Thursday, July 29, 2010

2010 Women's NCAA Tourney Final Four

From True/Slant on March 30, 2010:

Stanford and Baylor Advance to Final Four

Stanford Survives.

Jeanette Pohlen bolted for the basket a little over 90 feet from her, racing the length of the court, past and around pressing Xavier defenders. The ball left her hand, a mere blink left on the clock, kissed off the glass and dropped through the net. Her teammates swarmed. Jayne Appel leapt and, I believe she even wept.

Stanford could have lost. Some might say they should have lost. But I always think that what should have happened did. And what did happen was a gut check nobody saw coming. Given that Stanford had rolled every opponent except UConn, no one expected this kind of heavy-weight battle. Some idiot even wrote that Stanford was destined for the Final Four, on an inexorable collision course to meet mighty UConn again. So thanks to Pohlen, I look less like an idiot, Stanford survives to fight another day, and Jayne Appel gets the equivalent of an 11th hour governor’s reprieve.

But to understand Pohlen’s miracle shot in Sacramento, you’ve got to consider the entirety of the game.

Xavier played brilliantly. They did everything necessary to win, except actually win. Every time Stanford made a run, Xavier countered. (Apparently, somebody failed to pass on to the Musketeers the memo declaring Stanford’s appearance in the Final Four as a fait accompli.) Down the stretch, down by seven, Special Jennings hit a layup, plus one. Then Dee Dee Jernigan made a rebound and a bucket. Then Amber Harris made a jumper to tie it up. And April Phillips hit a layup to put Xavier ahead. Filling in for Appel, Jocelyn Tinkle hit a jumper to tie it for Stanford, but Tyeasha Moss answered to put the Musketeers back in front. Kayla Pederson, as she alway seems to do, tied it up.

So, it came to this moment — all tied up at 53, so little time remaining that the shot clock was off, and Xavier ball. The game, the braggin’ rights and a trip to the Final Four, was all right there for the taking. Appel had fouled out and was on the bench — on the verge of ending her career that way. Nnemkadi Ogwumike was on the floor for Stanford, but clearly spent.

Ball movement all around. Pederson peeled off, taking a step or two toward the three-foot stripe. Jernigan ducked behind her into the paint for a clean look. But the ball bounced too high off the glass, off the rim and down. Harris, a force all night, grabbed the ball and gave the Musketeers another chance to put it away. Same exact play. Same exact result. Except this time, Pederson came down with the ball and called a time out.

Other than her three-pointer so early on in the night it felt like the day before, nothing was dropping for Pohlen. It seemed like she wouldn’t have hit water had she fallen out of a boat. But on that stage, with time draining away, the Final Four slipping away, Pohlen came up big. Can two points count for more than just two points? One point would do it. Two was what it was. Must have felt like 20.

ESPN loves to show the coach promos – with Geno and Sherri Coale, Tara and Pat, as Her High Holiness The Summitt says, “It’s hard to win on this stage.” The Musketeers can tell you all about it if you don’t believe Summitt.

Brittney Griner Is.

Earlier in the night, it looked like the Dookies would hold off the Baylor Bears and despite a poor shooting performance (just 23% from the floor – ouch) and despite Brittney Griner teetering on the edge of another triple-double, they led most of the night.

Griner was kinda quiet for the first part of the second half. She almost disappeared, insomuch as a 6′ 8″ phenom can disappear, that is. But then she took over again. Just as she had down the stretch against Tennessee. I’m seeing a pattern develop.

Duke is not a great shooting team to begin with, but Griner forces opponents to change their shot selection, hurry their shots, alter the trajectory of their shots. Yeah, like I said, a pattern. The shots? They are not so good when Griner is on the floor defending. Just a fact. For a team that’s not an offensive juggernaut to begin with, Griner roaming out there, long and lanky, ready to swat passes and shots down, is a fact that is the kiss of death.

At the end, Coach Mulkey teared up. Again. But she had reason to. Her young kids, freshmen Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden, as well as Griner of course, played huge roles down the stretch. They are just growing up in front of us, with every game. This could make for an epic Final Four.

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