Stanford makes it to final 4

March 31, 2008 9:49:09 PM PDT
Candice Wiggins checked off the one accomplishment missing in her career at Stanford -- getting the Cardinals back to the Final Four.

The three-time Pac-10 player of the year, Wiggins scored 41 points, and got some help from unlikely sources as the second-seeded Cardinal pulled away from No. 1-seed Maryland 98-87 on Monday night in the Spokane Regional final.

Playing with a swagger and confidence bred from Stanford being denied a No. 1 seed in the tournament, the Cardinal are back in the Final Four for the first time in 11 years. They will face either Connecticut or Rutgers in the national semifinals in Tampa.

With a young supporting cast, Stanford took its cue from Wiggins, its senior star who failed in two previous regional finals as a freshman and sophomore. She bounced all over the court, providing problems for the Terrapins, whether hitting step-back 3-pointers or rising between defenders in the lane.

After hitting for a career-best 44 against UTEP in the second-round, Wiggins was 10 of 22 shooting, including five 3-pointers, and made 16 of 19 free throws.

When teammates JJ Hones and Kayla Pedersen, both complements to Wiggins, hit big shots in the first half to give Stanford a comfortable advantage, Maryland could never climb back.

Hones scored a career-high 23 points -- then laid down on the giant NCAA logo at midcourt after the final buzzer. Pedersen added 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds as the duo made up for a night where Jayne Appel, Stanford's second leading scorer, was held in check and scored just 11.

Stanford won its 22nd straight, and will be the first Final Four team from West of the Rockies since the Cardinal's appearance in 1997. It will be Stanford's seventh Final Four trip, and the Cardinal matched a school record with their 34th win of the season, behind their third-highest scoring output of the season.

Meanwhile, the Terrapins (33-4) failed in their attempt to reach the Final Four two years after winning their only national title. Kristi Toliver led Maryland with a career-high 35 points, but was forced to be more of a scorer than distributor as ACC player of the year Crystal Langhorne was stymied by the swarming interior defense of Stanford.

Langhorne took just six shots and scored 13 points as Appel and Pedersen collapsed on Maryland's senior center every time she touched the ball. Langhorne scored 28 in Maryland's regional semifinal win over Vanderbilt.

It was Wiggins who ignited the Cardinal's decisive run early in the second half. Toliver's 3-pointer got the Terrapins within 56-51 with 14:50 left, the closest they had been since trailing 41-38 late in the first half.

Wiggins immediately answered with a catch-and-shoot 3 of her own, and after a Maryland miss, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, scoreless at the time, hit Stanford's 11th 3-pointer of the night.

Appel then blocked Laura Harper on defense, and put back Pedersen's miss for a 13-point Cardinal advantage. Pedersen then capped the spurt with a three-point play.

Maryland made one final charge. Toliver scored nine straight points to pull Maryland within single digits at 79-72 following a 3 with 6:19 to play. Wiggins answered with a 3 from the top of the arc moments later.

Toliver added a rainbow baseline jumper to stay within eight, but Maryland went 1 of 5 at the free-throw line over the next two minutes, missing its best chance to rally.