Statement-making win for Cardinal

Saturday December 19th, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. -- There is a big gap between the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked women's basketball teams in the nation.

And next week we'll get a chance to measure the gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams.

"It's going to be great," Pat Summitt said of Wednesday's matchup between No. 2 Stanford and top-ranked UConn in Hartford, Conn. "I'm going to pop some popcorn and watch it."

She'll enjoy that more than she enjoyed watching her own team take on Stanford Saturday. The Cardinal bucked the trend of their 21-year series against Tennessee, by beating the Lady Vols 67-52 and leaving no doubt who was the better team.

"Stanford was by far the best team on the floor today," Summitt said. "They looked like a Final Four team.

"This was a butt kicking. Don't forget it. I won't."

Stanford (9-0) jumped out to a 30-18 halftime lead on their home court and led by as much as 18. Paced by their strong post trio of Jayne Appel (14 rebounds, 10 points), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (11 rebounds, 14 points) and Kayla Pederson (eight rebounds, 16 points), Stanford outrebounded Tennessee and forced the Lady Vols into bad shots. Stanford's guards -- Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, Jeanette Pohlen and JJ Hones, coming off the bench -- contributed clutch shots and combined to contain Tennessee's junior guard Angie Bjorkland (15 points).

"This is a big W," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "This let's you know where you're at. They're the barometer."

In the past, Stanford has rarely measured up to the Lady Vols. The teams' home-and-away series dates back to 1988 and the teams have met three times in the NCAA Tournament, most recently in the championship game in 2008. Before Saturday, Stanford was 5-21 against Tennessee, with just one victory -- an overtime win at Maples Pavilion -- in the past 14 meetings.

"It was a big win," Appel said. "But in terms of how hard our team is practicing and focusing, I wasn't even that nervous this morning. Not the way I have been before other Tennessee games."

Stanford is in the midst of a grueling stretch, playing Duke, Tennessee and UConn in a row. VanDerveer loves to schedule a tough preseason before Pac-10 conference play, believing it helps her team become tournament ready.

"This tough schedule has really helped our confidence," she said.

Being talented doesn't hurt either. Summitt thinks this may be VanDerveer's best team.

"It's the passion with which they play," Summitt said. "Their post game is so good right now, how they play inside-outside. To me, this probably is her best team."

Summitt was most upset about her own team's inability to play together. Tennessee had only four assists, which Summitt guessed was an all-time low for the program.

"The ball was stuck in players' hands," Summitt said. "We played by ourselves."

Summitt's team was undefeated coming into the game and seemed to have corrected the issues that caused the Lady Vols to be bounced in the first round of the tournament by Ball State. After that loss, Summitt famously made her players practice, even though their season was over.

So you can assume there will be some tough practices in California before Tennessee's next game against University of San Francisco. The unranked Lady Dons will be the sympathetic target of Summitt's frustration over how her players performed on Saturday.

"They exposed their game to all of women's basketball," Summitt said of her team. "And it wasn't pretty."

"Stanford gave us a blueprint. They showed us how much we have to invest."

Stanford gave Tennessee a blueprint. Tennessee always gives Stanford a barometer. Now the Cardinal will measure up against the best in game. UConn is on a 47-game winning streak. The Huskies last loss was to Stanford in the 2008 Final Four.

It should be a battle. As Summitt says -- borrowing a line from another famous sports personality -- getcha popcorn ready.

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