BERKELEY, Calif. -- Iowa State's scheme was obvious to Jayne Appel even before the opening tip. The Cyclones put all their energy into guarding the Stanford center's teammates, forcing Appel to try to beat them herself.
And what a beating it was -- one that will forever have a prominent place in Stanford's illustrious basketball history, long after the resulting Final Four trip by the Big Appel and her Cardinal.
Appel scored a school-record 46 points in the third highest-scoring effort in NCAA tournament annals, overwhelming Iowa State's single-coverage defense and securing Stanford's second straight Final Four appearance with a 74-53 victory in the Berkeley Regional final on Monday night.
Stanford's imposing 6-foot-4 junior with neon-pink fingernails and a dancer's grace broke Candice Wiggins' single-game school scoring record with her final basket for the Cardinal (33-4). Dominating from the first possession, she made 19 of her 28 shots and with 16 rebounds nearly outrebounded Iowa State by herself before being mobbed by teammates at the final buzzer.
"I came into the gym with the mind-set that I wasn't going to leave without the net," said Appel, the Pac-10 player of the year who erased her previous career high by 13 points. "We weren't going to leave here without cutting down those nets. It just wasn't an option."
She left little doubt about Stanford's 20th straight victory and eighth Final Four berth, although coach Tara VanDerveer never felt comfortable until the final seconds. Only Drake's Lorri Bauman (50 points in 1982) and Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes (47 in 1993) have scored more points in an NCAA tournament game than Appel.
Appel dazzled the supportive Bay Area crowd with one beguiling move after another, seemingly oblivious to Iowa State's sadly inadequate low-post coverage. Tough enough to physically dominate the low-post mosh pit, but slick enough to emerge without a scratch. Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly was left grinning in frustration on the bench.
"Tara told me she was pretty sure they weren't going to double me, so we knew immediately that we were going to go inside," Appel said. "That was our game plan from the very beginning, and it worked for us."
Appel's postgame understatement made her teammates smirk. During warmups, VanDerveer told Appel she might have a chance to score 50 points, given the Cyclones' plan to counteract what hurt them in the teams' meeting in November.
Stanford routed Iowa State 83-45 during a tournament in Hawaii, getting just six points from Appel, who set up her teammates for 13 3-pointers.
"I don't question what they did," VanDerveer said. "Jayne had to deliver. We knew what we had to do. ... If Jayne has four points or 46 points, she is the same person. She sets an example for these young people."
At the Final Four in St. Louis, the Cardinal will meet the winner of Connecticut's Trenton Regional final meeting with Arizona State. Stanford is the last team to beat the undefeated Huskies, doing it in last season's semifinal game in Tampa.
"In my mind, there's no doubt that Stanford is the only team that has a chance to beat [UConn]," Fennelly said. "I wasn't concerned about how many points [Appel] scored. Our plan was to make 10 or 11 3's, and take away the 3 from them. We needed to score when we had open looks at the basket."
Amanda Nisleit scored 17 points for the Cyclones, whose 7-for-26 shooting on 3-pointers was far too inadequate to overcome Appel's awe-inspiring effort. Iowa State (27-9) has made the regional final twice, falling short in 1999 and again this season.
Alison Lacey, who scored 29 points in Iowa State's comeback win over Michigan State in the Berkeley semifinals, managed just two on 1-of-10 shooting against Stanford. Senior Heather Ezell had 10 points, making just one of her eight 3-point attempts.
"She deserves all the credit that she's got," Ezell said of Appel. "They knew that we were shooting the ball really well from 3-point land, and they were going to try to guard us as best they could out there. There was always a hand in your face."
Last season's loss to Tennessee in the national title game was Stanford's first Final Four appearance since 1997. After a decade of disheartening NCAA losses, VanDerveer's teams finally have reclaimed their tournament toughness -- and Appel obviously is one monstrous reason.
Only eight players in NCAA tournament history have scored at least 41 points in a game. Stanford has done it three times in the last two years: Wiggins twice last season, including a 41-point effort in the regional final, followed by Appel's biggest game yet.
Stanford left no doubt of its plan from the opening possession. Appel won the tap, immediately got the ball down low, rebounded her own miss and scored from the other side of the hoop. She scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first 7:44 before VanDerveer put her on the bench for a breather.
Appel outscored Iowa State in the first half with 27 points, making 13 of her 19 shots. She then scored the first six points of the second half, surpassing her previous career high and staking Stanford to a 44-25 lead. Iowa State never began fouling Appel pre-emptively, despite her unimpressive free-throw shooting in recent games.
Appel matched Marissa Coleman's 42-point performance for Maryland last Saturday on two free throws with 5:46 to play, and she matched Wiggins' Stanford record on a hook shot with 3:48 left. After beating the school record on one last low-post move with 1:43 to play, VanDerveer finally felt comfortable enough to take her out.
"She's the best post player I've ever played with, and probably the best ever," said fellow 6-foot-4 post player Kayla Pedersen, who had six points and eight assists for Stanford. "I was getting yelled at for not rebounding, but I knew she was going to make it."