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Stanford: Ogwumike sisters lead strong Cardinal team to Indy

Chris Masoud | Thursday, March 31, 2011

Connecticut and Tennessee may have combined to win 11 of the last 15 national championships, but Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer has built her own powerhouse on the West Coast. Under VanDerveer’s remarkable tenure, the Cardinal have won 19 consecutive PAC-10 titles and two NCAA championships.

After dismantling Gonzaga 83-60 in the regional finals on Monday night, Stanford will be making its fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four.

“Going to four Final Fours for Stanford, what this senior class has accomplished… is outstanding,” VanDerveer said in a press conference after Monday’s game. “It’s really special that we’re back at the Final Four, four years in a row. It’s incredibly exciting. I’m so happy for this team.”

The Cardinal reached the title game in 2008, but fell to a Tennessee team featuring the Naismith College Player of the Year in Candace Parker. A return to the championship game last season was foiled by Connecticut and 2010 Naismith winner Tina Charles.

While this season’s winner will not be named until the end of the season, VanDerveer’s squad features a Naismith finalist of its own. Junior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike leads the Cardinal with 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

And she has a sister.

Forward Chiney Ogwumike starts alongside her sister and is currently averaging 12 points and 8.1 rebounds in her freshman campaign. The duo has given Stanford one of top frontcourts in the nation.

“Obviously Chiney is my other half and so we’re like fire and ice,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said in the postgame press conference Monday.

While the sisters give Stanford a strong presence in the post, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen captains the backcourt. Shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc, Pohlen was named to the Associated Press All-America First Team Tuesday.

“They [Cardinal] have great players too,” McGraw said. “Tara’s a great coach. … She’s one of the icons in women’s basketball. She’s one of the elite coaches, and her teams have been very successful over the years.”

The respect is mutual. VanDerveer credited Notre Dame for taking down the No. 1-seed Tennessee in the regional finals Monday in Dayton, Ohio. The No. 1-seed Cardinal took down No.11-seed Gonzaga in a convincing win, but VanDerveer welcomes the challenge of facing new competition.

“Just congratulations to Notre Dame for beating Tennessee,” VanDerveer said. “I think Gonzaga shows that there’s more than just a couple teams that can play basketball. There are more than a couple players too.”

Stanford will face Texas A&M Sunday with a trip to its third national title game in four years on the line.