3:00 PM ET, February 25, 2007
STANFORD, Calif. -- The Stanford players put on their Pac-10 championship T-shirts, cut down the nets and celebrated another title.As good as that accomplishment felt, coach Tara VanDerveer wasn't about to risk the health of star Candice Wiggins to achieve it.With Wiggins resting a nagging hamstring injury, the Cardinal (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today; No. 8 AP) rode the strong inside play of freshman Jayne Appel to beat Southern California 56-53 on Sunday to win the outright conference title. Appel scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half, including a go-ahead basket with 36 seconds left."We've got the No. 1 seed. Even if we didn't, I could not justify risking Candice in that situation," VanDerveer said. "It would not make any sense. I was not going to entertain even listening to her telling me how good she felt."The Cardinal (25-4, 17-1) clinched a share of the championship and the top seed in next week's tournament with a win Thursday against UCLA. But they made sure they wouldn't have to share the title with Arizona State with the win to close out the regular season.Whether they'll have Wiggins next weekend in San Jose is still up in doubt. VanDerveer said the priority was getting her star healthy for the NCAA Tournament."I'd rather not win today and have her healthy, and I feel the same way about the Pac-10 tournament," she said. "I think she needs to be 95 percent for this weekend. We really want her for the NCAAs. In the meantime, it's valuable minutes for other people."The Cardinal shot just 36 percent without their leading scorer and endured a few long droughts without a basket with Wiggins watching from the sideline. They still managed to find a way to win against USC (16-12, 10-8), improving to 5-0 in games Wiggins has been sidelined."When they get Wiggins back, they're a team built to go deep in the tournament," USC coach Mark Trakh said. "They have the front line to really go deep and bang with people. I think it's a team that can go deep in the tournament when they get Candice back."Until then, Appel and Brooke Smith are the keys to the team. The two post players teamed on the go-ahead score when Smith fed Appel from the high post for the lay-in that gave the Cardinal a 54-53 lead with 36 seconds left.Jamie Hagiya missed a jumper at the other end for USC and Appel came up with the loose ball after a scramble.USC argued Appel tried to pass the ball before Stanford called timeout but the officials did not agree. Smith made two free throws after the timeout and Shay Murphy missed a long 3-point attempt just before the buzzer."I didn't shoot the ball that well," said Murphy, who finished 5-for-17. "None of us really did. We were right there even with our poor shooting."Smith committed her fourth personal foul less than 2 minutes into the second half with the Cardinal trailing by three. Appel replaced Smith and scored eight points during a 10-2 run that put the Cardinal up 38-33."When Brooke went out it was up to the rest of us to pick it up," Appel said. "Candice is originally our big gun, and Brooke is our next big gun ..."That prompted VanDerveer to tell her star freshman, "Jayne, you're a big gun."Appel has averaged 21 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in her last four contests, while Wiggins has played only 43 minutes in that stretch because of injuries.USC went more than 7 minutes without a field goal during the run, but then Stanford had an even longer drought. The Cardinal went 8:10 without a basket until Smith's jumper with 6:40 remaining made it 44-40.Morghan Medlock made a 3-pointer -- her first basket after six misses -- to give USC a 51-50 lead with 2:26 to go. Murphy's driving layup with 54 seconds left gave USC its final lead at 53-52.Murphy led USC with 13 points and Chloe Kerr added 11. The Women of Troy shot just 29 percent for the game.Smith added 12 points for the Cardinal and Kristen Newlin had 10. Melanie Murphy had a career-high 10 assists and eight points. Stanford has won 23 of 24 games and finished with one loss or fewer in the conference for the ninth time.USC led 29-28 at the half despite going more than 6 minutes without a field goal at one point. Stanford closed the half with six straight points.
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