Chiney Ogwumike pulled her fellow starters aside and offered one last challenge: Stanford’s biggest star wanted to be an “afterthought.”
That was hardly the case in her team’s latest lopsided NCAA Tournament win, though Ogwumike’s supporting cast sure did its part to move the Cardinal one step closer to the Final Four. Ogwumike had 29 points and 15 rebounds, Mikaela Ruef produced a career performance on both ends, and second-seeded Stanford beat Penn State 82-57 on Sunday to reach the NCAA Tournament regional final on its home floor.
“Mikaela’s our rock out there,” Ogwumike said. “She does a lot of the grunt work.”
The Cardinal (32-3) built a big first-half lead and rolled against the third-seeded Lady Lions to move into Tuesday night’s regional final against either No. 4 seed North Carolina or top-seeded South Carolina.
Ruef recovered from getting poked in the eye early to contribute 11 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. She was cheered at every chance by the raucous home crowd at Maples Pavilion. Amber Orrange added 18 points in Stanford’s ninth straight NCAA Tournament home win.
Ariel Edwards scored 22 points for the Lady Lions (24-8), while leading scorer Maggie Lucas was held scoreless in the second half and finished with six.
“Maggie Lucas hasn’t had six points since third grade,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She can flat out score.”
It hardly mattered that Hall of Famer VanDerveer spent a day each of the past two summers at her New York home providing tips to Penn State coach Coquese Washington.
Stanford neutralized Penn State’s physical style, with Ogwumike far outmatching the Lady Lions’ athleticism in the paint.
The Cardinal figured they more than earned their home-court comforts, having traveled all the way to Iowa as a surprised No. 2 seed for a pair of 19-point NCAA victories and then home to the Bay Area — rather than getting to play in West locales of Los Angeles or Seattle.
Ogwumike is determined to carry this team back to Final Four in her last hurrah after their streak ended last March at five consecutive Final Four berths.
Stanford lost 61-59 to Georgia in the regional semifinals last year in Spokane, Wash.
After her uncontested layin with 6:37 to play, roaring fans jumped to their feet during the ensuing timeout — some even holding posters of Ogwumike’s face. She gave everyone a scare going down hard with 2:22 remaining while going for a rebound on the defensive end, but got up to make both free throws then took a seat for good.
Stanford is unbeaten at home this season and also in the NCAA Tournament at Maples since a second-round shocker by Florida State in 2007. The Cardinal have won 29 of 33 tournament games on campus overall.
Speedy Stanford freshman Lili Thompson pressured Big Ten Player of the Year Lucas, who shot 3 for 14 and missed all five of her 3-point tries in her final collegiate game. She went 0 for 6 from the floor in the second half.
“This was really hard,” Lucas said. “Certainly we didn’t want to go out the way we did today.”
Thompson, who had 11 points, said she “just wanted to shut her down and force other people to score, and that’s how I could contribute to the win.”
Fifth-year senior Ruef, who shot 5 of 7, sat down to a standing ovation with 2:36 left.
At the perfect time, the Cardinal put together one of their best games all season.
“For us, probably coming back to the Pac-12 tournament where we stunk it up and we got sent home, that got everybody’s attention,” VanDerveer said.
Defending the perimeter was a top priority for Stanford, and the Lady Lions shot 4 for 12 from 3-point range. Penn State committed 15 turnovers, including seven in the first half to Stanford’s one miscue and 10 assists.
Bonnie Samuelson hit a pair of 3-pointers to help the Cardinal to a 44-30 halftime lead while shooting 47.4 percent.
In one impressive first-half sequence, Ruef grabbed the rebound on the defensive end, dribbled out of trouble and passed. She then got in position for an offensive rebound and putback that gave the Cardinal their first double-digit lead. Penn State called timeout, down 33-23 with 4:53 left in the first half.
Frustrated Penn State fans chanted “Neutral site! Neutral site!” in the game’s closing minutes.
“I’m not in favor of it,” Washington said of playing on Stanford’s home floor. “It’s an extremely difficult task to ask. I’m glad the NCAA has gone back to neutral courts going forward for the regional.”
Ogwumike’s big sister, Nneka, Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen were among the former Stanford stars in the stands.