the perimeter, things could get interesting.
"For me, they are a scary team," Stanford center Jayne Appel said. "I'm always uncomfortable with a bunch of guards running in circles and I have to chase them. I love playing against a big post."
Iowa State doesn't have that big post presence, particularly with 6-foot-4 forward Nicky Wieben nursing a sprained foot -- she sported a boot during Sunday's news conference. Appel, who scored 18 second-half points (and 25 total) in Stanford's 84-66 win over Ohio State on Saturday, and dynamic freshman Nnemkadi Ogwumike dominated the Buckeyes inside.
So if that fact, plus the November game, plus playing in front of what figures to be an overwhelmingly pro-Stanford crowd in the Bay Area makes the Cyclones a big underdog, so be it. That's a role Fennelly seemed to embrace with just a suggestion of a gleam in his eye, stating, "It would be an upset of monumental proportions if we won the game."
Poor old 27-8 Iowa State.
"We are going to show up tomorrow," he said. "There have been a lot of things written about how maybe it's a waste of time. But the NCAA tells us we need to show up and play."
Ted Miller covers college sports for ESPN.com. Check out his Pac-10 football blog.