Commentary

Stanford, WVU to match styles

Updated: March 17, 2012, 7:33 PM ET
By Michelle Smith | espnW

NORFOLK, Va. -- Defense is the name of the game they are playing in Norfolk.

West Virginia moved on to the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center because the Mountaineers know how to dish it.

Stanford moved on because the Cardinal know how to deal with it.

And that should make for an interesting matchup Monday night (ESPN2, time TBD).

[+] EnlargeHarlee
Peter Casey/US PresswireJessica Harlee helped West Virginia get by Texas for a date with Stanford.

The Mountaineers pushed their record in the first round of the tournament to 7-1 at the expense of a desperate Texas team that was looking for its first first-round win since 2008.

West Virginia did what it does. The Mountaineers (24-9) were physical and long and disruptive. And they got help from the Longhorns (18-14), who shot 27.9 percent and 12-of-20 from the free throw line. With a final score of 68-55, Texas became the 23rd opponent this season that West Virginia has held to fewer than 60 points.

"We struggled to put the ball in the basket, but West Virginia did a great job defensively with their physical style of play, and we didn't always handle it well," Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said.

West Virginia forward Jessica Harlee was the unsung hero of the day, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. But perhaps more importantly, she used her size and long arms to stifle Texas' top scorer, guard Chassidy Fussell, who was 3-of-14 from the floor for eight points.

"Jess will play her role every time," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "She's our stopper when we need to make a stop."

If there was a surprise, it was the Mountaineers' bench, which provided 34 points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore Taylor Palmer was the game's leading scorer with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, none bigger than the one she hit with 3:41 to go after Texas had cut the lead to 51-48.

"I think we need the spark," Palmer said. "I don't think we thought we were going to lose the entire game, but that shot gave our team momentum."

The top-seeded Cardinal, on the other hand, don't often need to go looking for momentum.

They won their school-record 29th in a row by shaking off Hampton's pressure, a luxury they could afford because of their size. Oh, and because of Nneka Ogwumike.

Ogwumike finished with 28 points (22 in the first half) and 10 rebounds. Stanford became the first team this season to hang a 70-point effort on the Lady Pirates with a final score of 73-51.

"Tough, tough game. They are good; there is no denying that," Hampton coach David Six said. "But like a pitcher not having his best stuff, we didn't have our best stuff today. ... But I thought we played as hard as we could."

Hampton brought a crowd 12 miles down the road, and it brought an attitude after being saddled with a No. 16 seed the Lady Pirates didn't feel they deserved.

They also brought plenty of defensive intensity as the nation's No. 2-ranked team in scoring defense in the early minutes, playing up on Stanford ball handlers to force early turnovers and take the Cardinal out of their triangle.

When super-sister Chiney Ogwumike went down early and into the training room twice to tend to a right knee bruise, Hampton hung in, a 3-pointer by Choicetta McMillian pulling Hampton within 22-21 with 6:51 to go in the first half.

But then the Cardinal settled in.

Nneka Ogwumike scored on back-to-back possessions. Joslyn Tinkle hit the first of her career-high four 3-pointers. Free throws and another basket from Nneka Ogwumike, and suddenly Hampton was looking at the business end of a 35-21 deficit.

The Pirates got within single digits one more time, at 35-26. But Nneka Ogwumike closed the half with a beautiful transition layup and a 3-pointer to take the Cardinal advantage to 42-28, and it would only widen from there.

"We were too reactionary at the start, but to me, the biggest strength of our team is our ability to be able to maintain composure," Nneka Ogwumike said. "They came out aggressive and stayed that way down to the wire, but we handled things well."

Stanford used the players in its main rotation to almost the end of the game.

Coach Tara VanDerveer wants them to experience all the pressure a team can throw at them. She knows the inability to deal with pressure is a knock on her team, even as it becomes more myth than reality.

But she admits that what's next with West Virginia is a little different. After all, Notre Dame was the No. 2 team in the country when the Mountaineers took it down in South Bend in early February.

"We're going to see a whole different level of physicality," VanDerveer said. "We'll see how we play against it."

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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