<
>

Cardinal get defensive in victory

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Candice Wiggins' jaw dropped when she
saw Stanford's ugliest totals in the box score: Three assists, 16
turnovers and the Cardinal's lowest point total of the season.

"Oooooh," Stanford's freshman star said in mock horror.

And yet those distasteful digits added up to another Pac-10
tournament championship for Wiggins and her teammates, who
celebrated their new No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 (No. 2 ESPN) with a defensive gem.

Wiggins had 16 points and seven rebounds to win the tournament
MVP award, and the Cardinal won their 20th straight game and third
straight conference championship with a 56-42 victory over Arizona
State on Monday night.

The Pac-10's top two defensive teams lived up to their
reputations with a rugby match of a game -- low on entertainment
value, but high on the gritty, physical play not usually associated
with West Coast basketball. Stanford turned out to be tougher,
maintaining a second-half lead for its third win over Arizona State
this season.

"A lot of people don't think we play much defense," Stanford
coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Don't print it that we do. Let's keep
it a secret."

Brooke Smith scored 10 points and Susan King Borchardt added
nine for the Cardinal (29-2), who ascended to the top spot in the
AP Top 25 earlier in the day for the first time since December
1996. VanDerveer's squad is headed for the NCAA Tournament on its
longest winning streak since 2001-02.

"We're excited. There are definitely some things we can work on
before [the NCAAs]," said King Borchardt, who set the defensive
tone by holding Arizona State's Kylan Loney to six points in 38
minutes. "We love playing together, and we don't want to see this
end."

Stanford was slowed down by the excited Sun Devils (22-9), but
Arizona State made 18 turnovers and just 31 percent of its shots in
its lowest-scoring game of the year.

Kristen Kovesdy had 10 points and seven rebounds for Arizona
State, which had its five-game winning streak snapped in a
frustrating night filled with missed layups and wasted offensive
rebounds. The Sun Devils still will get an NCAA bid, but missed the
chance for their second title-game upset of Stanford in four
seasons.

"Obviously, you can't beat the No. 1 team in the nation
shooting 31 percent," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne
said. "We did some really good things: We held them to 56 points.
We outrebounded them and gave ourselves every opportunity, but it
was like there was a lid on the basket."

Though neither team had any sustained run of offensive success,
Wiggins still provided her share of highlights while adding another
accolade to her incredible debut season. The Pac-10's player of the
year is only scratching the surface of her potential, but she made
countless small plays to turn the tide in the second half.

She was rewarded with the MVP award and a chance to cut down the
nets in her first Pac-10 tournament.

"It's always nice to be recognized, but I definitely see the
big picture," Wiggins said. "It's just nice to be around all
these people. It's nice to win together."

Stanford has won by an average of more than 23 points per game
during its streak -- but one day after surviving a rare test in a
73-69 semifinal victory over Southern California, Stanford again
came out a step slower than normal.

Arizona State beat the Cardinal to most loose balls and got 15
more shots than Stanford in the first half -- but Stanford has
perhaps the best defensive team in school history, holding its
opponents to school-record lows in points and shooting percentage
this season.

The Cardinal's defense took control late in the first half,
holding Arizona State to two points in the final 5:56 -- though the
Sun Devils helped out by missing two layups.

Arizona State couldn't get closer than six points in the second
half -- and with little effective inside play, the Sun Devils got
just two free throws all night.

Wiggins made a layup with 54 seconds left and celebrated with a
raised fist as she got back on defense -- and then blocked a shot
and grabbed a rebound on the other end, essentially clinching the
win.