- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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STANFORD, Calif. -- When Joslyn Tinkle sat in front of the microphone after the game and said "I deserved that game," it was not a statement of conceit or ego.
It was the result of a bug in her ear by a sage head coach, who had a bit of an epiphany on Monday when she realized that her players might be experiencing more pressure than pleasure.
Former star Candice Wiggins came into the Stanford locker room Monday and talked to the Cardinal, who were regrouping a bit after Sunday's 15-point win over 16-seeded Tulsa, a game that likely only reinforced the notion that the Cardinal are too reliant on Chiney Ogwumike and don't have enough wholesale talent to make a true, legitimate run at the national title.
Wiggins talked to them about embracing pressure, about the fact that she was never a No. 1 seed during her time at Stanford and she never was in a position to navigate the same level of expectation that comes with that number next to your name.
And it got Tara VanDerveer to thinking...
"I never thought about the pressure people might feel (being a No.1 seed)," VanDerveer said. "So I told them today, 'We've earned this. So let's go out and enjoy it.' "
Which is, in its essence, what happened at Maples Pavilion on Tuesday night.
The Cardinal played free and confident, and they played some of their best team basketball of the season in dismantling Michigan 73-40 to reach their sixth straight Sweet 16. How could that not be enjoyable?
And it started with Tinkle, the versatile senior forward who seized her last opportunity to play at Maples Pavilion in front of a delighted home crowd.
Tinkle finished with 21 points and a career-high five 3-pointers, setting the tone for an outside shooting night for Stanford (12-of-25 from beyond the arc) that rendered Michigan's attempts at a zone completely ineffective and put the Wolverines in a huge hole from the outset.
Tinkle shot 80 percent from the floor in the first half and finished the game 5-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line.
As she exited her home court for the last time with 2:39 to go, she blew two-handed kisses to the crowd while her father, Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, stood and fought back tears.
Tinkle said she felt good from the moment she opened her eyes in the morning.
"It was just one of those days where you wake up and feel good," Tinkle said. "Everyone was on the same page. ... We didn't play as well as we would have liked against Tulsa, so I feel like we rebounded and came back strong. Before the game, emotions were high and the energy was insane."
Michigan was simply overwhelmed by Stanford's outside shooting, down 14 points less than eight minutes into the game. The Wolverines doubled Ogwumike and bottled up her ability to score early, but had to switch out of the zone when Tinkle's hot start ignited Stanford's other shooters. Sara James and Bonnie Samuelson added three treys each.
"I don't think Stanford had been shooting the ball from the outside that well prior to tonight and they just came out on fire," said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. "We tried to take away their post and we had pretty good success doing that, but they just hit shot after shot."
Tinkle, the Cardinal's only true senior, came into the game as Stanford's second-leading scorer and often has been the Cardinal's No. 2 scoring threat behind Ogwumike, averaging 11.9 points a game. But Tinkle has had up-and-down moments in her senior season.
She battled through strep throat during the Pac-12 tournament two weeks ago and her fatigue showed in some rough outings. She has two of her tougher games of the season in the Cardinal's two losses to Connecticut (two points) and Cal (four points). She scored just four in her senior day against Oregon in February. She hadn't reached double digits in the three games leading into Tuesday's. And since a Jan. 27 game against Colorado, her 3-point shooting had hit a major rough patch. She was 11-for-53 from behind the arc.
Stanford needs more than that from here on out. On Tuesday, the Cardinal got it. As Tinkle freely admits, she has to keep giving.
"We can't rely on Chiney every game," Tinkle said. "She is going to bring it every game and she's amazing player, but we need to step up as other players. It can't always be the Chiney Show every night. We are doing our best to relieve some of the pressure off her."
Tinkle said she talked with assistant coach Kate Paye, VanDerveer and her parents in the past day or two, asking advice on how to handle her emotions.
"I was excited and ready to go, but I'm sad and nervous," Tinkle said. "I just want to do so well and I want our team to play so well, to really go out with a bang, not for myself, but for the whole team."
Ogwumike said that Tinkle played "at another level."
"There's something special about seniors playing their last games here," Ogwumike said. "Every shot she made just made me happier and happier."
VanDerveer joked that Tinkle plays better when she's a little peeved at the head coach. So she tried to get under her senior's skin. It was all with love.
"We will miss her so much next year," VanDerveer said. "I just wanted to tell her before the game that I'm sad to see her go. She loves Stanford and she loves Stanford basketball."
And she gets to play a little longer.
Stanford will meet up with Georgia in Spokane and then, maybe, the much-anticipated showdown with Pac-12 rival Cal.
But on Tuesday night, it was about saying farewell to Maples in the right way.
After the game was over and Tinkle was out doing her postgame TV interview with ESPN, her Stanford teammates went back to the locker room. And it was VanDerveer who told them to go back out.
Ogwumike was the first one out as the crowd cheered, jumping into Tinkle's arms, and they took one last lap around the gym to say thank you to the fans.
"I know this night was special for her," Ogwumike said.
You could see it in the box score.
12dBonnie D. Ford