Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
FRESNO, Calif. — Duke has eight players. Coach Joanne P. McCallie plans to use every last one of them on defense to try to stop Stanford star Nnemkadi Ogwumike and her little sister, Chiney.
"Does it really matter?" McCallie quipped when asked who might match up with the talented tandem. "They're both so great. The process of elimination, we've only got eight."
Nneka Ogwumike did it all for the top-seeded Cardinal (34-1) against South Carolina to move her team within one victory of a fifth straight Final Four in her NCAA tournament farewell. Yet coach Tara VanDerveer knows she will need more from everybody else in Monday night's Fresno Regional final as Stanford puts its school-record 31-game winning streak on the line against a Duke team that is doing just about everything right during this impressive March run.
The second-seeded Blue Devils (27-5) are not only shooting lights out but moving the ball well to pile up assists and easy baskets — and they hope to keep it rolling right into the program's first Final Four since 2006.
"I think this is a showcase game for women's basketball," VanDerveer said.
Nneka Ogwumike scored 39 points on 14-for-22 shooting and converted 11 of 12 free throws to go with 10 rebounds in a 76-60 regional semifinal win Saturday night.
Duke delivered a surprising 74-47 rout against third-seeded St. John's in Saturday's first semifinal, and the Blue Devils did it by making an early adjustment. After Red Storm star Da'Shena Stevens drove to the basket with ease, McCallie switched her team into a zone defense that made all the difference.
These two top academic schools should produce an even game with a trip to Denver on the line.
"Nerd on nerd," as Chiney Ogwumike put it.
Nneka Ogwumike has seen a little bit of everything during her standout senior season that has included a challenging schedule featuring Connecticut, Xavier, Old Dominion, Texas and Tennessee. She believes those games have helped her prepare for the big stage now.
"I've seen a lot of different defenses — box-and-one, double, single, zone," she said. "This is the big dance. People bring out some crazy dance moves throughout the whole dance. We're ready for anything."
Duke has gone six straight games shooting above 50 percent in the first half, and wound up at 53.7 percent overall Saturday to follow up its season-best 65.6-percent performance from the field in a 96-80 second-round win over Vanderbilt in which the Blue Devils dished out 28 assists.
On Saturday, Chelsea Gray had 13 points, eight steals, four rebounds and four assists in her homecoming to California's Central Valley. She grew up some 75 miles north in Stockton. Gray had 12 assists in the Vandy game to set a Duke record in the NCAA tournament.
"The key to their team is, Chelsea Gray makes them go," VanDerveer said.
The Blue Devils have been holding regular players-only meetings to make sure everyone stays on task — and the sessions are usually led by senior starter Shay Selby and fellow senior Kathleen Scheer.
Selby felt something was needed after Duke's stunning 75-73 first-round loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament on March 2.
"I just felt our togetherness was a little bit better starting from the first round," Gray said, referring to how far the team has come in a matter of a few weeks. "We've been feeding off each other really well and it's showing on the court. We're closer than we've ever been."
Selby is Duke's only senior among the starting five, not that this group is showing any signs of being young and inexperienced at this point in the season.
VanDerveer looks at Monday's game "as more of a traditional matchup for us as opposed to some of the games we've played." Four Blue Devils starters are scoring in double figures, while Selby is doing the little things with 6.7 points, 3.0 rebounds. 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals. Her 18 points against St. John's were a career high, and she also had seven assists, five rebounds and four steals.
The supporting cast is sure bringing it, too. Gray has scored in double digits in eight straight games, while fellow sophomore Tricia Liston has totaled 60 points in Duke's first three NCAA wins.
"It's impressive," Chiney Ogwumike said. "You look at their roster and see so many freshmen and sophomores dominating. It's cool. That's my class."
Still, the Blue Devils know none of what they've already done this month will matter if they can't slow down the Ogwumike sisters.
Chiney Ogwumike is nursing a sprained right knee and took two scary falls during the regional semifinals, while standout Duke freshman Elizabeth Williams is playing with a stress fracture in her lower right leg.
The bulky brace on Chiney Ogwumike's knee could be a hazard in itself, she warns.
"It's tough to hit a knee that will hit you back," she joked of an opponent trying to attack her perceived weakness.
Without sharing too many secrets, she found her fair share of success against big sister growing up by "sagging off of her and taking away her vision."
"I'd back off because she has a quick first step, and I'd have a hand up," Chiney Ogwumike said of Nneka, the likely No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft once this season ends.
"I don't want our journey to end so soon," the elder Ogwumike said.
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