Stanford still chasing third title


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The visual had to sting a little. Stanford's players and coaches were gathered in their team lounge, looking at the NCAA brackets being revealed three weeks ago, when ESPN posted a graphic showing the three teams with the most Final Four appearances in the past 20 years -- and the number of titles they've won.

Connecticut was first with 14 appearances and eight titles. Tennessee was next with 11 appearances and five titles. And then Stanford, with nine appearances and zero titles. A big "0" next to Stanford's name.

Chiney Ogwumike was talking to a teammate when the graphic appeared. She admitted she might have cringed a little.

"It was honest. It's a true fact, I guess," said the senior All-American, who was named to the WBCA All-America team Saturday for the third consecutive year. "We don't think about it, we don't think about the past. We build on the legacy of the past, but we just care about tomorrow and the next day and the next day. History is what it is."

The Cardinal, who will face Connecticut in the national semifinals as a decided underdog on Sunday (ESPN and WatchESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET), have history all right.

After a 12-year drought, Candice Wiggins led Stanford back to the Final Four in 2008. This weekend marks six appearances in seven years. No program in the country but Connecticut has appeared in the national semifinals more times in that span; the Huskies are here for a record seventh straight season.

But Stanford, despite having reached the championship game in 2008 and 2010, doesn't have a trophy to show for it, the gulf between titles for one of the nation's most storied programs now 22 years wide.

"It has been frustrating to come here and lose, because you don't work the whole season and improve the whole season to get to the Final Four and lose in the Final Four," said Stanford fifth-year senior Mikaela Ruef, who is at her fourth Final Four. "I mean, the Final Four is great to come to -- we don't just come here to get the sweet new gear and go through all the hoopla; the goal is to come here and win."

Stanford has had its opportunities to win.

In 2008, Stanford defeated Connecticut in the semifinals and advanced to face a loaded Tennessee team in the title game, where the Lady Vols soundly beat the Cardinal 64-48.

In 2010, the Cardinal were the loaded team -- with a roster that included four future WNBA players in Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen and Nneka Ogwumike -- and had Connecticut pinned to the mat with 20-12 halftime lead in the championship game in San Antonio. But Appel, who had been Stanford's stalwart presence inside, was playing on an injured ankle and what turned out to be a stress fracture in her foot. Her struggles were unprecedented; she shot 0-for-12 from the floor in the game. Huskies star Maya Moore busted out in the second half, and Connecticut went on to snatch the title out of Stanford's grasp.

"That one was devastating," Ruef said.

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