SAN ANTONIO – Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike was having one of the greatest performances ever at a women’s Final Four, yet her team was ahead by only three points with 16 seconds left.
So how in the world did she break free for an uncontested layup?
Slipping away from the Oklahoma defenders she’d befuddled all night, Ogwumike took a long inbounds pass near midcourt and strolled in for an easy basket that sent the Cardinal to a 73-66 victory Sunday night and into the national championship game.
“I didn’t think I would actually be open,” Ogwumike said. “I thought it was an awesome play to run. It was definitely spur of the moment. A great coaching decision. We executed it right and it worked.”
Ogwumike scored Stanford’s first eight points and the final seven – in the last 51.3 seconds – on the way to a career-high 38 points. It was the second-most in women’s Final Four history, behind the 47 scored by Texas Tech’s Sheryl Swoopes in the 1993 championship game.
Ogwumike also had 16 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal, which came right after that game-sealing layup, all to screams of delight from family and friends just three hours from her Houston-area home.
They get to watch her play again, too, on Tuesday night, when Stanford (36-1) will be in the NCAA final for the second time in three years, seeking its first championship since 1992.
Ogwumike had 14 points and nine rebounds by halftime, and seemed to be everywhere. When a Sooners player grabbed an offensive rebound, she stunned her the girl by reaching around and grabbing it, too, tying her up. Then she deflected a pass out of bounds off an OU player and celebrated with a fist pump, a high-five and a smile worthy of a swished 3-pointer. She later felt a double team and shoveled a pass to Jayne Appel for a layup that put the Cardinal up by 14.
When Oklahoma (27-11) started closing in midway through the second half, Ogwumike – the Pac-10 player of the year – scored eight points, during a 12-4 run. Soon after, she had a three-point play and earned a standing ovation from fans when she went to the bench.
And, of course, there was her fabulous finish: She scored nine of Stanford’s final 11 points and assisted on the other, which was another long pass for a breakaway layup by Appel.
“Her game has matured,” VanDerveer said. “She’s confident, in the flow, knows what we’re looking for.”
Oklahoma was knocked out in the Final Four for a second straight season, although just getting this far was quite a feat. OU came into the season trying to replace Courtney and Ashley Paris, then five games in lost Whitney Hand, the previous season’s conference freshman of the year, to a knee injury. Oklahoma also endured the nation’s toughest schedule.
Coach Sherri Coale’s Sooners kept up that attitude in this game. They were down 17 in the first half and trailed by 16 with 8:31, yet kept rallying.
The Sooners spent most of this game looking for someone to step up, and never really found it. They were especially hurt by missing 26 of their first 32 shots; they got back into the game by making 50 percent in the second half.
“It was too little too late,” Coale said.
Danielle Robinson led the Sooners with 23 points and six assists.
Abi Olajuwon – playing in front of her father, Hakeem Olajuwon, for the first time in her four-year college career – had 12 points and nine rebounds. Nyeshia Stevenson added 15 points.
What they lacked most was someone who could disrupt Ogwumike.
“She’s just very explosive and bouncy and does a great job of getting fouled, obviously, and then converting free throws,” Coale said.
This also was the second straight close call for the Cardinal, who needed a buzzer-beating layup to get past Xavier in the regional final.
“I think we’re a little jittery,” VanDerveer said.