No. 2/2 Stanford Topples No. 9/10 Ohio State in Berkeley Regional

March 28, 2009

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BERKELEY, Calif. - When two of the nation's best post players collided, Jayne Appel came up a whole lot bigger -- and Stanford's center is the largest reason her Cardinal are one victory away from a second straight trip to the Final Four.

Appel had 25 points and 11 rebounds while dominating her low-post matchup with Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, leading Stanford on a remarkable late run to finish its 84-66 victory Saturday night in the Berkeley Regional semifinals.

Jillian Harmon had 16 points, six assists and countless hustle plays for the Cardinal (32-4), while Nnemkadi Ogwumike added 15 points in their 19th consecutive victory.

Stanford broke open a fairly tight game in the final four minutes with a 14-2 run that included three low-post baskets by Appel, the Pac-10 Player of the year. Lavender, the Big Ten Player of the Year, had 15 points and seven rebounds while battling foul trouble for the Buckeyes (29-6), who fell just shy of Ohio State's first regional final since 1987.

Samantha Prahalis scored 19 points in the final game of her sensational freshman season for the Buckeyes, but the point guard managed just six assists. She could have used more help from Lavender, the sophomore who battled foul trouble and inconsistent shooting.

In front of a crowd mostly filled with red-clad fans of their school just across San Francisco Bay, the Cardinal advanced to a meeting Monday night with fourth-seeded Iowa State, which made an improbable comeback late in its 69-68 win over Michigan State.

With strong second-half play capped by the decisive surge, the Cardinal won perhaps the most intriguing matchup in the round of 16, matching two powerhouse top-10 schools that won regular-season and conference tournament titles earlier in the month.

Stanford took its first significant lead midway through the second half, going up 53-42 with a 10-2 run shortly before Lavender went to the bench with her fourth foul. Lavender missed more than six minutes before returning with 6:52 to play, but Prahalis' relentless driving and defense actually trimmed the Cardinal's advantage during that stretch.

Stanford and Appel didn't make their decisive run until Lavender returned. Appel repeatedly showed off her array of low-post moves, and she emphatically blocked a shot by Lavender with 2:24 left to crush Ohio State's comeback hopes.

Stanford hasn't lost in its 18 games since its last appearance at Haas Pavilion on Jan. 18, when Cal beat the Cardinal. The loss created a rallying cry for coach Tara VanDerveer, who told her team to set a goal to get back to Berkeley in the postseason.

Stanford had little trouble in its first two NCAA games, while Ohio State got a test while holding off Mississippi State in the second round.

While Michigan State and Iowa State played the early game in Berkeley, the Cardinal and Buckeyes sat right next to each other watching, if not exactly socializing. Appel had again painted her fingernails neon-pink, just as she did during Stanford's run to the Final Four.

Much of the first half resembled the ideal up-and-down game for both clubs, whose post players run with uncommon agility to accept passes from their crafty point guards. The score stayed close even when Prahalis and Lavender both picked up their second fouls late in the first half, with Ohio State's reserves keeping the halftime deficit to 37-35.

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