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Appel sparks Stanford's 20th straight win

LOS ANGELES -- When No. 2 Stanford inexplicably stalled in the second half of its Pac-10 tournament opener, coach Tara VanDerveer was forced to break the glass on her emergency plan.

That would be the All-American center sitting on her bench.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 25 points and the Cardinal got a second-half boost from injured star Jayne Appel in a difficult 72-52 victory over Arizona on Friday in the Pac-10 quarterfinals.

VanDerveer had hoped the Cardinal (29-1) could get through their first game -- and maybe the entire tournament -- without using Appel, whose sprained right ankle could use more rest for the NCAA tournament. Yet Appel has told VanDerveer she feels just fine, and VanDerveer was forced to believe it after Appel sparked Stanford to a tougher-than-expected win.

"Just her presence out there was really relaxing to everyone on the team, including me," VanDerveer said. "Jayne came in and gave our team a great spark. We weren't getting the perimeter shooting we needed, so it kind of was an inside game."

Stanford led 43-40 with 13:21 to play when VanDerveer finally went to Appel. The Cardinal immediately scored eight straight points and made a 19-6 run.

"Once I got comfortable on the court, it just felt like my own ankle," Appel said. "You just kind of forget about it in competition. ... There's no missing strength from it, so that's what keeps me thinking positively about it."

Jeanette Pohlen scored 15 points on five 3-pointers for the Cardinal, who won their 20th straight and advanced to face California in Saturday's semifinals. Yet the mighty Cardinal got a useful test when they struggled to shake the Wildcats (14-17), who only dressed eight players and had to win a play-in game Thursday.

Appel had seven points and three rebounds in her 10:06 of playing time -- a far cry from her school-record, 46-point performance in last season's NCAA regional final in Berkeley, but more than enough to finish off the Wildcats.

"She's relentless, and I knew she wouldn't let anything happen in terms of letdowns," said Ogwumike, the Pac-10 player of the year. "I think most of my teammates felt a little bit more comfortable, in the sense that we had that one person we depend on for a lot of things. At the same time, I don't think it should have taken her coming in for us to take care of business."

Ogwumike added 10 rebounds while finishing five points shy of her career high. Kayla Pedersen had 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists despite the junior's 4-for-14 shooting, while Pohlen made just one turnover in 37 minutes.

Ify Ibekwe had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Davellyn White added nine points and eight rebounds as the Wildcats lost for the sixth time in seven games despite hanging in for much of the afternoon. Arizona played well against Stanford all season, also leading at halftime in a loss at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 30.

"We certainly made Stanford do something they didn't want to do today," Arizona coach Niya Butts said. "Right up until the 13-minute mark, I thought we gave them the best shot they've seen in a [while]. We just didn't have enough power to stick with them down the stretch."

Stanford has won six Pac-10 tournaments and is heavily favored again after an 18-0 roll through its conference schedule, the much-decorated program's fifth perfect regular-season run through conference play. No Pac-10 team has ever followed up a perfect regular season with a tournament title, although this is only the 10th tournament for a conference that didn't have a postseason event for most of its existence.

Still, the Wildcats' feisty effort should remind the Cardinal not to get too comfortable on top.

Stanford missed its first six shots, eventually taking a 10-point lead in the first half but never pulling away. Arizona made a 9-3 run in the second half to cut the Cardinal's lead to three points, but Appel's arrival immediately changed Stanford's approach, creating open shots for her teammates and slowing down the Wildcats' offense.

"We can play with any team that comes our way," Ibekwe said. "We were neck-and-neck. I don't know if it was fatigue, but we didn't give up. I take that with us from this loss."

Several Arizona students tried to take advantage of the empty sections of seats behind the baskets at USC's Galen Center by running back and forth wildly through the empty rows while the Cardinal shot free throws. It didn't work all that well: Stanford made 17 of its 20 free throws.