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Saturday, April 2, 2011
Top senior point guards clash in semis

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPN.com

Texas A&M guard Sydney Colson discusses her career and the program's first Final Four.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Texas A&M's Sydney Colson does impressions of everyone, but says mimicking coach Gary Blair is the easiest.

"He talks so slooooooow," Colson said.

Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen has quite a sense of humor, too, with hers tending more toward wry comments and finely tuned sarcasm.

Thus, off court, both senior point guards can be quite entertaining. But when it's time for business, they have become two of the best at running their teams. Both will try to advance their respective squad to the NCAA championship game as Spokane No. 1 seed Stanford meets Dallas No. 2 Texas A&M in Sunday's first semifinal (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Colson, who is from Houston, came to Texas A&M intending to be a point guard. Pohlen, from Brea, Calif., figured she would be a shooting guard/wing at Stanford. And that's mostly what she did as a freshman.

But an injury to former Cardinal guard JJ Hones in 2008-09 meant that Stanford needed Pohlen to develop into a point guard in her sophomore season.

"At first, I might have been a little hesitant, especially playing for Tara [VanDerveer] in this program," Pohlen said. "I think she's been used to point guards who had played that position a long time and had been groomed for it. So when I came in, it was like, 'Whoa, what's going on?'

"But I've learned a lot here. There is a lot to think about and worry about as a point guard, but I do like it. It's a challenge for me, but I like having the ball in my hands. Hopefully, I make the people around me better and I help our team. That's what I think about most."

For Texas A&M, the challenge has been to help Colson not think too much. Blair has said his message to Colson when she was younger was K-I-S-S: Keep it simple, Sydney.

"Even now, I still have to remember to keep it simple," Colson said. "Because I might see something or want to push it in transition and be extra aggressive. But sometimes, you just have to tone it down and run a half-court set -- show you're capable of doing both."

Colson played behind Texas A&M's more experienced guards in her rookie season of 2007-08, when the Aggies won the Big 12 tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight. Then, in June 2008, she suffered a torn ACL in her right knee, which would have meant an ensuing redshirt season for a lot of players.

Jeanette Pohlen
Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen averages 14.6 points, with 167 assists, 44 steals and 93 3-pointers on the season.

"When they told me how long it was going to take to get back, I was like, 'No,'" Colson said. "I busted it every day in rehab -- I was determined to get back faster. I got back in 4½ months."

Indeed, Colson managed to recover quickly enough to be team captain and play every game her sophomore year.

Last season, she had a stress reaction in her left leg that caused her to miss four games. Mostly, she played through the discomfort, but by the end of the season, it was pretty painful. The way her junior season ended hurt, too, as the Aggies were upset in the NCAA tournament's second round by Gonzaga.

This year, Colson has averaged 8.0 points and 6.2 assists. She went all 40 minutes in the Dallas Regional final against Baylor. Her critical steal and ensuing three-point play late in that game essentially closed the door on Baylor's hope of a comeback.

"We want to attack," Blair said. "If we get passive and you see us out there with four people outside the 3-point line, we're in trouble. We have got to get inside and make things happen. That's what Colson can do for us."

Meanwhile, Pohlen has missed only one game in her Stanford career, when she had a sprained ankle as a junior. She has averaged a team-high 33.4 minutes in a senior season that has been her best yet. She was Pac-10 Player of the Year and an Associated Press first-team All-American. More than one eyebrow was raised when Pohlen was left off the 10-member State Farm All-America team Saturday -- teammate Nneka Ogwumike made that one -- but Pohlen wasn't perturbed at all.

"I think this year did exceed my expectations," Pohlen said. "We have so many great players on our team that any of these awards could have gone to anybody. When I got Pac-10 Player of the Year, it was definitely an honor but unexpected."

Pohlen is averaging 14.6 points with 167 assists and 44 steals. She has made 93 3-pointers, shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc.

Pohlen is best known for her coast-to-coast layup that beat Xavier at the buzzer in the Elite Eight last season, giving the Cardinal their third consecutive Final Four berth. She and fellow senior starter Kayla Pedersen are now here for the fourth straight season.

And although being the point guard didn't come as naturally to her as it does to others, Pohlen has embraced the role and meshed it well with her other skills as a pure scorer.

"But not fully until this year, actually," said Pohlen, whose top game this season was a 31-point effort in late December that helped Stanford end UConn's 90-game winning streak. "Being the point guard the past two years, we ran everything through Jayne [Appel], and my freshman year, Candice [Wiggins] was our go-to player. Jayne had that ability that she could take it in strong or pass it, so our offense was very much run through Jayne and getting the ball to her. For me as a point guard, that was my focus.

Stanford coach VanDerveer hasn't used "keep it simple," per se, with Pohlen, but she has another phrase for it.

"Tara says, 'Less is more,'" Pohlen said. "Don't try to do too much. Do what you do well. If you're open, take your shot. Don't try to make the home run pass. Make sure we're organized, and things are going the way they're supposed to be, and the ball is going to who needs to be getting it."

Pohlen and Colson have not crossed paths before. Stanford and Texas A&M have met only once in women's basketball -- that was in 1982, before either of them was even born. But they have an appreciation of what the other does.

"We're going to be those leaders and the extension of our head coaches out on the court," Colson said. "That's something you have to learn if you weren't used to doing that. I think it's awesome that we're both at this point."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.