Final Four Preview: Baylor-Stanford
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It doesnít matter how long you've been out of college, you never forget your alma mater. With the Womenís Final Four tipping off April 1, many WNBA players will have a clear rooting interest as the colleges they once so proudly represented battle it out for a National Championship. The usual suspects collide in Denver as all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four, and we tracked down prominent former players from the remaining schools -- Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford -- and talked to them about their schoolís outlook. We talked with Sophia Young from Baylor, Renee Montgomery from UConn, Ruth Riley from Notre Dame and Candice Wiggins from Stanford, all of whom reached the Final Four at some point in their illustrious college careers, and all of whom, besides Candice Wiggins, took home a title in college. Here is what you need to know about the Women's Final Four from the players that were once there.
Baylor vs. Stanford
Baylor and Stanford have played a combined 74 games this season. They've won 73 of them -- the only loss coming back on Nov. 21 when Stanford lost to Connecticut. That, in no uncertain terms, is the definition of dominance. That's also why this matchup is sure to be one of the best of the year. Brittney Griner and Baylor are two wins away from making history by completing the first-ever 40-0 season, but Nneka Ogwumike and Stanford, in its fifth straight Final Four, are capable of beating any team in the country on any given night. Griner and Ogwumike, the only two players selected as unanimous members of the Associated Press All-America First Team, will steal the headlines, but there will be talent all over the court when these powerhouses clash on Sunday. Find out what Stanford alum Candice Wiggins and Baylor alum Sophia Young think about this marquee matchup.
| Candice Wiggins |
Candice Wiggins made the State Farm Coaches' All-America Team all four years she played for Stanford. In her senior season, she led the Cardinal to the National Championship Game. She was also awarded the 2008 State Farm Wade Trophy winner for National Player of the Year. She currently plays for the Minnesota Lynx, last year's WNBA Champion.
| Sophia Young |
As a senior, Sophia Young was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a first-team AP All-American. As a junior in 2005, she led Baylor to its first-ever National Championship and was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player. She currently plays for the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Q: Why will your school win ?
A: Wiggins: Because theyíre going to be the best prepared team. Itís all about scouting reports at this point in the year. These teams have never met each other. Coach VanDerveer is going to have an excellent gameplan.
A: Young: Everybody is going to talk about Brittney Griner because she is such a big presence inside. But Brittney is not the only reason. Baylor has role players, like Destiny Williams, that have played well. Theyíre the players that knock down shots when Brittney isnít hitting her shots.
Q: What scares you the most about your schoolís opponent?
A: Wiggins: Of course itís Brittney Griner. Sheís incredible. I donít think I realized how much she affects the game until she went to the USA training camp and I played against her. Her presence alone changes how you play.
A: Young: They have the two sisters, Nneka and Chiney, both of them are very passionate players and love the game and go in to every game with lot of intensity. Nneka is a great leader for Stanford and Baylor is going to have to be careful to not let her get going too soon because once she gets it going itís hard to stop her. Baylor could knock down some outside shots too. That would be helpful.
Q: Who is under more pressure? Stanford having to face such a talented team in Baylor and looking for that elusive National Title, or Baylor trying to keep the undefeated streak alive?
A: Wiggins: I think theyíre two hungry teams, thatís why itís going to be a great game. All of the Final Four games are going to be great because of that. Nobody is going to feel pressure at all. Itís so exciting. Maybe itís because all the No. 1 teams made it and all feel like theyíre the best teams and they deserve it.
A: Young: I think maybe Baylor because theyíre the No. 1 team in country. And, youíre in a spot where you should win and have to win because if you donít then youíre going home. Theyíre two games away from an NCAA record so maybe Baylor has more pressure.
Q: What is the more impressive milestone to you? Going to five consecutive Final Fours like Stanford, or a 40-0 season if Baylor is able to accomplish that?
A: Wiggins: I remember having a poster of Chamique Holdsclaw when that team went 39-0. They were perfect. It was amazing, but Stanford going to the Final Four five times in a row, that is crazy. Itís been a long time since itís been like that for Stanford. It changes the way Stanford is looked at on the national scene. Itís an awesome thing for the school.
