In the end, Brittney Griner and undefeated Baylor proved to be too tall a task for surging Stanford.
So once again, the Cardinal will head home without that elusive national title.
Stanford just can’t seem to get over the hump, losing to the Lady Bears 59-47 on Sunday night in the NCAA semifinals. This was the Cardinal’s fifth straight trip to the Final Four and they have yet to cut down the nets in two decades.
Stanford was on a roll, too, reeling off a school-record 32 consecutive wins. The Cardinal’s only loss this season came at Connecticut in early November.
And yet few people gave Stanford (35-2) much of a chance to win against heavily favored Baylor (39-0), which will face Notre Dame for the championship on Tuesday night.
Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer had a few tricks up her sleeve, surprising Baylor with a rather clever game plan. She elected to pack players into the paint to bottle-up Griner and dared the Bears to find someone else to beat them.
They did — only it took a while.
In the first half, the strategy threw off the Bears and everyone not named Griner combined to shoot a paltry 34 percent.
The final half was a different story as Terran Condrey and Odyssey Sims stepped up, each coming up big over the final 20 minutes. That helped Baylor overcome a very average night by the 6-foot-8 Griner, who was held to a pedestrian 13 points and nine rebounds.
This contest featured two of the best players in the country in Griner and Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who scored a team-high 22 points in her final game for Stanford.
She then took her time leaving the court.
First, Ogwumike had a long chat with Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who gave the opposing star a heartfelt hug. Then, Ogwumike assembled her teammates at midcourt for one last chat. With arms wrapped around each other, they embraced the moment — as much as they could in light of the stinging loss.
When the huddle broke up, Ogwumike sauntered off the court with tear-filled eyes.
Ogwumike will now pass the torch to her talented sophomore sister, Chiney Ogwumike, who didn’t have one of her better games as she wound up with only four points.
It will be up to Chiney Ogwumike, along with Toni Kokenis and Joslyn Tinkle, to try to get back and win an elusive title that Nnemkadi Ogwumike and previous stars Candice Wiggins, Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen just couldn’t bring home.
Another tall order, for sure. But the Cardinal’s future appears to be in capable hands.