Cal loses heartbreaker; Stanford wins big

March 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
George Washington's frantic comeback finish proved to be only a warmup for one of the greatest performances in NCAA tournament history.

Candice Wiggins did what she's done so often in her brilliant career at Stanford, stealing the show in her final performance at Maples Arena.

Wiggins scored 44 points in the third highest-scoring game in NCAA women's tournament history, putting the hurt from last year's homecourt loss behind with an 88-54 victory Monday over seventh-seeded UTEP that sent Stanford into the third round.

"Last year stung so much," Wiggins said. "I didn't want to go out in Maples like that. I didn't want to go out and disappoint and make the season less than what it was."

Wiggins began the night by delivering a loud pregame message to her teammates that there would be no repeat of last year's shocking second-round loss to Florida State on this same court. If the second-seeded Cardinal (32-3) needed a reminder of how quickly a tournament run can end, their rivals from California provided that.

The Golden Bears committed a costly turnover in the final seconds that set up Sarah-Jo Lawrence's buzzer-beater that gave the sixth-seeded Colonials a 55-53 victory over No. 3 Cal.

"This tournament is funny because one loss and your season is over," Wiggins said. "There's no turning back, looking back or getting that possession back. That really was inspiration for us. We learned it the hard way last year. Unfortunately Cal had to learn it the hard way this year."

Wiggins made sure the Cardinal's game would not be decided by a single possession, scoring almost every way she could -- on drives, pullup jumpers, 3-pointers and from the foul line. She shot 15-for-27 with six 3-pointers, had 10 rebounds and eight assists, tying Kate Starbird's school record for points in a game.

It was the third most points scored in women's tournament history and the most since Sheryl Swoopes had 47 in the 1993 championship game for Texas Tech. Lorri Bauman of Drake has the all-time record of 50, set in 1982 against Maryland at Maples.

"You don't really go into a game thinking you're going to score a bunch of points," Wiggins said. "I think the greatest feeling is the way I felt with my teammates. I'll remember that, just the excitement of Maples. It's been four tremendous years. This is my lasting imprint of my career."

Next for Stanford is a third-round game against sixth-seeded Pittsburgh in the Spokane Regional. The Panthers beat No. 3 seed Baylor 67-59.

The Cardinal have 20 straight victories and need just four more for Wiggins to go out with the national title she has coveted since arriving on The Farm. Stanford hasn't won it all since 1992 and is trying to advance to the Final Four for the first time since '97.

They are on quite a roll right now, getting 33 points from Jayne Appel in an 85-47 first-round win over Cleveland State. Appel had 20 points on 9-of-9 shooting against the Miners.

"They're not going to stop now," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Nothing succeeds like success. Candice is just going to play better, Jayne will play better, everyone will really step up. I expect us to play better when we play Pitt."

That's a scary thought for opponents if Wiggins can do better than she did this night. But after the game, she said she was still bothered by a couple missed layups and free throws, and her four turnovers.

The UTEP players were simply impressed.

"We tried everything," Natasha Lacy said. "We tried to be physical with her but that didn't work because she gets to the free-throw line. We tried playing off her, but she hits the 3s. She goes backdoor. She just had an outstanding game, she was unconscious."

The lone bright spot for the Miners (28-4) was that Izabela Piekarska became the school's all-time scoring leader with 1,251 after getting 17 points and eight rebounds. The drama came in the opening game. After Lawrence tied the game with a layup with 12.1 seconds to go, Cal worked the ball over midcourt.

Natasha Vital dribbled toward the Cal bench and tried to call a timeout with less than 6 seconds remaining. The only problem was the official ruled she took an extra step before making the timeout signal, a call the Golden Bears (27-7) dispute.

"I thought I called timeout," Vital said, fighting tears while being consoled by assistant coach Charmin Smith. "I feel like we should have won the game. We didn't. During the game, we could have done a lot more. Too bad we were on the losing side."

Kimberly Beck then pushed the ball up court and shot an airball from the baseline. But there was still time left for Lawrence to grab the rebound on the other side and convert the game-winner for George Washington (27-6).

"It's going to go down as one of the great games in GW history," coach Joe McKeown said. "We were behind the whole game, we just kept battling. I told the players at halftime that this is a player's tournament ... and they just made plays. Kim made a great pass to Sarah Jo for that alley-oop. That's something we practice every day."

George Washington advanced to play Rutgers in the Greensboro Regional semifinal. The two teams met earlier in the season, and the Scarlet Knights blew out the Colonials.

Cal had been hoping to make it to that round for the first time ever after setting school records for wins, best finish in the Pac-10 and first top 10 ranking. But that breakthrough season came to a bitter end.

"This game doesn't define our season," coach Joanne Boyle said. "I'm disappointed for them. They deserved the opportunity to move forward and that didn't happen tonight."


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