Appel ailingStanford All-America center Jayne Appel has been hobbled with a sprained right ankle over the last month. The injury has gotten worse over the last week, keeping her out of practice and forcing her to wear a walking boot during her recuperation. "I think it’s hard for any injury to fully heal when you’re playing on it,” Appel said. "I don’t practice on it, so I don’t really know how it feels until game time.” Appel was limited to eight points in 18 minutes in the Cardinal’s regional-final victory over Xavier. The injury has caused her production to diminish to 11 points and 4 rebounds per game during post-season play after posting regular-season averages of 14.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
Robinson named All-AmericanOU point guard Danielle Robinson was named to the 10-player coaches’ All-America team. For the second straight year, Connecticut’s Maya Moore was awarded the coaches’ Wade Trophy as the national player of the year. Others named to the team were Stanford’s Appel and Nnemkadi Ogwumike, UConn’s Tina Charles, Kentucky’s Victoria Dunlap, Nebraska’s Kelsey Griffin, Xavier’s Amber Harris, Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender and Virginia’s Monica Wright.
Final Four owes OlajuwonAbi Olajuwon’s dad made three Final Fours with the University of Houston. Hakeem Olajuwon lost to North Carolina in the 1982 semifinals, North Carolina State in the 1983 title game and Georgetown in the 1984 title game. But Hakeem Olajuwon has a great history in the Alamodome. His Houston Rockets won all three Alamodome games against the San Antonio Spurs in the 1995 Western Conference playoffs, en route to Houston’s second straight NBA title. "Hopefully he left some luck here for our side,” Abi Olajuwon said. "I think it is a great experience to play in San Antonio.”
Size vs. speedOU-Stanford is a classic matchup of size vs. speed. Stanford is big; it starts 6-foot-4 posts Appel and Kayla Pedersen, plus 6-2 forward Ogwumike. The Sooners counter with speedy guards Robinson and Nyeshia Stevenson. "They have really tall posts down there,” said OU’s Amanda Thompson. "So we definitely have to take away their cadence and disrupt what they do.”
Age before beautySherri Coale is the only Final Four coach without an NCAA title. But that’s OK, she joked, "I’m younger than the others. Just barely.” Coale is 45. Baylor’s Kim Mulkey is 47. UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Stanford Tara VanDerveer both are 56.
Hometown girlOU freshman Lindsey Cloman is from San Antonio and is back in her hometown for the Final Four. "There’s no words to describe it,” Cloman said. "You touch down in the airport, and there’s just a different feeling and spark that you have. It feels weird to stay in a hotel in San Antonio. "But there are no words to describe just being home, being in the Final Four and having all your family and friends you grew up in high school with. It is such a huge reunion.”
Recruiting Cali kidsStanford is the flagship women’s basketball program on the West Coast. But OU has recruited some excellent Californians away from Stanford: the Paris sisters, Robinson, Olajuwon. "I don’t know that there’s any real magic, except that a lot of Cali kids love the way people support basketball at the University of Oklahoma,” Coale said. "It’s a really big deal in Norman, Oklahoma, to be on the women’s basketball team. It’s a really big deal in Norman, Oklahoma, to go watch the women’s basketball team. I think for a lot of California kids, that’s very attractive.”
Different strokesOU was in the Final Four last season, but the Sooners say their mindset was different. "We were happy just being there,” Robinson said. "Yeah, we were a one seed, and this year, we’re an underdog, but it’s a totally different mindset. We’re going there to win. We’re not going there to just be part of the events, to dress up, to go to dinner, play one game and leave.”
Crossing pathsRobinson and fellow point guard Jeanette Pohlen keep crossing paths. They met in the 2007 California high school state finals, then were teammates last summer in the World University Games and now meet in the Final Four. "She’s a great person,” Robinson said. "We’ve actually become pretty close friends. I was excited when she hit that shot last week” to beat Xavier and put Stanford in the Final Four.
No Cardiac CardinalStanford is 35-1. Only three games have been decided by less than 15 points: an 80-68 loss to Connecticut, a 65-61 win at UCLA and a 55-53 win over Xavier in the regional title game. Meanwhile, the Sooners are 9-0 in games decided by five points or less, including five games decided by one point or in overtime. Coale said that gives OU an advantage, "just because our kids believe we’re going to win. That’s a reflection of the schedule we played all year.”
Remember the AlamoStanford beat OU 88-74 in the 2006 regional semifinals at San Antonio’s SBC Center. The only player remaining from either team is Stanford guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who had six points, six rebounds and four assists in that game. Now Gold-Onwude is Stanford’s defensive stopper. She’ll be asked to dog Robinson or Nyeshia Stevenson most of the game. "Ros, she’s going to have to play really well,” said VanDerveer. "I’m not sure where we’ll start her. She is kind of a lockdown defender.”
Bad omenBefore OU’s practice, OU’s Sooner mascot played Stanford’s Tree in a quick game of one-on-one. Sooner handled the ball very well but missed a few drives. The Tree’s costume kept him from dribbling, but he unmasked himself and freed his arms enough to launch a 3-pointer. It swished, and the Tree won 3-0. Beauty shop talk OU’s Thompson was asked to assess the hairstyles of the Final Four coaches. “I’ll have to go with my coach,” Thompson said. “I’m going with Sherri all the way. I like it straight. She’s always been known for the curly, but straight makes her look that much better.” What about UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey? “Geno’s always got the smooth, silk Italian hairstyle. Mulkey, the mullet, that’s just her style. That’s what she’s doing. It might be different on game day, it might not. That’s her style. Can’t judge it.” Kolache festival Coming back to Texas has sent Stanford’s Ogwumike in search of her favorite culinary item she can’t find back in California. Ogwumike developed a taste for kolaches, a Czech breakfast pastry sold throughout the Lone Star State, while growing up in Cypress, Texas. She says she can’t find anything like it in California. “Hopefully, I’ll buy everyone kolaches,” Ogwumike said. Red Ribbon week Twenty years ago this week, OU restored its women’s basketball program after an eight-day hiatus. And Stanford won the NCAA women’s basketball championship, with VanDerveer wearing a red ribbon in a show of solidarity against OU’s original decision. “If you go back and look at the shirt I was wearing, it had a ribbon on it,” VanDerveer said. “And thank goodness they didn’t (drop the program), because look at ... what a great program they have.” No neutrality OU senior associate athletic director Gloria Nevarez’s last day on the job is Friday. She begins her new position, Pac-10 associate commissioner, on April 19. So does she have mixed feelings about the OU-Stanford game? “None,” Nevarez said, indicating her Sooner allegiance. “I believe.”