Jeanette Pohlen, Stanford have eyes set on the national title
Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen has seen it too many times in the past year.
With 4.4 seconds remaining she takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past three Xavier defenders and lays the ball up. The buzzer sounds as the ball drops through the net, barely giving Stanford a two-point win over Xavier and a trip to the Final Four.
"I kind of look away sometimes," Pohlen said of the replay.
Not because she thinks the outcome is going to change.
"No, I know it's going to go in," Pohlen said.
But because it's not relevant right now. "I might be more inclined to watch it once I graduate," she said. "We knew we didn't play our best in that game. That shot was exciting, but I want to move on. This is a different team, different dynamics."
That's typical of Pohlen. She's Stanford's senior point guard, trying to navigate her team through the Spokane Regional and into its fourth consecutive Final Four. The Cardinal play North Carolina on Saturday, when coaches Tara VanDerveer and Sylvia Hatchell -- both members of the 800-win club -- match wits.
Pohlen is not interested in any distractions, whether it's reliving her own 2010 glory or getting sentimental this week when she played for the final time at Maples Pavilion, where she never lost a game.
But the coast-to-coast buzzer beater over Xavier does have value. A value that can directly apply to this season.
"I think it gave me confidence," Pohlen said. "Knowing I could make a play like that. It definitely helped me mentally. It gave me the confidence to step up and take my game to the next level."
Pohlen used that moment at the Sacramento Regional as a catapult into her senior season. Knowing she could do it, she did take her game to another level, with a breakout season, averaging 14.8 points, 4.8 assists and shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range.
It was Pohlen's performance on Dec. 30 that was the difference when the Cardinal broke UConn's 90-game winning streak; she scored 31 points, hit five three-pointers, was 10-of-10 from the free throw line and added six assists and nine rebounds.
Now Pohlen is on watch lists for the Naismith Trophy and the Wade Trophy. And she was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
"I'm still in shock from that," Pohlen said. "There are so many great players that could have deserved that award."
Pohlen has become a great collegiate player because she's worked so hard. Though Pohlen, who is 6-feet, played an oversized point guard in high school, she didn't expect to play the point at Stanford. She was forced into the role when J.J. Hones went down with a severe knee injury, and back into it when Hones was injured again.
Early, she worked on being an outside shooter, because she thought that would be her role at Stanford. In her first years as a point guard, her job was primarily to get the ball inside to center Jayne Appel. This season, she's worked on penetrating because the versatile Stanford personnel have allowed more options offensively. Pohlen has attacked each aspect of her game.
"If we could bottle Jeanette's offseason work ethic, I would lie at the beach all summer," Tara VanDerveer said earlier this season.
VanDerveer has also said things like, "I wish I had 14 Jeanettes." And "Our coaches will be looking at a high school kid and say, "She's like Jeanette,' and I say, 'then sign her up.'"
Pohlen is a VanDerveer type of player -- one who just keeps working and working to get better.
"It's a great compliment," Pohlen said of VanDerveer's praise. "Really, I just want to do best for the team. It comes down to doing well to represent the program."
Unlike Stanford's previous player of the year candidates -- Appel, Candice Wiggins, Nnemkadi Ogwumike -- Pohlen isn't a transcendent star. She's a glue player, making the team better. She's a workhorse, known best for her hawklike focus on the court.
"I'm so not like that off the court," she said. "People tell me I should smile. But I don't know what to smile about."
Off the court, the Stanford team has plenty of laughs. They recently made a
"A lot of people think Stanford, we're a bunch of deadbeats," VanDerveer said. "But this group is the opposite. Extremely outgoing and fun. They have a lot of energy. "
Even VanDerveer can be known to lighten up (
But this team has a businesslike approach. The last time it played in a regional in Spokane, in 2007, the Cardinal earned their first trip to the Final Four in a decade. Stanford has been back every year since, twice to the final game, but has yet to win it all.
Pohlen and her teammates hope to change that. And, thanks to last year's highlight reel play, Pohlen knows she can make a difference.