The thought of going to the basket against Baylor’s 6-foot-8 phenom Brittney Griner is enough to make most women’s basketball players cringe. But for the Ogwumike sisters, the idea ignites a competitive fire.
Stanford’s Final Four battle against Baylor (38-0) at 6 p.m. in Denver on Sunday offers one of the most intriguing matchups the sport has ever seen. The Cardinal (35-1) are making a record fifth straight Final Four appearance against the Lady Bears, who are looking to become the first team in NCAA history — men or women — to win 40 games in a single season.
In addition, Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike, who are often called the most prolific duo to ever play the women’s game, will be taking on a player in Griner whose impact on the sport has been compared to Lew Alcindor’s dominance in men’s basketball at UCLA in the late 1960s.
“It’s not every day that you play against someone like her — I’m excited,” said Nneka Ogwumike.
The Cardinal started prepping for the possibility of a Final Four showdown against Griner in the middle of February 2011, when coach Tara VanDerveer brought 6-foot-8 Andrew Klein, who plays saxophone in the Stanford band, in to practice to play the role of Baylor’s towering center.
But the matchup didn’t materialize last year. Baylor was upset by Texas A&M in the regional final and the Bears have wreaked havoc on college women’s basketball ever since, winning 38 straight games by an average of 26.9 points this season.
Chiney Ogwumike said the team’s mindset is to play loose and embrace the challenge of facing a formidable opponent.
“No pressure,” she said. “You get to go out there and just play a game. No one’s judging you — that’s when it’s easier to strike.”
Griner isn’t the only weapon the Cardinal defense will have to contend with. Point guard Odyssey Sims (14.8 points per game) likes to slash, score and kick the ball out to open shooters, so Stanford freshman Amber Orrange and sophomore Toni Kokenis will need to play airtight defense on the perimeter.
“We’ll definitely need to pressure her,” Kokenis said. “So she’s not slicing to the basket or getting wide-open shots to get their team going.”
If Stanford pulls off the upset, it will play the winner of the other Final Four matchup between Connecticut (33-4) and Notre Dame (34-3) in the national championship game Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Stanford vs. Baylor
WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Pepsi Center, Denver
RADIO: KZSU (90.1 FM)
OTHER SEMIFINAL: Notre Dame vs. Connecticut