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Card begins title run without No. 1 seed for first time since 2009

On Saturday, the Stanford women’s basketball team (30-3, 17-1 Pac-12) will begin its quest for a sixth Final Four appearance in seven years as the Cardinal open the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The No. 2 seed Card will take on the No. 15 seed South Dakota Coyotes (19-13, 7-7 Summit League) in Ames, Iowa in the teams’ first meeting.

Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike (above) begins her last NCAA Tournament without a No. 1 seed for the first time in her career. (NORBERT VON DER GROEBEN/Isiphotos.com)

Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike (above) begins her last NCAA Tournament without a No. 1 seed for the first time in her career. (NORBERT VON DER GROEBEN/Isiphotos.com)

After winning the Summit League championship, the Coyotes were awarded with their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Junior guard Nicole Seekamp leads the Coyotes in scoring, averaging 15.3 points per game. She and forward Polly Harrington, the Summit League Tournament MVP, were named to the conference all-tournament team. The Coyotes are a tough team that can put points on the board quickly.

As usual, Stanford will be led by outstanding senior forward Chiney Ogwumike. A frontrunner for the Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year award, Ogwumike is the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 in scoring (26.8 points per game), rebounding (12.3 boards per game), field goal percentage (61.0 percent) and double-doubles (24). While stellar play will be necessary from Ogwumike if the team hopes to advance deep into the tournament, contributions and strong play from veteran role players like junior point guard Amber Orrange and fifth-year senior center Mikaela Ruef will be crucial in the effort as well.

This game will mark only the first time since 2009 that Stanford will enter the tournament without a No. 1 seed. After winning the regular season Pac-12 title, the Cardinal slipped up in the conference tournament against a USC team that they had beaten twice, losing their grip on a fifth consecutive No. 1 seed. However, if Stanford can beat the Coyotes and then win its second game — potentially against No. 7 seed Iowa State on its home court — it will return to Maples Pavilion for the Sweet Sixteen.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer plans to use the seeding as motivation for her team.

“The seeding doesn’t really matter to me honestly. We’ve got to play well,” she said earlier this week. “Let it be a chip on people’s shoulder. I think it can be good for all of us.”

Making her last NCAA tournament run, Ogwumike indicated that the seeding did not bother her either.

“As an athlete you want as much fuel to the fire [as possible],” Ogwumike said.

While the Cardinal hope they have enough fuel to propel them to another Final Four appearance, a pesky Coyotes team will be doing its best to spoil those hopes. The underdogs’ program is buzzing with excitement for its first tournament appearance, and with the game within driving distance of their campus, they expect to have a home-court advantage. The matchup will be televised on ESPN2 and tip off at 3:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday.

Contact Lauren Lockett at llockett ‘at’ stanford.edu.