Stanford sisters soaking up Final Four

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike shoots during practice at the NCAA Women's Final Four college basketball tournament in Denver, Saturday, March 31, 2012. Stanford is scheduled to play Baylor in a national semifinal on Sunday.

Julie A. Jacobson, Associated Press

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.

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