Lombardi's Look Back: South Carolina

Nneka with 39 to lead the Cardinal Saturday Night!

The Bootleg's David Lombardi checks in with his look back at Stanford's 76-60 win over South Carolina in their Sweet 16 matchup in Fresno Saturday evening.

Did anyone actually ever doubt Stanford's 31st consecutive victory?

This writer certainly didn't. Not when South Carolina threatened to tie the game late in the first half. Not when Nneka Ogwumike picked up her third foul with 18 minutes remaining. And not even when Chiney Ogwumike went down in a crumpled heap and braced her right knee with the Cardinal clinging to an early second half lead.

Somehow, someway - even during the moments of greatest concern - it was clear that Stanford was going to be all right. Par for the course.

Tara VanDerveer's Stanford teams are just too steady. They always pervade a relaxing aura that puts them in firm control of basketball games.

It's possible to breath easy when the best player on the floor is on your team. Nneka, of course, easily earns that distinction. Saturday, she poured in 39 points; the remaining nine Cardinal who saw action combined for only 37.

South Carolina just couldn't cover her. The Gamecocks stubbornly refused to budge from their man-to-man defense, and were carved up by the Ogwumike sister high-low combination as a result. Chiney would survey the floor on a pivot from the top of the formation 17 feet away from the basket before knifing a perfect pass to a scoring Nneka inside. From every possible angle in the low post, it seemed, the senior found a way to kiss the glass with money shot in traffic.

The same pattern repeated itself over and over again. And whenever it didn't, either because of Nneka's foul trouble or Chiney's brief injury, the Cardinal's myriad of other weapons briefly took the spotlight. Toni Kokenis continued her sneakiness on the perimeter defensively, turning two steals into immediate devastating layups on the other end. Joslyn Tinkle hit what was perhaps the game's most memorable shot, a buzzer-beating three pointer before halftime that banked in from in front of the South Carolina bench.

The Cardinal finished perfect from downtown. Tinkle's lucky heave was Stanford's only attempted three-pointer of the game, and for good reason: why shoot it from long range when the interior presence is so dominant?

The paint will be a more intimidating place for Stanford next time out, when the Cardinal will be forced to contend with Duke post Elizabeth Williams in the Elite Eight at the Save Mart Center. But it's hard to imagine Stanford's polished inside game being derailed by a freshman.

Again, it's the team without a particular game's best player that should be more concerned. In Monday's case, that'll be the Blue Devils.

Nneka Ogwumike is helping spearhead an athletic golden age on The Farm. The way things are playing out, Stanford can have three players from different major sports selected with the top picks in their respective professional drafts. Assuming Baylor's Brittney Griner doesn't leave school early, Ogwumike's dominant performance Saturday night is just another reason that she'll join quarterback Andrew Luck and maybe even pitcher Mark Appel as a 2012 No. 1 pick out of Stanford.

First, though, comes the Cardinal's intriguing Fresno matchup versus Duke. It's an opportunity for Stanford and its fans to advance to a fifth straight Final Four, and then celebrate by eating some of the world's best tri-tip across the street at the Dog House Grill. If everything goes according to plan, that'll be the last hearty meal before Griner and Baylor come calling in Denver.


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