March 29, 2005

(2) Stanford (32-2) vs. (1) Michigan St. (31-3)
Game Info: 7:00 pm EST Tue Mar 29, 2005
Kansas City Region - Municipal Auditorium (Kansas City, MO)

Stanford made sure there will be a new national champion this year, but the Cardinal still has a lot of work to do if they want to capture the title themselves.

Confronted with knocking off yet another national powerhouse, the Cardinal look to claim a spot in the Final Four when they meet top-seeded Michigan State in the Kansas City Regional final.

Despite having the nation's No. 1 ranking at season's end, Stanford was left with a No. 2 seed in the region, potentially forcing them to get through both the defending national champion and a No. 1 seed just to reach Indianapolis.

Stanford took care of the first part by eliminating three-time defending national champion Connecticut with a 76-59 victory Sunday night.

Now the Cardinal must get past the Spartans, who can continue their best season ever by giving their school two teams in the Final Four. The Michigan State men advanced with a wild 94-88 double-overtime victory over Kentucky on Sunday.

Both Stanford and Michigan State used strong second-half performances to get through their regional semifinal opponents.

Michigan State shot 62.1 percent in a 46-point second half against Vanderbilt, while Stanford made 57.7 percent of its shots while scoring 49 points in the final 20 minutes against UConn.

The Spartans earned a top seed that many thought would go to Stanford, but they weren't playing like a No. 1 when they fell behind the Commodores 37-30 at halftime. They quickly turned things around by scoring 18 of the first 21 points in the second half, using their balanced scoring and rebounding to pull away for a 76-64 victory.

Michigan State had four players in double figures in scoring and two in rebounding, beating the Commodores on the boards 37-22.

``I'm so proud of our team and their second-half effort,'' Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ``It really was incredible.''

Balance is one of the biggest strengths on a Michigan State team that is in a regional final for the first time. The Spartans have four players, all juniors and seniors, averaging double figures. Senior Kristin Haynie had the second triple-double in team history with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Vandy.

Stanford's strength comes from one of its youngest players. Freshman Candice Wiggins scored 21 points Sunday and keyed Stanford's rally from a six-point halftime deficit.

Though Wiggins is a second-team All-American and the Pac-10 player of the year, and her team has won 23 straight games, both had been occasionally overlooked nationally before Sunday's victory.

``This is exactly what we wanted,'' Wiggins said. ``We didn't want to say anything. We wanted to show the rest of the country what kind of team we are. We did that.''

Stanford hasn't lost since Dec. 29. Michigan State has been nearly as good, winning 15 in a row since its last loss on Jan. 23.

The Cardinal, who have won two national championships, are trying to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1997.

Michigan State can keep alive its quest to join UConn as the only school to have the men's and women's champion in the same year. The Huskies accomplished that feat last year.

Stanford has won both previous meetings with Michigan State, in 1979 and 1989.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Stanford - F Azella Perryman (5.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg), C Brooke Smith (13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg), G Kelley Suminski (11.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg), G Wiggins (17.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg), G Susan King Borchardt (8.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg). Michigan State - F Kelli Roehrig (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg), C Liz Shimek (14.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg), G Haynie (10.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), G Lindsay Bowen (13.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg), G Victoria Lucas-Perry (7.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Stanford - Automatic bid, Pac-10 tournament champion; beat No. 15 Santa Clara 94-57, first round; beat No. Utah 88-62, second round; beat No. 3 Connecticut 76-59, regional semifinals. Michigan State - Automatic bid, Big Ten tournament champion; beat No. 16 Alcorn State 73-41, first round; beat No. 8 Southern California 61-59, second round; beat No. 5 Vanderbilt 76-64, regional semifinals.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Stanford - 43-16, 19 years. Michigan State - 6-5, 6 years.

Stanford star no ordinary freshman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Stanford's Candice Wiggins is not your average college freshman. For most of the season, she wasn't even as old as one.

No matter: Just six weeks past her 18th birthday, Wiggins is a difference-maker, a composed and mature player the Cardinal are counting on to help restore the program's Final Four tradition.

They're one victory shy of making that happen.

Stanford (32-2), ranked No. 1 nationally but a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, plays top-seeded Michigan State (31-3) on Tuesday night in the final round of the Kansas City Regional. Wiggins should have a major impact -- whether it's scoring, defending, rebounding or passing. She does each with equal aplomb.

``I think Candice is a really special freshman, kind of (because) she isn't like one,'' guard Susan King Borchardt said. ``She's very intense, she's very composed. She's a big part of our team. She's fun to play with because she starts it on the defensive end.''

Wiggins joined a team that had five strong seniors and made them better just by being herself and playing her game. She became the first freshman voted player of the year in the Pac-10 and was chosen most outstanding player at the conference tournament.

And while coach Tara VanDerveer never had any doubts about Wiggins' physical skills, she wondered if she'd be mature enough to handle everything that would be thrown at her. Could she keep her composure when things got tight?

The answer has been a resounding yes, best illustrated by Sunday night's regional semifinal against Connecticut. Wiggins had every reason to get frustrated after a lousy first half -- basket, five turnovers, six points.

But she finished with 21 points while going without a turnover in the second half. Stanford won 76-59 for its 23rd straight victory, ending UConn's hopes of winning a fourth straight national championship.

``She doesn't get down on herself. She doesn't get discouraged or frustrated. She doesn't have excuses,'' VanDerveer said. ``I didn't know when we recruited her about the intangibles and that's what separates her from other players, her ability to focus and not get discouraged.''

VanDerveer also worried about something else with her young star. Wiggins is the daughter of former major league baseball player Alan Wiggins, who died of complications from AIDS at 32, about a month before Candice turned 4.

The Stanford coach knew that as Wiggins' fame grew, she would be asked about her father constantly. If it became too much, VanDerveer would do what she could to counsel her.

It wasn't necessary.

``She's very open about the situation that happened,'' VanDerveer said. ``I think that she in a lot of ways has had a great message for some young people. She'll see other kids with parents and she sends a message to young kids: appreciate your parents. I bet parents like hearing that.''

Wiggins said there's no reason not to talk about her father.

``I'm proud of him,'' she said. ``I'm not sad or ashamed to say anything about it.''

Stanford is trying for its seventh Final Four trip but first since 1997. For Michigan State, this is all new. In five previous NCAA appearances, the Spartans never made it past the second round.

Still, except for the star power that Wiggins brings, the two teams are similar.

Michigan State is strong inside with Kelli Roehrig and Liz Shimek. Stanford counters with Brooke Smith, Azella Perryman and T'Nae Thiel. The Spartans have Kristin Haynie, Lindsay Bowen and Victoria Lucas-Perry on the perimeter. Stanford features Borchardt, Wiggins and Kelley Suminski.

``We are a balanced team down low and outside,'' Bowen said. ``That helped us throughout the season. With us, you can't key on one player because a couple of other players will step up and hurt you.''

Michigan State faces the same challenge with its matchup zone. Surround Wiggins or Smith and someone else gets the ball for an open shot.

``It is just so important to play great team defense,'' said Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose team did just that in the second half of a 76-64 semifinal win over Vanderbilt.

McCallie knows stopping the Cardinal will be extremely difficult.

``You're not going to shut down the inside, you're not going to shut down the outside,'' she said. ``But if you simply can make them work very hard, that's a good step in the right direction.''

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