SPOKANE, Wash. Stanford has the weight of the Pac-10 on its shoulders.
That conference hasn't advanced to a Final Four in 10 years. Despite a scrappy effort by Pittsburgh, a Pac-10 team trip to Tampa remains a possibility thanks to a 72-53 victory by Stanford in the second West Region semifinal game.
The Cardinal will face Maryland, winners of the first semifinal game against Vanderbilt, in the West Region Final Monday night.
Early on, Pittsburgh looked anything but the first-time Sweet 16-ers that they were. Credit the Panthers tough Big East conference schedule for preparing them.
In fact, Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato said they're two losses to Connecticut, a team with a similar style to Stanford, were invaluable experiences, with the Panthers getting more competitive with each contest.
Pittsburgh, with its in-your-face style of defense, made Stanford fight for every point. The versatile Cardinal offense, which can basically score from anywhere on the court, struggled early on the find its rhythm, with the Panthers setting the tone with physical defense. Fresh off her school record-tying and career-best 44-point effort, Stanford's Candice Wiggins was held to only six points in the first half and finished with 14.
Wiggins may not have been her usual high-scoring self, but the Panthers concentrated effort on her opened up opportunities for others. Three other Cardinal players finished in double digits, including sophomore center Jayne Appel, who led with 22 points.
Stanford led by as much as six in the first half, but Pittsburgh rallied to pull within one just before halftime. The back-and-forth first half featured seven ties and nine lead changes.
Led by Wiggins, the Cardinal pulled away in the second half, jumping out to a four-point lead before Pittsburgh called a timeout. The Panthers didn't score in the second half until the 16:53 mark when junior guard Shavonte Zellous, who led Pittsburgh with 15 points in the first half, made one-of-two free throws to end the scoring drought.
Stanford freshman forward Kayla Pedersen gave the Cardinal an eight-point lead with a drive to the basket that drew a foul midway through the second half. She converted the three-point play with a free throw. It was the first time in the game Stanford out-muscled the more physical Pittsburgh team.
Pittsburgh chipped away at the lead and senior guard Mallorie Winn cut the lead to one when she made a three pointer with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the game.
But just like that, Stanford built the lead back up to 10, with help from sophomore guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude's three pointer.
A scary moment for Stanford occurred with about six minutes left to play when sophomore guard JJ Hones fell hard to the court. Hones was slow to get up, but later walked on her own to the Cardinal bench.
An even scarier moment for Stanford, one that had Coach Tara Vanderveer running onto the court, was a hard foul on Wiggins by Pittsburgh's Taneisha Harrison. Wiggins was pushed into the base of the goal and left the game momentarily.
After the game was over, while the Stanford players celebrated Berenato gathered her team at midcourt and they walked them collectively over in front of the Pittsburgh fans to thank them for their support.