March 31, 2010

Storybook ending for Stanford

The Stanford women’s basketball team is on its way to the Final Four in San Antonio after pulling off a nearly improbable 55-53 win over Xavier on March 29 at Sacramento’s Arco Arena.

Unlike most of the other teams that Stanford has defeated in its 35-1 season, Xavier kept the score close most of the game, and its taller post players made life difficult for the Stanford threesome of center Jayne Appel and forwards Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike.

Stanford led 26-24 at the half, which was far from stellar for the Cardinal. Just before the start of the second half, I told myself, “They can play better.”

It wasn’t a whole lot better in the second half, though, especially after Jayne fouled out. At that point, a fan sitting near me yelled, “Do it for Jayne.” It’s well known that the senior wants a national championship.

Then, with the scored tied 53-53 with only seconds to go, Kayla rebounded the second of two easy shots that Xavier missed and immediately called a timeout. That’s when the “schemers” (Georgia coach Andy Landers’ label for the Stanford coaches after his team’s 73-36 loss two nights earlier) called what turned out to be the perfect play.

Kayla inbounded the ball to guard Jeanette Pohlen under the Xavier basket. With only 4.4 seconds to go, Jeanette drove down the court and made the winning basket just in time. If she hadn’t made it, the game would have gone into overtime. Instead, jubilation broke out on Stanford’s half of the court, and Jeanette was swamped by her joyous teammates.

After the awards ceremony and the traditional net-cutting, the players rushed over to the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree and grabbed the cheerleaders’ pompons to salute and celebrate with their most loyal student supporters.

As with the Georgia game, two booster buses traveled to Sacramento for this game. My seatmate this time was Jimmy Viglizzo, better known as Jimmy V, owner of the popular sports cafe where the Stanford women and other teams have their training table.

He said that he had made good on his promise to serve the players salmon filet and filet mignon if they went to the Sweet 16. After that meal, he promised them steak and lobster if they made it to the Final Four. They should be eating mighty well one day this week after he has the fresh lobster tails flown from Australia.

Along with wine, beer and water supplied by Stanford, people on our bus could enjoy wine that the generous Jimmy V shared.

On the way there, fans on our bus could watch a video about how the legendary basketball film “Hoosiers” was made. This was followed by a grainy black and white film of the true-life game that inspired the film. In 1954, the team from tiny Milan High School in Indiana scored a miraculous upset over longtime hoops powerhouse Muncie Central for the state championship. That game is regarded as one of the best ever in my native Hoosier State, where I like to say that basketball is the state religion.

Stanford’s defeat of Xavier is far from that kind of legend, but Jeanette’s final drive for the winning basket certainly will go down as one of the all-time great moments in Cardinal basketball history. As my bus was returning to Stanford, I heard one fan yell, “Pohlen for governor.” Now there’s a thought.

San Antonio, here we come.

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