Unlike some of the other teams that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend, the Stanford women easily won the right to travel across the bay for the Berkeley regional this coming weekend. The Cardinal systematically dismantled UC Santa Barbara 74-39 on Saturday and San Diego State 77-49 on Monday.
Both games were notable for stiff defense. At one point in the UCSB game, the Stanford women, wearing white to denote their higher seed and stretching out their long arms, looked like a white picket fence separating UCSB players from the basket.
After the second game, San Diego State fans were asking, “Who was that masked woman?” They were talking about forward Nneka Ogwumike, who poured in 27 points and snatched 13 rebounds, both career highs. They could only marvel when told she’s a freshman. (She wears a protective mask after her nose was broken in practice earlier in the season.) Thanks to the strong inside game, the Cardinal felt no ill effects from tallying only one 3-pointer, a season low.
San Diego State coach Beth Burns, speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune after the game, said of Stanford, “They almost seem machinelike at times. They’re expressionless and exquisite in their precision. We had no answer for Nneka. Their length bothered us. We rushed. Before the game even got wet, we were in foul trouble.”
When fans and families gathered at the team’s hotel for a send-off before their second game, the big buzz was over the Ball State University Cardinals’ victory over defending national champion Tennessee the night before. It’s being called one of the biggest upsets in the history of the women’s NCAA tournament. I couldn’t help bragging a bit since I’m a Ball State graduate from back in the days when it was Ball State Teachers College. If Ball State were to advance to the Berkeley regional, I had visions of wearing my old Ball State sweatshirt for its game, then switching to my Stanford regalia for the Cardinal game. Iowa State put an end to that thought on Tuesday.
Several people didn’t know much about BSU, which is in Muncie, Ind. It got its name from the Muncie-based company that makes Ball canning jars. The five Ball brothers donated the campus land to Indiana in the early 20th century and gave generously to the college through the years. The family still ranks as one of the university’s top donors. Two other generous donors are well known alumni David Letterman of TV fame and Jim Davis, creator of Garfield the cat.
And here’s to the Stanford band, tree, cheerleaders and Dollies, all of whom were forgoing part of their spring break to boost the team. They add so much to the fun and excitement of tournament play for both the players and the fans.