Returning to the Sweet Sixteen

May/June 2002

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With three minutes remaining in the NCAA West Regional semifinal March 23, second-seeded Stanford and third-seeded Colorado were tied 56-56, and a game that had seen 10 ties and 15 lead changes was headed down to the buzzer.

With eight seconds left, Colorado sank two free throws to pull ahead 62-59. In the final four seconds, the Cardinal turned to senior Lindsey Yamasaki, the team’s leading scorer this season, who was playing in only her third game since undergoing a laparoscopic appendectomy on February 26. Yamasaki took the hand-off, but her three-point attempt bounced off the backboard as time ran out.

“That was one heck of a basketball game!” ESPN commentators kept repeating as members of both teams high-fived one another on court. And parents of seniors seated in the stands at Boise State Pavilion—including Syd and Kriss Yamasaki, and Bethany Donaphin’s dad, Robert, who played at Notre Dame—were visibly proud of their daughters’ final efforts.

In the past, the Cardinal has advanced to the Final Four six times, and won NCAA championships in 1990 and 1992. But it had been five years since either Stanford or Colorado had made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Before the match-up, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer e-mailed Colorado coach Ceal Barry, her assistant on the 1996 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, that it was “fun to be back.” VanDerveer knew Colorado had a lot of speed and was hungry—players had “NR” stenciled on their hands, to signal that they thought they were getting “no respect” from the media. At the postgame press conference, she said, “I feel like this game could have gone either way.”

Yamasaki, who hopes to play for the WNBA, led the scoring with 14 points, and Donaphin shot for 13, topping 1,000 points for her collegiate career. For the first 12 minutes of the first half, the ballet-trained Donaphin was Stanford’s only scorer, leading one commentator to quip, “That’s Colorado 7, Donaphin 7.”

The Cardinal, which cruised to a 32-3 record and ranked as high as No. 2 during the season, will miss its seniors. In addition to Yamasaki and Donaphin, the Class of 2002 includes Cori Enghusen, the 6-7 stopper in the paint who blocked 58 shots this season, free-throw expert Lauren St. Clair and graceful perimeter player Enjoli Izidor.

But all is far from lost. Several underclassmen played important roles this year on a team that VanDerveer says was probably the most versatile she’s ever had. Every uninjured woman on the roster played in at least 19 games. Three freshmen—Kelley Suminski, T’Nae Thiel and Sebnem Kimyacioglu—saw action in all 35 games, each averaging more than 20 minutes per game. When Susan King, ’04, sustained a season-ending knee injury for the second year in a row, Suminski stepped into the point-guard spot, starting 27 games and shooting 88 percent from the free-throw line. VanDerveer herself, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in April, recently extended her coaching contract through 2007.

And don’t forget sophomore Nicole Powell. Known as “Magic” around Maples Pavilion, where she’s snuck in the occasional 2 a.m. practice, the 6-2 forward was named an All-American and Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year, and dubbed “Player of the Century” by the hometown Arizona Republic. She recorded back-to-back triple-doubles—her fifth and sixth of the season—in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament (20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Weber State; 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Tulane). And in the Cardinal’s 91-76 victory over Oregon on January 13, Powell grabbed 21 rebounds to break the Stanford single-game record—and, incidentally, scored 23 points. After that game, VanDerveer told the Bay Area media, “If you’re not impressed with that, you’d better watch golf or something.” Or just wait till next year.

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