- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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NORFOLK, Va. -- Stanford took all the hype about West Virginia being physical and aggressive, and turned it an exhibition on how to beat a team at its own game.
From the first play after tipoff, when Nneka Ogwumike won the race to a loose ball at the Mountaineers' end of the floor and scored on a breakway layup, the tone was set.
An opponent can push Stanford around for a while, but you have to do a lot to push the Cardinal over in the NCAA tournament.
The top-seeded Cardinal gave more than they got and were rewarded with a 72-55 victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night at Ted Constant Convocation Center to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year.
Stanford will head back west to Fresno for a regional semifinal matchup Saturday against South Carolina (ESPN2, TBD).
Truth be told, Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer seemed a little worried about West Virginia, a compliment to coach Mike Carey's hard-nosed, give-up-nothing squad. She told her team this might be the toughest opponent they would face before the Final Four. The kind of team that could make Stanford uncomfortable.
Except that they didn't.
Because it was Stanford that jumped out of the gate, taking a 12-2 lead early after scoring six points off three early WVU turnovers and then going on a 17-0 run that effectively decided the outcome about 15 minutes in.
The Cardinal led 38-21 at the half and even when West Virginia found something of an offensive groove and upped the defensive intensity, the best the Mountaineers could do was play even over the final 20 minutes, which did nothing to put a dent in the deficit.
"It just felt really comfortable out there," VanDerveer said. "It didn't feel like we ever had anything but control of the game. That was very exciting to see because I think West Virginia is an excellent team."
Stanford finished with eight blocks and six steals. The Cardinal scored 19 points off 13 Mountaineer turnovers. They did their share of fouling, with both Ogwumike sisters forced to the bench at various points.
The game-changing charge wasn't led in those early moments by an Ogwumike, at least not completely. Instead, it was shy, introverted freshman Amber Orrange who broke out with the biggest game of her young career.
Orrange -- who dished a tournament-high 11 assists in the first round against Hampton -- penetrated, hitting jumpers in the paint made possible by all the bodies tangled up under the basket. She finished with a career-high 18 points, a career-high seven rebounds and five assists with no turnovers against one of the toughest defensive teams in the country.
"We knew coming in that West Virginia was going to be physical," Orrange said. "Coach told us they were going to try to hit us first, but we just wanted to throw that first punch."
Orrange started the year quiet, tentative and unsure. But she is playing now with the polish of a veteran.
"Amber played like a senior tonight," VanDerveer said. "She was very comfortable out there. She was doing stuff, just under control five assists, no turnovers against that team. She was a player. Nothing was holding her back today."
Nneka Ogwumike has taking Orrange under her wing this year.
"I call her my little knife. She slices and dices," said Nneka, who ended up with 16 points and five rebounds.
Her sister Chiney, playing with her right knee tightly wrapped, had 13 points (nine from the free-throw line), six rebounds and three blocks.
But it was Orrange who made the biggest impression of the night, particularly on West Virginia, which probably couldn't have seen it coming.
"Because of the way we wanted to play the Ogwumike sisters, it put a lot more pressure on us guards," sophomore guard Christal Caldwell said. "And it put more pressure on her because the people she normally looked for to get the ball to made her have to be more aggressive."
West Virginia finishes the season 24-10 and with a young team that will be highly regarded as it moves to the Big 12 next season.
"I told my team after the game, 'Now you see what a great program looks like,'" Carey said. "You guards, get the film and look at the film and see what you've got to do this summer. We are a young team, especially on the perimeter. With that being said, I told our guards '[Orrange] is a freshman too.'"
17dBonnie D. Ford