Stanford's youth is served a women's championship


LOS ANGELES -- Bobbie Kelsey and Nicki Sevillian, two reserves on the Stanford women's basketball team, took it upon themselves to pull off the final play of the season yesterday.

While the rest of the Cardinal team was celebrating its second NCAA championship in three years, they zeroed in on the water cooler. And they let coach Tara VanDerveer have it with a winner's shower.

But VanDerveer didn't need an ice-cold dousing to open her eyes about this team, which roared through the NCAA tournament with five victories and culminated a 30-3 season with a 78-62 victory over Western Kentucky in the title game.

This Stanford team was much younger and less seasoned than the senior-dominated team that beat Auburn for the 1990 championship in Knoxville, Tenn. This team had five freshmen and only one senior.

But this club's younger players matched the standard set by the veterans -- such as junior forward Val Whiting, whose 28 points carried the Cardinal in Saturday's 66-65 semifinal win against No. 1 Virginia; and junior guard Molly Goodenbour, the Final Four's MVP with an NCAA-record 18 three-pointers in five tournament games.

"People weren't afraid to set high goals and dream big dreams," said VanDerveer, who still was dripping 10 minutes after the dousing. "I'm really proud of how hard we worked and their unselfishness. This was a team in the truest sense of the word."

Initially, VanDerveer and her staff wondered whether the Cardinal had the talent or desire to win the Pacific 10 Conference title, let alone the national championship.

It wound up running away with its fourth straight conference crown, despite all three losses coming against Pac-10 opponents. The Cardinal won all seven of its games in March. By April, it was playing its best basketball of the season, with all five starters averaging double figures in scoring and all 12 players making significant contributions.

"If you asked me the first day whether we could [win the national championship], I would say it would be extremely improbable," assistant coach Amy Tucker said. "I had a different mind-set in March. Our kids realized we had to focus or this wouldn't be possible."

The phrase "rebuilding year" wasn't in their vocabulary.

"I've never heard of that rebuilding thing. That must be between the coaches and the press," Whiting said. "We wanted to work hard. I didn't like losing last year to Tennessee [in the semifinals]. I didn't want to lose again."

So Stanford, after seemingly exerting every ounce of energy in its come-from-behind victory over Virginia, found enough in reserve less than 24 hours later to put away Western Kentucky early.

The Cardinal used its quickness inside and superior conditioning to neutralize the Lady Toppers' size. Forward Rachel Hemmer, a 6-3 freshman who was 1-for-5 from the field before fouling out against Virginia, rebounded -- literally -- against Western Kentucky.

She had a career-high 15 rebounds to go with 18 points and helped give Stanford a 51-42 advantage on the boards.

With Hemmer and forward Chris MacMurdo (11 rebounds) controlling the boards early, Stanford ran off eight straight points and led 26-17 with 8:06 left in the half.

By halftime, Stanford led 37-27. With 10 minutes to play, the Cardinal was up by 20 and could sense the Lady Toppers' frustration.

"They started fighting among themselves," forward Kelly Dougherty said. "They were saying, 'Box out! You're supposed to be over there!' They were bickering back and forth. That's when I knew we had them."

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