- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- The feeds into the paint came from every angle, and Stanford center Jayne Appel took them, feinted left and right -- and maybe left again if she wanted. Then she turned and scored. And scored. And scored.
Stanford's strategy was simple: An Appel a play would keep Iowa State at bay.
Appel's 46 points set a program scoring record and rank third in women's NCAA tournament history. Stanford won its 20th game in a row, this 74-53 beatdown of Iowa State earning the Cardinal their second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
"Jayne was just spectacular," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
Suffice it to say, considering Appel also scored 25 two nights ago in the victory over Ohio State, it wasn't hard to pick the Berkeley Regional MVP. Appel, by the way, also had 16 rebounds, three blocks and two assists as the second-ranked Cardinal improved to 33-4 this season.
Although this contest didn't fall to the level of the 38-point whipping Stanford gave the Cyclones in a nonconference matchup in November, the Cardinal were dominant on both ends from bell to bell. Iowa State led 3-2, but the Cardinal's advantage hit double digits with 11 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half and mostly stayed that way from then on. The Cyclones inched no closer than 13 in the second half.
Iowa State's strategy most of the game was to single-cover Appel and not allow Stanford to get open looks at 3-pointers. Although that might inspire a few raised eyebrows, the Cyclones had a fairly strong justification. Stanford drained 13 3-pointers in the November blowout.
"We tried to double- and triple-team her in Hawaii, and we just got annihilated," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said.
VanDerveer anticipated that reaction, so the plan was to pound and pound the ball to Appel. The junior took 10 of Stanford's first 13 shots, making seven -- and one of two free throws -- during the first eight minutes as the Cardinal jumped to an 18-9 lead.
Stanford was expected to own the paint, and it did. It won the rebounding battle by a stunning 47 to 18 count and scored 46 points in the paint. The Cardinal had 17 second-chance points; Iowa State had four.
Iowa State was supposed to counter on the perimeter with its 3-point shooting, but the Cyclones never found their range. They hit their first, then missed eight in a row. For the game, they were 7-for-26 from behind the arc -- they averaged eight treys per game this season -- with almost all the damage coming from Amanda Nisleit, who converted 5 of 9 3s and finished with a team-high 17 points.
"They were really guarding us tough on the outside," said 2-guard Heather Ezell, who went 1-for-8 from 3-point range. "We didn't get a whole lot of open looks."
Stanford has won seven consecutive postseason games, none by fewer than 18 points. Only twice during the winning streak has an opponent crept to within 11 points.
"We weren't going to leave here without cutting down these nets," Appel said.
Appel scored the first six points of the second half to match her previous career high of 33. And with the margin 44-25, it was becoming increasingly clear that the most interesting competition of the second half would be her potential challenge to the NCAA tournament single-game scoring record of 50, set in 1982 by Drake's Lorri Bauman.
VanDerveer said she was made aware of the Stanford record, but she kept Appel in the game only because she recalled how quickly Iowa State blew up Michigan State's seven-point lead two nights before.
"I never felt comfortable in the game," VanDerveer said.
Appel scored her final basket with 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining, and she was pulled at the one-minute mark with an appreciative crowd at Haas Pavilion giving her a roaring send-off for turning in one of the best individual performances in tournament history. She eclipsed Stanford legends Candice Wiggins and Kate Starbird, who scored 44 each in 2008 and 1996, respectively.
The Cardinal now await the winner of Tuesday's Trenton Regional final between top-ranked Connecticut and Arizona State. Stanford reached the national championship game last year (and lost to Tennessee) after beating Connecticut in the national semifinals. Many pundits already have penciled in the undefeated Huskies as the 2009 national champions.
At least one person believes that might be premature.
Said Fennelly, "In my mind, there is no doubt that Stanford is the only team that has a chance to beat them."
Ted Miller covers college sports for ESPN.com. Check out his Pac-10 football blog.
16dBonnie D. Ford