A: Young: I think the 40-0 season. I think some teams have the five (Final Fours) in a row. If you have the right players and right mindset and everyone buys into it then I think you can go far every year. But 40 games in a row, thatís something else. Thatís a tough challenge.
Q: How do you expect Stanford to gameplan around Brittney Griner Ė on the offensive and defensive end Ė and how large is her impact on the game?
A: Wiggins: Itís going to be fun to see. I have no idea what theyíre going to do. Whatever it is, itís going to be researched. Itís the most thought-out plan there could be. Every player on Stanford, when theyíre playing, is thinking of percentages. Theyíre going to know what theyíre doing. Theyíre not going to close out on a shooter with a bad shooting percentage. Itís very deliberate.
A: Young: They are probably trying to get Brittney in as many screens as possible on the outside to take her away from the basket and allow other players to do their thing. If that takes Nneka not scoring or whoever Brittney is guarding, then thatís what itís going to take. I think thatís going to be their mindset.
Q: In terms of competition for Griner, it doesnít get more formidable than Nneka Ogwumike. What do expect out of that matchup?
A: Wiggins: The thing about Nneka is she is the leader of this team. Sheís a senior and thatís when you have the authority to lead the team at Stanford. Youíre the captain. This is now Nnekaís turn and sheís going to carry on that tradition and do it the Stanford way.
A: Young: I think for both of them itís going to be a tough matchup. Brittney is hard to guard on the offensive end and so is Nneka. Itís hard getting a shot off over Brittney and Brittney is pretty much facing double and triple teams because thatís what has to happen. I think itís going to be a good matchup. I think it will be a growth experience for both of them going against each other.
Q: The outside shooting of Odyssey Sims is a big plus for Baylor as it gives them an inside-out combo. How important is Sims' impact on the game?
A: Wiggins: I think what she gives them the most is confidence as far I can tell. She knocks down threes. Any time you have a force like Brittney Griner inside and someone knocking down threes, it is so scary. Itís a two-headed monster you canít contain. Honestly itís how you stop her and Brittney thatís important.
A: Young: Well I feel like she has matured over past year. Sheís a sophomore now. She has taken on the role of being the other leader of the team. Sheís a smart player. She has a good coach coaching her and helping her be effective. Against Tennessee, she actually makes some really smart plays and knocked down like five or six threes. She is stepping up at the right time. Her teammates have a lot of confidence in her and know she can score.
Q: Neither team has played many close games this season. Who do you think has the edge if this becomes a close game?
A: Wiggins: (Stanford) is going to be completely confident and feel like they know they're going to win. No team is better prepared for any game than Stanford. They prepare like itís a final exam, cramming for a final exam, itís just like that.
A: Young: Well thatís what Iím waiting for. I could ask that question myself. I donít know. Iím kind of hoping the game against Stanford is close so we could see someone good against Baylor. I think Notre Dame and UConn had them close in the beginning of the year, but everything else has really just been blowouts. Iím hoping this one is a close one.
Q: Both of you played for the coaches that will be on the sidelines this weekend. What do you think Coach VanDerveer and Coach Mulkey will say to their teams before the game?
A: Wiggins: (VanDerveer) is going to have a speech prepared. Sheís going to talk and sheís going to tell them a life lesson. Youíll be sitting there, waiting, looking forward to her pregame talks. Itís going to inspire you. Like wow, that could be a book. She wonít try to be funny or anything, sheís just honest. Sheís going to say something to absolutely motivate them and have them focused.
A: Young: She is probably going to say ĎGang, weíve been here before, so act like ití. And sheís going to get all feisty and start yelling. She is going tell them they have nothing to lose, to just get focused, that nobody out there is better than them and that theyíre the best team in country and need to play like it.
Q: If your school advances, what do you think will be the most important factor to them winning the National Championship?
A: Wiggins: Weíll cross that bridge when we get there. We donít talk about that until we get there at Stanford. Thatís the number one rule.
A: Young: Iím guessing theyíre going to have to beat Connecticut. Thatís who I think theyíll be playing against. All they have to think about is that thereís only one more game in the season. Thatís what we used to say. Weíre playing in the last game possible for the season. They need to feel like they have nothing to lose. Theyíve done all they can to get to this point. You need to leave all you have out there. There are no more games tomorrow. I think thatís what Coach will say.