- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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SAN ANTONIO -- Stanford beat Oklahoma 73-66 in the first national semifinal Sunday at the women's Final Four at the Alamodome. A look at how the Cardinal won:
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: The outcome seemed to have been determined in the first half, perhaps even in the game's first few minutes, when Stanford established itself with a 13-1 run. However, Oklahoma, like it has so many times this season, most notably against Kentucky in Kansas City five days ago, nearly made a dramatic late comeback, whittling what was once a 16-point deficit down to three on two different occasions in the final minute. Ultimately, though, it was Stanford's ability to execute, twice breaking Oklahoma's full-court pressure flawlessly. First, it was Rosalyn Gold-Onwude dribbling through it, which led to a pair of Nnemkadi Ogwumike free throws. Then Kayla Pedersen made a perfect court-length pass to Ogwumike to score the basket that sealed it.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Stanford's Ogwumike. The numbers were an incredible 38 points and 16 rebounds, but it was also when those points came. She scored Stanford's first six when every other Cardinal was having trouble shooting straight. The sophomore All-American scored the final six points in the key 13-1 first-half run that gave the Cardinal their cushion. And Ogwumike scored Stanford's final five points, the points that kept Oklahoma out of any possession that could have tied the score down the stretch. She also controlled the defensive glass with 12 of her 16 boards coming at that end.
PLAYER OF THE GAME II: Stanford's Jayne Appel. The numbers aren't mind-blowing -- 13 points and 10 rebounds -- but Appel's presence in the middle, despite an ailing ankle, clearly meant something in this game. And how many players get a double-double when they are so hobbled? The triangle offense works that much better when she touches the ball because of her ability to set up teammates. Despite that bad ankle, she cleared space on box outs even when she couldn't actually go get the ball herself.
PLAYER OF THE GAME III: Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson. The junior point guard sliced and diced her way through the lane throughout the second half the way that has become synonymous with her game. After a rough 4-for-12 shooting in the first half, Robinson finished with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists. If she had been able to exhibit her style a bit more in the first 20 minutes, the outcome might have been different.
TURNING POINT: Oklahoma continually got the score within eight during the midpoint of the second half, but couldn't get over that hump. Finally, it happened. Down by eight points, Oklahoma's Abi Olajuwon hit the first of two free throws and the Sooners ran down the rebound off her miss on the second. Amanda Thompson drilled a 3-pointer six seconds later. Not only had the Sooners broken the eight-point barrier, they busted through it, making it 66-62 with 1:30 left.
TURNING POINT II: Oklahoma stayed in it during the final minute and was down just 69-66 with 16 seconds left. That's when Stanford executed a perfect full-court out-of-bounds play. Pedersen lofted a baseball pass to a streaking and all alone Ogwumike, who laid it in to make it a two-possession game again. Ogwumike stole the ball from Robinson at the other end and the game was essentially over.
TURNING POINT III: That 13-1 first-half run was huge. It established Stanford as the hunted and it took Oklahoma the entire game to climb out of that huge early hole. The Sooners started too late and ran out of time, getting as close as three a few times late.
STAT OF THE GAME: Oklahoma will remember its 25 percent first-half shooting for a long time. The Sooners shot 50 percent in the second.
STAT OF THE GAME II: Stanford's near undoing against Xavier in the regional final was its inability to shoot from deep. Surprisingly, that hasn't changed. The Cardinal made just 1 of 15 3-pointers all night.
PEDERSEN PLAYS SMALL? Stanford's Pedersen, who played such a solid first half and was widely considered the one player OU had no answer for, shot just 1-of-7 from the floor in the second half for three points after scoring nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the opening half.
STEVENSON SWAN SONG: This was certainly not the way Nyeshia Stevenson wanted her career to end. While she played a decent-sized role in Oklahoma's comeback, she was also the main culprit in the Sooners' inability to get it going soon enough. With 6:30 left, she attempted just her fourth field goal. Stevenson, who had been Oklahoma's MVP in the regionals, took only seven shots all game. Jeanette Pohlen and Gold-Onwude took turns limiting her touches to mostly non-scoring areas, thus the low shot total. The 15 points still show a solid output. It was just much too late to make enough of a difference.
STAT OF THE HALF: Oklahoma shot 25 percent from the field, made just two of its first 13 shots, 8 of 32 overall and no 3-pointers. No one wins Final Four games with that kind of production.
STAT OF THE HALF II: Stanford committed just four team fouls and turned it over only twice. The Cardinal did not give away a lot of possessions and didn't give Oklahoma anything free.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike. When no one else seemed to be able to put the ball in the basket in the game's first few minutes, Ogwumike settled Stanford down with a couple of makes. The sophomore converted on three of her first four field goal attempts, becoming the finisher the Cardinal needed given they were getting open looks. Her 14 points -- on 5-of-10 shooting -- and nine rebounds leads everyone.
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Oklahoma's Abi Olajuwon. The senior snared six rebounds in the first eight minutes, dominating the defensive glass for Oklahoma. Olajuwon also collected three blocks and played solid stay-front defense when the ball was thrown into the post. Some of OU's only true excitement of the first half came when Olajuwon jammed the ball back down Jayne Appel's throat. Of course, Appel's bad ankle was clearly limiting her lift.
PLAYER OF THE HALF III: Stanford's Kayla Pedersen. She didn't get off to a quick start, but in typical Pedersen style, she wore down whoever was guarding her, scoring facing up in the lane, in the post, and on dribble drives. She finished with nine points and five rebounds.
TURNING POINT: After both teams went more than two minutes racing up and down the floor and missing shots, Ogwumike made a layup off a delayed run-out to break the ice. She then made two free throws and a bucket off a post move. Just like that, Stanford had established what it wanted to do.
TURNING POINT II: With just less than seven minutes left in the first half, Oklahoma finally hit a couple of successive baskets to make it 21-12 and gain some semblance of momentum. On Stanford's very next trip down, however, JJ Hones drove to her left, pulled up and banked in a running jumper. It was her first (and only) shot of the first half, but it took the air out of the Sooners fan section, which went from yelling to a heavy sigh, and that slight momentum for OU was gone.
THREE THINGS OKLAHOMA HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Shoot it better. It sounds obvious, but no way Oklahoma even stays close unless some jumpers start falling. The Sooners probably can't consistently get scores at the bucket, so Stevenson needs more looks. She took only two field goal attempts in the first half.
2. Get out in transition. Robinson and Stevenson are the keys and they are best in the open floor. There haven't been enough of those opportunities. Of course, that might mean turning Stanford over and the Cardinal doesn't do that much. They have just two in the first half.
3. Play smart. The effort for Oklahoma is there, but the decision-making/shot selection hasn't been the best. Turnovers haven't been a big problem, but rushed jump shots may have been.
THREE THINGS STANFORD HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep it up. The Cardinal are moving the ball well and sharing it beautifully.
2. Keep Danielle Robinson in sight. The Oklahoma point guard got loose just a little at the end of the half after a miserable start. It was Robinson's quickness and Nyeshia Stevenson's shooting and activity that brought OU back against Kentucky.
3. Rebound. If Oklahoma keeps shooting from the perimeter this poorly, the Sooners are going to have to start attacking much more fervently on the boards. Stanford has the personnel to do just fine, but that's something to keep an eye on. The Cardinal lead 26-23 on the glass right now.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlie Creme breaks down Stanford's victory over Oklahoma on Sunday.