Stanford ready for challenge
Cardinal look forward to playing Griner, Baylor in semifinal
STANFORD, Calif. -- Tara VanDerveer was in the grocery store on Wednesday morning, picking up a few things.
She went to the refrigerated case to get some milk and was reaching for a carton when a voice from the other side of the case said "Great game!"
"It scared me," VanDerveer said, laughing. "I got stopped a bunch of times. The baggers, the checkers, everybody was wishing us good luck."
Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike were stopped quite a few times as well at Jamba Juice on Tuesday.
"Somebody said 'Wait, aren't you guys those twins?'" Chiney said. "'Yeah, we are the twins.'"
It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say the entire Stanford campus is abuzz with the prospect of the women's basketball team going to the Final Four to play Baylor (8:30 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN) and its ubiquitous star Brittney Griner.
We don't have bracelets or slogans and we are not busting out on Twitter, but behind the scenes, every day, we are doing everything we can.” -- Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer on her team
"There's nobody really here," said guard Toni Kokenis, looking like she hated to put the damper on the line of questioning.
It's spring break at Stanford and most of the students have gone home to fortify for the final academic quarter.
"I think there are two people left in my dorm and I don't think I've even seen them," Chiney said.
A few teams are still on campus and the Cardinal players have had their share of congratulations from their fellow student-athletes.
But there's no need to manufacture excitement about this matchup for Stanford. The Cardinal are excited enough for everyone, players and coaches are loose and making jokes, knowing they are big underdogs for the first time this season.
"I think the excitement is here, even though not a lot of people are," Nneka said.
Indeed, what's not to be excited about? The two best players in the country this season -- Nneka and Griner -- will be going head-to-head for the first time in their college careers.
Nneka remembers having played Griner once back in their hometown area of Houston during the AAU days. She remembers that the game was at Rice University and she guesses she was a junior and Griner was a sophomore.
She said Griner was "raw" at that time, but still formidable.
"She was hard to play against," Nneka said. "I remember shooting outside shots."
But Nneka is thrilled at the opportunity to face Griner and Baylor. She said after the Duke game on Monday and again on Wednesday that she feels like the only player in the country who hasn't been able to take Griner on.
"Don't you love that attitude?" said VanDerveer, who seems a little giddy about it herself. She said she is "thrilled" to be taking this team to the Final Four.
"This is really special," VanDerveer said. "I looked at [assistant coaches] Amy [Tucker] and Kate [Paye] today and I said 'Can you believe this?'"
This is the Cardinal's fifth straight trip to the Final Four, but there's a big "yeah, but" in the room. Stanford hasn't won a national title during this stretch and hasn't won one at all since 1992. All three of the teams in this Final Four field -- Baylor, Connecticut and Notre Dame -- have won at least one in the interim.
Nneka said what Stanford hasn't done is not her focus.
"I've thought about it from time to time, but coming in here, I really haven't though about it at all," Nneka said. "What we've accomplished so far is huge. We've only lost one game. A lot of teams couldn't ask for more. I know I believe in my teammates and my team and our system and our program."
VanDerveer said it is her intent to win a title.
"We don't have bracelets or slogans and we are not busting out on Twitter, but behind the scenes, every day, we are doing everything we can," VanDerveer said.
The Ogwumike sisters joked about whether Nneka would be willing to dunk to match Griner, sister Chiney the more enthusiastic of the two about that idea.
Nneka acknowledged that she expects Griner to block her shot.
"I say embrace it," Chiney said. "And go after the loose ball.
"How many chances do you get to go against a player like that?"
VanDerveer was asked if any of her fellow coaches who have already faced Griner have called with any helpful suggestions.
"Nobody's called," VanDerveer said. "Let's put it out there: Go ahead and call me. Everyone just says 'Good luck, our money's on Baylor.'"
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