Teams brace for thin air to reach hoops summit

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 30 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"We have medicine in the doctor's hands, because I am concerned about the inner ear and the altitude for myself," said Mulkey, whose team is 38-0 heading into the game Sunday against Stanford. "Now, for the team, I've had them visit with our strength and conditioning coach and (the trainer) on hydration, drink a lot of water prior to going."

Each team is making a pretty dramatic leap up in elevation.

Notre Dame boasts the highest campus of the four at around 725 feet above sea level. Connecticut (600 feet) and Baylor (470 feet) aren't too far behind, while Stanford (23 feet) is hardly more than three Brittney Griners (the Bears star who stands 6-foot-8) above sea level.

"Altitude will tweak them a little bit, but not too much — 5,200 feet is not that bad," Drum said.

Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford certainly agrees.

"When the heat of the game starts going, it goes away," Ogwumike said. "You're going to push yourself to the limit."

Ogwumike and the Cardinal have some experience playing at altitude this season, winning at Colorado and in Utah by a combined margin of 45 points.

"It definitely takes some getting used to, but that's a tiny factor," said Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award given to the top women's college basketball player. "It's the Final Four. I'm not even really thinking about that."

A good strategy, really.

Here's another helpful hint, on the house and courtesy of Colorado women's coach Linda Lappe: Get a good sweat going before the game.

"You really do have to warm up differently maybe than in lower elevations," said Lappe, whose Buffaloes play down the road in Boulder, where the elevation is 5,430 feet. "If you don't get a sweat going before the game starts, you'll get a little bit winded and the first eight minutes could really be painful. But as long as you do that, I don't know if there's much difference."

And remember this: Mind over altitude — at least to a degree.

"One of our most fundamental human drives is to breathe. So, we really don't like anything to change the way we breathe," said Dr. Robert Roach, the director of the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "It's such a primal instinct to breathe and we're hard-wired to not let anything get in the way of us and a lungful of air. If we get psyched out by that, we lose the mind-over-altitude challenge. If players relax and adjust well, they'll do just fine."

The Irish played their regional round in Denver on their way to the 2001 national title. Back then, coach Muffet McGraw's approach to altitude was simple: "We really didn't do anything," she said.

And this time?

"I'm not planning to do anything special," McGraw said.

AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg and AP sports writers Arnie Stapleton, Janie McCauley, Stephen Hawkins, Aaron Beard and Joedy McCreary contributed.

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