Commentary

Top-seeded Stanford averts disaster

No. 16 Tulsa gives Cardinal a scare; Michigan up next

Updated: March 25, 2013, 12:21 AM ET
By Michelle Smith

STANFORD, Calif. -- If margin of victory for a No. 1 seed in the opening round of the NCAA tournament is a measure of some kind, Stanford ought to be concerned. Unless, the measure is grit.

Typically, a No. 1 seed doesn't want to have to rely on grit quite this soon. Stanford probably would have much preferred to cruise through the opener like its top-seeded sisters -- Baylor, Connecticut and Notre Dame won their openers by an average margin of 47.7 points. No doubt the Cardinal would loved to have built a huge lead and sat on it, played a few subs, rested the starters for the final 10 minutes or so.

[+] EnlargeChiney Ogwumike
AP Photo/Ben MargotChiney Ogwumike clearly is the star at Stanford, but teammates stepped up against Tulsa.

But that is not how the Cardinal's day went at Maples Pavilion on a brilliant Sunday afternoon in the Bay Area. Instead, the Golden Hurricane challenged the Cardinal from beginning to nearly the end and Stanford finished with a 72-56 win that ends as a cautionary tale rather than a sob story.

And now Michigan awaits, the Wolverines hanging on for a 60-52 win against Villanova on Sunday evening to earn a second-round showdown with the host team, who fought harder to advance than anyone thought they would. Sixteenth-seeded Tulsa was all over the Cardinal in the first 20 minutes, forcing turnovers, pressuring ball handlers, disrupting offensive flow. Stanford was down by six in the early minutes and Maples faithful were beginning to squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

The first half ended in a 24-24 tie and the nervous buzz was audible. You could practically hear the word-that-ought-not-be-spoken in distressed murmurs ... Harvard.

Tulsa coach Matilda Mossman had indeed referenced Stanford's most notorious defeat in 1998 as a motivational touchstone for her team. The Golden Hurricane players admitted they thought about it after playing toe-to-toe with Stanford for a half, pondering the possible.

"It happened in 1998, it happened here on their floor, it was a No. 16 versus a No. 1. We're not in uncharted territory," Mossman said. "But we didn't have any dreams that it was going to be easy. Just because they were upset 15 years ago doesn't mean it's going to automatically happen again."

And one might have sworn Chiney Ogwumike was thinking about it as she came out of the locker room stone-faced to take her warm-up shots leading into the second half.

But Ogwumike said she wasn't thinking about what she called "history." She was thinking about doing what she had to do to get her team back in control.

Tara VanDerveer has never been a yeller. And she didn't yell on Sunday when she followed her team into the locker room. The coach said she talked to point guard Amber Orrange about what was working, what the sophomore wanted to run. She made a few strategic adjustments, said a few encouraging words and sent them on their way.

"I don't think carrying on would have helped," VanDerveer said. Sophomore Taylor Greenfield said the message boiled down to this: "Do your jobs."

[+] EnlargeTiffani Couisnard
AP Photo/Ben MargotTiffani Couisnard and Tulsa had the top-seeded Cardinal on the ropes.

It's no secret the Cardinal players have to do those jobs this season in order to be better than the sum of their parts. Ogwumike can only do so much, particularly now as better teams with better defenses will work to shut her down. VanDerveer said she has been preparing her team for two weeks to give her star more help.

"We can't just be about Chiney," VanDerveer said.

And on Sunday they weren't -- despite Ogwumike's 29 points.

Orrange, coming off her huge performance two weeks ago against UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Greenfield came up with her biggest game in weeks, coming off the bench to score nine in 37 minutes, including a pair of key three-point plays. Senior Joslyn Tinkle contributed nine points, three blocks and seven rebounds.

Sara James and Bonnie Samuelson hit timely 3-pointers that helped the Cardinal shoot 65.5 percent in the second half and pull off a 23-7 stretch that moved Stanford out to a 50-35 lead with 10:25 to go.

Tulsa cut the lead to 60-50 with 4:03 to go, but Stanford was able to rally and hold the Golden Hurricane off for good.

"You have to weather the storm," Ogwumike said. "I knew the first 20 or so minutes were not our best minutes of Stanford basketball. But that's the beauty of our team. We put all those things aside. We have short memories and we work hard."

VanDerveer sees only the pluses in this game for her team, not the handwringing that will surely follow after a too-close-for-comfort game against a team with a 17-17 record that needed a miracle run through its conference tournament just to get here.

If it took some grit to get it, so be it.

"We've been in situations where we've blown teams out, and then when you get into a tight game and you've got to run set plays ... " VanDerveer said. "There is a lot for us to learn. Does it make us less of a No. 1 seed? We're playing. The best thing is, no one got hurt for us. We learned things in this game; we had different people step up. I don't see a downside for us. I'm happy."

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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