Stanford takes Pac-12 Tournament title, but Cal finishes a stellar season
LOS ANGELES – Nnemkadi Ogwumike exploded for 29 points Saturday, including three three-point shots, to lead the Stanford Cardinal to their sixth consecutive conference title in a 77-62 Pac-12 Tournament win over San Francisco Bay rival Cal.
Although dominating performances aren’t unusual from Ogwumike, three-shots aren’t her standard method of attack. Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said the senior forward is extremely versatile.
Most Outstanding Player
“Nnemkadi’s such an intelligent player. You can put her in different spots,” VanDerveer said. “She did stuf today that we’ve never gone over, never practiced. I said, ‘Nnemkadi, can you do this?’ and she said yes.”
The Cardinal also got 17 points and 13 rebounds from Chiney Ogwumike, and 13 points from freshman Amber Orrange. Cal was lead by Layshia Clarendon’s 20 points and Brittany Boyd’s 13.
The Cardinal stormed out to a 17-4 lead to begin the game, but the Bears clawed back to cut the margin to as little as four at the 9:45 mark. Stanford pumped it up to 10 with 4:29 to go, but again, Cal dug in and closed the gap to 37-31 at halftime.
The second period began with a Cardinal run, and the closest the Bears were able to get was ten points for the remainder of the contest. Stanford lead by as much as 21 with five minutes to go, but Cal was able to cut their lead before the final buzzer, thanks to shots and free throws from Clarendon.
The Cardinal, on a 28-game winning streak, get an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Many expect them to be a No. 1 seed. The Bears are also expected to be selected for the tournament tomorrow.
Stanford was shocked in last year’s Final Four by Texas A&M, who went on to win the championship. This year’s Cardinal team is less deep, as all their points yesterday came from their starters; they got no bench production. Ogwumike intimated that they are still looking for a national title, but said it’s a step-by-step process.
“I think at this point it’s very obvious what we’d like to achieve,” she said. “However, it takes one game at a time. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s really our mindset.”
Cal has had a stellar season under first-year Coach Lindsday Gottlieb, finishing second in the Pac-12 regular season with a team that featured no senior players. Despite being behind in the second half yesterday, Bear players never stopped yelling encouragement to teammates, including chants from the bench. The attitude was reflected in both Gottlieb and her players.
“We can be a lot better, which is fun – it’s encouraging,” Gottlieb said.
The coach has reiterated many times that no one on the team likes to lose, and it’s what keeps them going.
“You’ve got to fight til the end,” Clarendon said. “Like Coach said, we’re competitors. We’re going to go to the end. That’s just who we are.”
In contrast to their opponents, all but two Bear players put points on the board in the game. Gottlieb said it’s part of her vision to build an elite-level program.
“It’s at an elite level – I think our depth and versatility is at an elite level,” she said. “I think the next step…is having all of that come together on a consistent basis and maybe shoring up some of our weaknesses.”
She is gonna look great in a Sparks uniform