By Ann Killion
April 03, 2010

SAN ANTONIO -- There was no parade for Jeanette Pohlen when she arrived back at the dark Stanford campus late Monday night.

"There should have been," said her teammate Jayne Appel.

Because without Pohlen's breathtaking coast-to-coast sprint for a game-winning basket, Stanford might not be in its third consecutive Final Four.

"We've been given a second basketball life," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We saw our season pass before our eyes."

This weekend, the second-best team in the country is still alive, at the Alamodome getting ready to take on Oklahoma, in what is being called "the other" semifinal game.

"If we're the JV game, so be it," VanDerveer said, with a touch of sarcasm. "We're going to come out and play the best JV game possible."

Who took the Cardinal to San Antonio? Not Appel, the best-known player on her team. Not Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and -- along with Appel -- was named to the State Farm All-America team on Saturday.

It was shy Pohlen, who usually blends into the background. But don't call her the least likely candidate to be Stanford's breakout star.

"She's a likely candidate," VanDerveer said.

To back up her point, VanDerveer cites Pohlen's toughness, aggressive play and speed. And all of those qualities were on display in the biggest play of Pohlen's basketball life.

"She showed off her work ethic and technique and running skills," said Appel who, after cutting down the net at Arco Arena, made sure to drape it around Pohlen's neck.

Stanford's strength is its dominating post play. But someone has to get the ball into the big players. And that someone is -- by default -- Pohlen.

Though her natural position is shooting guard, Pohlen has played every position, save center, in her three years at Stanford. But when J.J. Hones went down last year with a knee injury, Pohlen ended up running the point. When Hones struggled to return this season, Pohlen took over the position again.

It's been a process.

"She can be the best player for both teams," VanDerveer said wryly, adding, "I love the girl. She has amnesia if she makes a mistake."

VanDerveer also loves her aggression, which she likens to a hockey player. Pohlen said some of her inspiration comes from her mother, Cindy who battled breast cancer when Pohlen was in high school. Even when she was feeling awful, Cindy tried to never miss a game.

"She's the strongest woman I know," Pohlen said.

Pohlen has worked hard to make herself into a point guard.

"First and foremost, I'm really trying to work on my decision-making," she said. "I'm really thinking about the game more."

What makes Jay-Po (as her teammates call her) unique -- and what endears her to taskmaster VanDerveer -- is her work ethic. Given the duties at point guard, she has immersed herself in watching game film with assistant coach Kate Paye, who played the position for Stanford in the early '90s.

It's the same determined approach that Pohlen took after her freshman year. She had been a star at Brea-Olinda High School in Orange County, California. But, after playing a season alongside CandiceWiggins and making it to the national title game, Pohlen had her eyes opened.

"She came home and said she really, really wanted to get better," said Cindy Pohlen. "She told us, 'I need some help.' "

Her father John, who has been an assistant basketball coach, helped her set up a schedule. And they hired the track coach at Brea-Olinda to work with her on developing quickness.

"She knew she needed the work," Cindy said. "When we went on vacation that summer, she made sure we found a gym every day."

The work paid off. Pohlen came back to Stanford faster and leaner. And when Hones went down, she was ready to step in.

She's going to need her speed Sunday. The best pure point guard in the Final Four is Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson.

"She's very quick," Pohlen said. "She's a great defender. She causes problems."

Pohlen knows first-hand. She and Robinson played against each other in the California state Division II championship in 2007. Robinson's team, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, beat Pohlen's Brea Olinda team. The two players were on the same team last summer, winning a gold medal for the USA Basketball World University team.

Oklahoma's backcourt speed presents a problem to a post-oriented team. Robinson "goes end-to-end as fast as anyone," VanDerveer said.

Thankfully for Stanford, Pohlen proved she can go end-to-end pretty quickly too. That's why they're here.

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