DENVER — Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike has long lived in the shadow of her bigger sister, often drawing comparisons to her and always trying to measure up.
And while Nnemkadi Ogwumike has set the bar high, little sis has done a pretty commendable job following in her footsteps.
Nneka Ogwumike, a senior from Cypress, Texas, is having a sensational year as she's helped the Cardinal (35-1) back to the Final Four, where they will play undefeated Baylor (38-0) on Sunday night. Averaging 22.5 points and 10.3 rebounds, she's in the running for the John R. Wooden Award that's given to the top women's college basketball player.
Just as impressive, and maybe a little overlooked, is the splendid year of Chiney Ogwumike. She's pulling down just as many rebounds as her sibling and scoring 15 points a game. The sophomore will be the future star of the Cardinal once her sister, widely considered the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft, departs.
The stage will belong exclusively to her. Not that she minds sharing the spotlight. It's making for great recollections.
"What I learned in this process is just to work as hard as she does and try and fill in her footsteps," Chiney Ogwumike said. "Growing up I was like, 'How am I going to compare?' In high school she was doing great things, winning Gatorade Awards and College Player of the Year.
"We've had so many memories. They stack up. And I'm excited to see where her journey will go and where ours will, because I have sisters on the side, too."
Nneka Ogwumike has cherished suiting up with her sister, even if it's been difficult to fully appreciate the journey. The Cardinal are making their fifth straight trip to the Final Four and are hoping to win their first title in 20 years.
"Right now everything is happening fast, but at the same time slow because I'm trying to soak in every moment," Nneka Ogwumike said. "Not everybody can say they played with their sister, and it's been a lot of fun. Definitely some ups and some downs, but mostly ups. It's been a lot of fun."
Soon, the team will led by Chiney Ogwumike. The responsibilities will be on her shoulder.
"I'm kind of passing the torch on," Nneka Ogwumike said. "It's her turn to do her two years on her own like I did my first two years. I think she'll do fine, just like all my other teammates. I look forward watching her in the future."
Chiney Ogwumike has been taking all those leadership tips offered up from Nneka to heart, ready to put them to good use. It hasn't gone unnoticed, either.
"(Nneka) is just helping her sister out to become a phenomenal player like she is," Baylor's Destiny Williams said.
DEFENSIVE TIPS: The very tall and extremely athletic Brittney Griner has been so dominant over her career that she's changed the way her coach goes about preparing for a game.
Bears coach Kim Mulkey is willing to take more risks, knowing the 6-foot-8 post player is constantly lurking nearby to save the day.
"Because we have Brittney back there to help, we can gamble more," said Mulkey, who was recently diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a form of facial paralysis. "I think she's made all of us change."
And because of Griner's extraordinary talent on the floor, the Bears have seen just about every kind of defense imaginable to stop her.
Nothing seems to slow Griner down as she's averaging 23 points and nine rebounds this season. Like Nnemkadi Ogwumike, she's a finalist for the player of the year award.
"They're a great team without her. But with her they're spectacular," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She's really a spectacular player, just someone that is really special in the women's game."
So, any friendly advice for the Cardinal on the best way to bottle up Griner?
"I'm going to decline to answer that," Mulkey playfully responded.
QUICK STUDY: A big hoops fan, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vowed to be up to speed on the teams participating in the Final Four by tipoff.
He would've sat down and filled out his bracket earlier, but with pressing budgetary concerns and then a forest fire that broke out, he simply hasn't had the time.
"Trust me, I'll know the starting lineups, the strengths and weakness of each team," Hickenlooper said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Anyone he likes?
"I haven't followed it enough. But it sounds like everyone is talking about Connecticut," he said.
"That's right," he said. "They have ..."
"Yeah," Hickenlooper said. "It will be cool to watch. It's great to get that level of athlete in one place where you get to watch them."
Hickenlooper may not yet be well-versed on the teams, but he knows how much this championship has meant to the city. An estimated 30,000 fans are expected to arrive throughout the tournament, with the city's economy receiving about a $20 million boost.
"And I wouldn't be surprised if it was somewhere north of there," Hickenlooper said. "This is a very sports-happy town. This is a very big deal."
Not only that, but ticket sales have been sizzling. That's the power of having four elite teams making the final field, especially ones that travel well.
What's more, the 95 suites around the venue have been sold out.Comment on this story
"(The turnout) doesn't shock me," Denver Sports interim president Sue Baldwin said. "Denver is an event town and when you combine that with teams that travel well and fans that want to see the event, it works. This is a great destination."
As for the men possibly arriving in town one day for a Final Four, well, that's going to take some work.
More specifically, a dome over Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It's the only venue in town big enough to hold that many college basketball-crazed fans.
"It's not something we're actively pushing for," Baldwin said, laughing. "It's hard to beat the experience you have at a Denver Broncos game."