Commentary

Stanford all business-like in win

Cardinal in regional semis -- which they host Sunday -- for 7th straight season

Originally Published: March 24, 2014
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

AMES, Iowa -- You're not ever going to see a lot of drama from Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. You know this, of course. She's the technician, the professor, the perfect mentor for "Nerd Nation."

Monday, the Cardinal played just her kind of game: Start with a plan, make some smart adjustments, execute well, win comfortably, walk out into the snow celebrating ...

Wait a minute ... snow? How often do the Cardinal run into that, especially in March? But spring is a capricious thing here in Iowa, and sure enough some flaky stuff was falling as the Cardinal contingent headed out of Hilton Coliseum and home to a Sweet 16 in their own Maples Pavilion.

OK, they were stopping to eat first. But the Cardinal might have taken away the appetites of the Florida State Seminoles, as second-seeded Stanford ended the No. 10 seed's hope of an upset with a methodical 63-44 victory in the second round.

[+] EnlargeChiney Ogwumike
AP Photo/Nati HarnikStanford senior Chiney Ogwumike scored 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and added nine rebounds.

Stanford superstar Chiney Ogwumike had 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and nine rebounds. Fellow senior Michaela Ruef had a "glue" kind of game with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists; she made smart passing decisions in the post that left the Seminoles feeling there were no good choices against the Stanford offense.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson added 14 points, and junior forward Bonnie Samuelson scored 11. Stanford really committed to its zone defense early in the game -- VanDerveer said she had to overrule her assistants about doing that -- and it eventually squeezed the life out of the Seminoles.

"We started in a little bit of a hole, and then I think our team found its rhythm," VanDerveer said. "A lot had to do, obviously, with our guard play, and we were able to find Chiney and get our offense going."

The "hole" Stanford fell in was just a pothole. Florida State took a 7-0 lead about 90 seconds into the game. It took until the six-minute mark of the first half for Stanford to tie the score at 14. And then ... ka-boom! Stanford truly took off. The Cardinal had doubled up Florida State, 32-16, by halftime.

Stanford kept Florida State at arm's length throughout the second half. The Seminoles didn't go on any runs or make the Cardinals feel the heat. You want drama? Watch "The Good Wife." (Or, you know, DePaul's victory over Duke, BYU's win over Nebraska, or other NCAA tournament upsets.)

As for Florida State ... well, some days are diamonds, some days are stones. Saturday, the Seminoles surrendered just 44 points in beating host Iowa State. Monday, they scored just 44 in falling to Stanford.

"I'm sorry it wasn't a better game," Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. "I felt like it was going to be a great game."

Stanford didn't let that happen, though.

"Coach told us they were a very aggressive team, and it would take us awhile to settle in," Ogwumike said. "Just weather the storm and stay poised. I think our team does a good job of just staying together no matter what. We wanted to be the ultimate aggressors."

Ogwumike celebrated her 22nd birthday Friday here in Iowa, and she's such a sunny personality that she counts that as a cool, different and unexpected experience. In April, she might well follow in the footsteps of older sister Nneka as a No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. But before that, maybe she can help this team add another Women's Final Four trip to Stanford's current total of 11.

What about a national championship? In truth, not too many people have been talking about the Cardinal for that. Most of the attention, understandably, has been on undefeated UConn and Notre Dame. Then there are other storylines, such as Tennessee trying to make the Final Four in Nashville and South Carolina being a No. 1 seed for the first time.

[+] EnlargeMikaela Ruef
AP Photo/Nati HarnikMikaela Ruef tallied 8 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in the second round, and her passing helped pick apart FSU's defense.

Meanwhile, Stanford remains ... Stanford: Virtually always in the mix. A team you just expect to still be playing late into the NCAA tournament. Maybe the Cardinal aren't pinging most people's national championship radar, but that's really because the Huskies and the Irish have been so overwhelming at the top of women's basketball this season.

Florida State lost to Notre Dame twice this season -- by 21 and 26 points -- and Semrau was asked how the Irish and Cardinal compared to each other.

"They're very different. Notre Dame -- there's just something about them picking you apart," Semrau said. "They understand who they are and what they do best, and they stay within that.

"Now Stanford does, too. But I think the level of precision that I saw with Notre Dame, they are the best team we've played. Taking nothing away from Stanford; they're an excellent basketball team. But it's the precision that makes the difference."

Hard to argue with that, since Notre Dame is unbeaten and Stanford is a "mere" 31-3. But precision is also something VanDerveer is well known for. This isn't the best team she has ever had, but it's not one to be overlooked.

All season, the Cardinal have been evolving to give Ogwumike more support. Certainly, she's going to be the center pole that holds up the tent, no matter what. But other players are growing.

"I really think Bonnie had a breakout two games for us," VanDerveer said of Samuelson. "She was a major reason why our team was successful."

This was, overall, a very productive visit to the Heartland for the pride of West Coast women's basketball. Now, they go home to try to earn a trip to Nashville.

"You look at someone who has the resources and does the right things with them," Semrau said of Stanford and VanDerveer. "Gosh, what Tara's done to just continue to build ... it's not just a basketball team, it's a program. She's done it with intelligence. A lot of people try to do it with passion, but she's done it with passion and intelligence."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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