Jayne Appel could only watch. As time wound down on Stanford’s Elite Eight game — maybe on the Cardinal center’s college career, too — Appel was on the bench. She had fouled out after scoring only eight points and playing just 18 minutes against Xavier. She had become a spectator, a cheerleader, a helpless senior. "It felt horrible,” Appel said. Stanford survived without her, thanks to a pair of blown layups by Xavier forward Dee Dee Jernigan and a buzzer-beating dash to the basket by Cardinal guard Jeanette Pohlen. But for the Cardinal to stay alive much longer — a national semifinal game against Oklahoma awaits Sunday at the Final Four — it needs Appel on the floor. "She is the key to our success,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said earlier in the NCAA Tournament. "Jayne makes other players look better, and that is a mark of a great player.” For the past three seasons, Appel has been at the center of this Stanford team, literally as its starting post player and figuratively as its leader. With her, Stanford is a team that can compete with the Connecticut juggernaut. Without her, the Cardinal seems vulnerable. And there have been several occasions this season where Stanford has been without the 6-foot-4 Appel. She has been injured and sick, sidelined and hurt. In June, there was surgery to repair a meniscus ligament in her left knee. In November, a nasty bout with the stomach flu. In December, a minor foot infection that hobbled her. And in March, there was a sprained right ankle that continues to bother her. Stanford played without Appel in its regular-season finale against Cal and only had her for limited minutes during the Pac-10 Tournament. While the Cardinal won all of those games, it recognized her importance. "With her ankle injury, we have come to appreciate her more,” VanDerveer said. "She ... hasn’t only performed on the offensive end, but she has also defended and rebounded well.” One thing Appel hasn’t done? Win a national championship. Even though Stanford is a combined 132-15 during Appel’s career, a title has eluded the Cardinal. This is her last chance to change that, and she intends to make the most of it. "It would be expected for things to be nerve-wracking,” Appel said of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the last time, "but I think I am more excited to see how our team will play.”
FINAL FOUR NO. 3 OKLAHOMA VS. NO. 1 STANFORD→When: 6 p.m. Sunday →Where: Alamodome, San Antonio →TV: ESPN (Cox 29) →Radio: KOKC-AM 1520 →Tickets: All-session tickets are $175 for lower level, $100 for upper-level sideline and $75 for upper-level end zone, available at www.TicketMaster.com or (877) 622-2849.