By Nate Adams
On a night when the Cardinal needed it most, Stanford’s sister show came through in a big way.
Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike scored 12 of their team’s final 15 points, boosting the top-seeded Cardinal (32-2) to a 72-65 win over a North Carolina squad (28-9) that managed to keep pace with the Pac-10 Champions, even in the final minutes.
Junior forward Nnemkadi scored consecutive baskets with 4:35 remaining to pull Stanford out of a 59-59 tie, and she put down another critical basket with 3:08 on the clock. Chiney, her freshman sister and fellow forward, put up a huge two-pointer with 1:59 remaining after the Tar Heels worked their way into another deadlock at 65-65.
Chiney Ogwumike all but sealed the deal with just 39.7 seconds left, putting back a missed shot from her sister to pad the Cardinal’s lead to 69-65.
“I was really sorry that I couldn’t make that shot,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said, “but when I turned around and saw [Chiney] got the rebound, I wasn’t surprised at all. But that’s just kind of a characteristic of her–she’s very aggressive and relentless, and she does a really good job of firing the team up.”
“We just try our hardest to perform as well as we can,” she continued. “When you see something like that, it’s just kind of exciting to know that you tried your best to take care of the ball and contribute as much as you could on the court.”
Nnemkadi led the team with 19 points and Chiney, recently named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, put up 16 of her own.
The victory was Stanford’s first away from Maples Pavilion in the tournament and puts the team just one win away from its fourth consecutive appearance in the Final Four. Stanford will round out the Spokane Regional on Monday night against 11th-seeded Gonzaga, which defeated No. 7 seed Louisville, 76-69, to reach its first-ever Elite Eight.
Following her lackluster performance against UNC, some questions linger around one of the Cardinal’s top players heading into that game. Senior forward Jeanette Pohlen, despite making a critical trio of free throws in the final moments, missed eight of her nine field goal attempts against the Tar Heels and finished with just six points.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said she isn’t particularly worried about the veteran’s unusually sloppy performance.
“Honestly, a lot of times I’m not really concerned about her confidence; I have a hundred percent confidence in her,” she said. “We are going with Jeanette. She is the person we brought to the dance, and that’s who we’re dancing with. She is a great player; she has had a fabulous year, and the thing I said to Jeanette was, ‘I’m glad that wasn’t your last game.’”
VanDerveer’s feelings about the UNC game as a whole were more mixed.
“What we did very well [was] not give them easy shots,” she said. “We got back on defense. We did not rebound as well as we needed to, nor did we shoot as well as we needed to, but to have seven turnovers against them, we took care of the ball, which was a great thing.”
The Tar Heels outboarded Stanford, 50-47, but the Cardinal committed only seven turnovers to UNC’s 13.
The win extends Stanford’s winning streak to 26 games, the second-longest stretch in program history. With a win against Gonzaga tomorrow night, the Cardinal would tie the mark for the school record. Stanford faces Gonzaga in Spokane at 6 p.m.