Stanford buries Gonzaga's upset bid to make fourth straight trip to Final Four

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Facing a deafening, unfriendly crowd in a hostile -- and perhaps unfair -- setting, along with the little blonde point guard who had yet to be stopped, the Stanford Cardinal emphatically showed they're still the powers of the West Coast.

A fourth straight Final Four makes that point impossible to debate.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike dominated the inside with 23 points and 11 rebounds, sister Chiney chipped in 18 points and 15 boards, and the top-seeded Cardinal ended the surprising run of Courtney Vandersloot and Gonzaga 83-60 in the Spokane Regional final Monday night.

After two years of playing with her sister in the stands watching, Nneka now is bringing Chiney along to the national semifinals after the duo overwhelmed and overpowered the 11th-seeded Bulldogs, who were playing about a mile and a half from their campus.

"This whole weekend, she's just been talking about, 'Nneka, I don't know what it really feels like because the last two times I went I was in the stands,'" Nneka Oguwmike said. "I was just trying to help her just let her know how exciting it was. ... I think she has so much fight in her that she was just determined to take this team as far as they could."

The Ogwumikes were relentless from the start, when Nneka powered through the Gonzaga defense for a layup on the opening possession. When Chiney missed, Nneka was there to clean it up, and vice versa. The size and strength of Stanford were simply too much for the Bulldogs, and their more than 11,000 hometown fans, to overcome on this night.

"They're just a unique combination of strength, obviously skill, but the quickness with which they attack the ball on the boards is phenomenal," Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. "We're not there yet to be able to match up with these kinds of teams that just have that kind of strength and athleticism inside."

For Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen, Monday night's victory completes a perfect career in reaching the Final Four in every season of their time at Stanford, a run that began by winning the 2008 Spokane Regional final behind Candice Wiggins.

Stanford (33-2) won its 27th straight to match the longest streak in school history and will face the Baylor-Texas A&M winner in the national semifinals Sunday night.

"Their hunger is intense; they play every possession hard ,and we had to match that," Chiney Ogwumike said. "That hunger to win and get every possession was the difference."

Vandersloot did her best to carry Gonzaga (31-5) for a half before the Bulldogs wore down in the final 20 minutes under a bevy of missed shots and a befuddling Stanford zone defense. Vandersloot, who came in averaging 30.7 points and 10.3 assists in the tournament, finished with 25 points and nine assists, including 18 straight Gonzaga points during a 9-minute stretch of the first half.

But Stanford managed to harass Vandersloot in the second half and limited her to just four points. Her stellar college career ended when she checked out with 1:14 left to a standing ovation and a wave to the crowd after leading Gonzaga to upsets of Iowa, UCLA and Louisville to reach the first Elite Eight in school history.

"I was obviously very disappointed that we lost the game," Vandersloot said. "But I couldn't help but enjoy that 10 seconds it was to walk off and hear the fans cheering, and I know that deep in my heart they love us and are just as proud of us had we won that game."

Had Gonzaga won, it would have become the first team from west of the Rockies not named Stanford to reach the Final Four since Long Beach State in 1988.

Instead, it's Stanford going to the Final Four for the 10th time.

It helped that Pohlen broke out of her recent shooting slump by hitting five 3-pointers and finishing with 17 points. Lindy La Rocque, averaging less than four points on the season, scored 11, including a pair of key 3-pointers in the first half when the Ogwumikes were getting plenty of help from their teammates.

Then the sisters took it upon themselves at the start of the second half to make sure there wouldn't be one more Gonzaga upset. They scored 14 of Stanford's first 16 points to start the half, with Nnemkadi twice ripping away rebounds on Chiney's misses. They combined for 11 offensive rebounds and 26 rebounds total -- more than Gonzaga's total of 25. Stanford outrebounded Gonzaga by 24.

It helped that the Bulldogs couldn't solve Stanford's zone defense at the start of the second half, missing 11 of their first 12 shots to start the half and shooting just 24 percent the final 20 minutes as their Final Four hopes clanged away.

VanDerveer planned to play just a few possessions in the zone until Gonzaga started hitting from the outside. Stanford stayed in the defense the entire second half. It also limited Gonzaga to just four fast-break points.

"We knew what they were looking for and we dodged some bullets that they missed some shots that I think they probably ordinarily made," VanDerveer said. "But this is a very big stage and they've never been on it before, and it might change just a little bit of the release. I think we were fortunate."

Kayla Standish added 17 for Gonzaga, and Katelan Redmon scored 13. The Bulldogs had gone 29-1 since losing at home to Stanford back in November, their only loss in the city of Spokane in the past two seasons.

Until Stanford solved them again Monday night.

"Going to the Final Four every year, it's a dream for people. Some people don't even get that close," Pohlen said. "I'm just proud how we stepped up and how people made some huge plays in the second half."