10:00 PM ET, November 9, 2006
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- Brooke Smith and Candice Wiggins showed why they will be one of the best tandems in women's college basketball this season.Smith scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help No. 4 Stanford open its season with a 88-61 victory over Loyola Marymount on Thursday night in the first round of the preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament.Wiggins, the Pac-10 Player of the Year in each of her first two college seasons, added 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds playing on a tender foot as Stanford used a big second-half run to break the game open against the scrappy Lions."We really know this is our year. It's really special," Wiggins said.Wiggins bruised her left heel in the Cardinal's exhibition opener last week and was questionable to play, but she has never missed a game in her Stanford career and deemed herself ready to go.Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer has already called this a "sweet" team. VanDerveer, who last month received a six-year contract extension heading into her 21st season on The Farm, also has improved depth and a talented freshman class that will contribute significant minutes."We got out running and it was awesome to have Candice out there. She does so much for our team," VanDerveer said. "It was obviously a game right through the first half and then I thought we opened it up with our defense. We can't run if we don't play defense and rebound."The Cardinal are making their first appearance in the preseason WNIT and will play again at home in Maples Pavilion on Monday night in the second round against the winner of Friday's matchup between BYU and Idaho State.Stanford hopes this is just the beginning of a long run that ends in late March.VanDerveer has taken her team to 18 straight NCAA tournaments but the Cardinal haven't reached the Final Four since the 1996-97 season.Wiggins, a preseason All-America pick, scored five straight points and Jillian Harmon had eight points -- including six straight -- during a 24-2 second-half run after LMU tied the game at 39 on a basket by Ashlee Dunlap with 18:06 to play.Kristen Newlin had nine during the stretch and finished with 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks. Until Newlin hit a 3-pointer with 9:27 in the first half, Smith and Wiggins had combined to score 22 of Stanford's first 23 points.VanDerveer got her first official look at freshman JJ Hones and at Cissy Pierce in a starting role. Pierce, who started only one game in her first two seasons at Stanford, scored four straight points late in the first half.The scrappy Lions allowed runs of 8-0 and 9-2 by Stanford, but stayed in it with a late 11-2 run of their own and trailed 36-34 at halftime as both teams shot above 40 percent."LMU is a really good team," VanDerveer said. "You're not going to beat a really good team in the first half."Amanda Patton's 3-pointer moments into the second half gave LMU a brief 37-36 lead, but Stanford picked up its defensive pressure and finally found a rhythm on offense. The Cardinal easily worked the ball inside to Smith, who had her signature hook shot working from the start.Patton scored 18 points to lead LMU, which went nearly 6½ minutes without scoring during Stanford's spurt."The test is to not let it phase you and not let it deflate you," said LMU coach Julie Wilhoit, who knows her team gained valuable experience against a top team. "We'll take everything and squeeze it out of this game. We're going to value this experience. It was fun."Stanford, picked to win the Pac-10 again after winning a school-record six straight conference titles, is determined to make the Final Four in Cleveland come March after losing in the final eight in each of the past three seasons.Star Stanford freshman Jayne Appel, who has been sidelined for nearly a month with a left shoulder injury, was medically cleared Thursday and will probably be available for Monday's game.The Cardinal are playing without sophomore guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude until at least late December following offseason reconstructive surgery on her left knee.
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