Candice Wiggins Might be the Pac-10's Best Ever

Feb. 6, 2008

By Dick Rockne

No votes were sought or polls taken because none were needed to support the belief that Stanford senior Candice Wiggins is the best player in the 21-year history of women's basketball in the Pac-10 Conference.

When the 5-foot-11 ½-inch guard became Stanford's all-time leading scorer by tallying 18 points in a Cardinal victory over USC, any arguments about her best-ever worthiness would seem to have been erased. Two days later she put up 31 in a win over UCLA.

The 49-point week and the 20 points she tallied in a victory Tuesday at Santa Clara, left Wiggins with a career total of 2,273 points, third highest ever by a Pac-10 player and only 76 behind second-place Tanja Kostic of Oregon State (1993-96) and 141 behind No. 1 Lisa Leslie of USC (1991-94). If Wiggins maintains her Pac-10 leading average of 18.1 she would pass Leslie before the regular-season ends.

'With Candice, the ball just goes in the basket,' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said after Wiggins bettered Kate Starbird's school record of 2,215 points.

VanDerveer added: 'She's not only a great scorer but a great player.'

And therein lies the elements distancing Wiggins from any of the other Pac-10 best candidates including USC's scoring/rebounding tandem of Leslie and Tina Thompson, Natalie Williams and Maylana Martin of UCLA, Adia Barnes of Arizona, Kostic and many of Wiggins' Stanford predecessors - Starbird, Val Whiting, Nicole Powell and Jennifer Azzi.

Wiggins can do more things better than just about anybody.

'She scores but she also creates for other people,' VanDerveer said. 'She works hard on the defensive end. She rebounds. She is a great team leader.'

Among active players in the Pac-10, Wiggins, in addition to being the leading scorer, is No. 1 in 3-point field goals with 249 (Jill Noe of Arizona State is a distant second at 130), assists with 386 (Ashley Whisonant of Arizona is second at 364) and steals with 245 (Emily Florence of Washington is second with 201). Among active rebounders Wiggins is third with 564 behind post-players Ashley Walker (708) of California and Lindsey Pluimer (687) of UCLA.

'I'm a big Candice Wiggins fan,' said Kathy Olivier, who is in her 15th season as UCLA's coach.

'I think Candice just finds a way for her team to be successful. She can do it all. She can figure out what the team needs at certain times. If the team needs a bucket, then she'll go after it defensively and get an easy bucket. If the team needs a 3-point shot then Tara will send her off a couple of screens and she'll hit a big three. If they need to go to the free-throw line then she'll do that.'

Wiggins also is Stanford's all-time leader in free throws and is fourth all-time on the Pac-10 list.

Wiggins' rise to prominence hardly has been meteoric. The daughter of the late San Diego Padres infielder, Alan Wiggins, has been an outstanding player since her arrival at Stanford as a graduate of La Jolla Country Day School, where she averaged 30.8 points and 11.5 rebounds as a senior.

She was named Pac-10 player of the year as a freshman in 2005 and as sophomore in 2006, when she was a Kodak All-American.

Despite such an auspicious beginning to her college career, Wiggins is a better player now than she was as a freshman, according to VanDerveer.

'Her experiences playing with USA Basketball helped her a lot,' VanDerveer said. 'I think she's a much more intelligent player. She really understands what is going on on the floor and communicates that with her teammates.'

Wiggins, selected last September to be a member of the USA Basketball's Senior Women's team, earned gold medals while playing with USA in the under-21 world championships and Pan American Games. She also helped USA under-18 and under-19 teams win international championships.

'It was all good for her,' VanDerveer said.

Good, too, for Stanford, and good for the Pac-10.

Bennett big help in WSU recruiting

Due in part to a positive spirit of cooperation involving men's team coach Tony Bennett, the women's team at Washington State might not be Pac-10 cellar-dwellers much longer.

'I'll be honest with you guys: Tony Bennett is a great recruiter,'' June Daugherty, in her first season as the Cougars' women's coach, said after WSU lost its 27th straight Pac-10 game Feb. 3 to arch-rival Washington. 'And he's a great teammate. He's awesome.'

With Bennett's help, Daugherty and her staff last November signed seven high-school seniors to letters of intent. Collectively, the group has been ranked as the 16th best 2008 recruiting class in the country, Daugherty said.

'When recruits came in - we had kids coming from Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, Spokane - Tony was really gracious with his time,'' Daugherty said. 'He met with every recruit we asked him to meet with and their parents. It was always interesting: they would go into Tony's office to talk and when they came out the moms had tears in their eyes and I knew it was a done deal.'

Daugherty also credited Dr. Elson Floyd, WSU's new president, for his recruiting help.

'Elson Floyd met with all our recruits and talked about his vision of our women's basketball program,'' Daugherty said.

The WSU signees are Californians April Cook of Long Beach, Danielle Lenoir of Los Angeles, Jessica Oestreicher of Redding, and Jazmine Perkiins of Berkeley; Washingtonians Katie Grad of Auburn and Lexie Pettersen of Spokane and Rosie Tarnowski of Philadelphia, Pa.

At 6 feet 8, Oestreicher is destined to be the tallest player ever in the Pac-10.

OT loss to Cal puts pressure on USC

Could it be a year when only three Pac-10 teams earn berths in the NCAA tournament? There seems little doubt that the league's top three of California, Stanford and Arizona State are NCAA bound, but finding a fourth or even a fifth team could be difficult.

As of Feb. 6, USC, tied with UCLA for fourth in the Pac-10, is the only other league member with a better-than .500 overall record.

Mark Trakh, coach of the Women of Troy, said if his team's 60-55 overtime loss at California had been reversed, USC would be in contention for an NCAA berth because it would have victories over top 10 teams Stanford and Cal. Also, Utah, which is No. 20 on the Associated Press poll, was beaten by USC.

'It would have looked real good had we beaten Cal,'' Trakh said.

'Right now we've got to go on a run to have any chance.'

NOTES: How competitive is the Pac-10? Two-game winning streaks by California, Washington and Arizona are third highest going into the games of Feb. 7. Stanford's seven straight and Arizona State's four in a row rank 1-2. ... The league's top three of Cal, Stanford and ASU are the only teams with winning road records. ... Washington guard Emily Florence, at 5 feet 5, leads the Pac-10 in rebounds per inch of height with her total of 139. ... Cal's Ashley Walker leads the league in double-doubles with 10. The junior is averaging 16.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and has made 49.8 percent of her shots.

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