Cardinal Dance On

By Jeff Lippman - April 06, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. - Candice Wiggins fell short of another 40-point performance.

Stanford didn't need it.

So much for that Tennessee-Connecticut national title game. The Cardinal crashed that party, 82-73, and was just too much for Connecticut to handle all night.

The Cardinal showed an incredible combination of size, strength and shooting ability as it didn't matter what UConn chose to defend. The Cardinal beat them in every way. And nobody, not Geno Auriemma, not Tara Vanderveer, not Candice Wiggins or the Stanford crowd really thought it was possible until it was over.

And as the clock ticked down to zero it was Wiggins with the ball in her hand ready for the celebration to begin.

"The thing that's driving this team is the fact that we all want to keep playing with each other," Wiggins said at the postgame press conference.

Whatever the reason, it's obvious that the Cardinal are playing like a team possessed.

If not for the outstanding second-half effort from freshman Maya Moore, who finished with 20 points and scored 14 in the second frame, the Cardinal would have blown the Huskies out of the water.

Stanford looks near unbeatable right now. Who do you defend? With Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen playing so well inside and Wiggins lighting it up, that's a formidable inside-outside combination. And when you add guard JJ Hones, who scored 11 points, and Jillian Harmon, who had nine, Stanford looks like the team everyone thought Connecticut was.

"That number two seed really helped motivate us," said the freshman Pedersen. "We just wanted to prove everybody wrong. We knew we had it in us. We're hitting our shots right now. We've got a very versatile high-low game. We've got the best center and guard in the country. We're just really confident."

Wiggins finished with a game-high 25 points and 13 rebounds and once again led her team. Appel had 15 and 10 and Pedersen added 17 and 7.

Stanford led from the opening tip when Wiggins got the scoring started with a lay in and never let up. But Connecticut, behind Moore, had a comeback in them. The Huskies got to within one at 47-46 with 14 minutes to play.

Wiggins came to Stanford's rescue. She hit not one, but two straight threes from the exact same spot in the corner opposite the Cardinal bench as Stanford built the lead back up to 53-46. A Kayla Pedersen lay up later and Geno was calling time out to discuss what went wrong.

"I was struggling in the beginning of the second half," Wiggins said when asked about her two big threes. "They went to a zone and I just caught it and just made a few threes. I think that really helped our team's confidence, where the pressure wasn't really on us."

Whatever the reason for Stanford's dominance in Sunday's semifinal - be it East Coast bias, being seeded a two or the fact that they couldn't miss from inside or out - the Cardinal proved they belong here in Tampa. And in a big way.

"It's the type of chemistry that you cannot fake," the ever-smiling Wiggins said. "You can't try to create it. It just happens. And I think it just happened from day one. We knew this group was special."

And now, so does the rest of the country. One more game to go.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 08:58 PM on April 06, 2008

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