8:00 PM ET, March 4, 2006
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Tara VanDerveer has learned it's necessary to use her bench early in the Pac-10 tournament to ensure players still have plenty of energy by the championship game.The format calls for three games in three days -- and there have been times Stanford has looked tired playing for the title.Brooke Smith had 11 points and 11 rebounds in one of her best all-around games this season to help the 13th-ranked Cardinal cruise to a 77-50 victory over Arizona on Saturday night, advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament.Smith also had six assists, four blocks and two steals for Stanford (22-6) and seven others scored five points or more."We really wanted to play a lot of people," VanDerveer said. "We needed different contributions. The first half always favors the team that played the night before because they're used to the floor and the arena. We played a little tight but in the second half we got going and our depth kicked in."Candice Wiggins added 16 points before cutting her lower lip early in the second half and leaving the game. The sophomore star, who already is a two-time Pac-10 player of the year, played only 25 minutes as the Cardinal won their fourth straight overall and ninth in 10 games.Freshman Rosalyn Gold-Onwude added 15 points for the Cardinal, who are coming off their school-record sixth straight regular-season Pac-10 title."It was a good game to prepare us for the way we'll need to play tomorrow," Smith said. "We're trying to gain momentum more than anything."Stanford will play Sunday against Southern California, a 70-67 winner over Washington in Saturday's late game, for a berth in the championship Monday. The top-seeded Cardinal have won the last three conference tournament titles and played USC in last year's semifinals, winning 73-69.No. 11 Arizona State advanced to the other semifinal with a 74-66 win over Oregon State earlier Saturday and will play UCLA on Sunday. The Sun Devils are the only team other than Stanford to win the conference tournament, beating the Cardinal in the 2002 final.For Arizona, this was an emotional end to a season that began with the shocking death of its star player and featured costly injuries to several others."It's like we ran an Ironman triathlon," Wildcats coach Joan Bonvicini said. "We didn't win it, but we finished. ... It made me a better coach. It made us better people and we're appreciative of what we have. More than anything, we're a basketball team not used to losing and we want to come back strong."We didn't want sympathy. We have never wanted sympathy, more empathy."Stanford won its sixth straight against the Wildcats in what has become a rivalry in recent years, even after the September death of beloved Arizona leader Shawntinice Polk.The team's lively, smiley 6-foot-5 center died after collapsing at the McKale Center. She was 22, and this would have been her senior season."I don't know that I'll ever go there and not think of Polkey," VanDerveer said. "I'm friends with Joan and nothing could be harder than what she went through with her team."Arizona (8-22) hasn't won in the series since an 88-83 home victory on Feb. 5, 2004. The Wildcats kept the game close early but couldn't stay in it after the Cardinal used a big run to end the first half and didn't let up the rest of the way.Ashley Whisonant had 17 points for the Wildcats, who went 0-9 to end the regular season, but bounced back to beat Oregon 64-57 in the first round of the tournament Friday night.Arizona's Natalie Jones went hard to the floor with 17:55 remaining after a collision with Smith. Jones had to be helped off the court but later returned.The Cardinal won the first meeting against the Wildcats by 31 points at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 19, then Stanford took the second game by 11 in Tucson last month.Stanford used a 19-7 run over the final 7:06 of the first half for a 36-24 lead at the break after the game had been tied at 17.
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