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Stanford sets its sights on a national title

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Stanford sets its sights on a national title

March 16, 2011STANFORD PAGE WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL PAGE
NCAA TOURNAMENT SCOREBOARD

STANFORD -- (AP) Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen have a long list of streaks going in their final season at Stanford.

Three straight Final Four berths they hope to soon turn into a fourth. A 23-game winning streak since a pair of December defeats at DePaul and Tennessee -- including that thrilling 71-59 triumph over Connecticut on Dec. 30 that ended the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak. Pac-10 Conference regular-season and tournament titles each year, and 57 consecutive victories against conference opponents.

The one remarkable run they can wrap up with two more NCAA wins: a perfect record on their home floor in Maples Pavilion for their four-year careers.

RELATED: Stanford roster stats

There is much bigger unfinished business for this bunch, too. The Cardinal haven't won it all since 1992 after near-misses in two of the past three NCAA finals.

Winning two more at home is the first step. Stanford is riding a school-record winning streak of 61 in a row at Maples -- and extending that run to 63 straight victories would send seniors Pedersen and Pohlen out in style having never lost in front of their supportive home crowd.

"Not many people can say they've done that," junior leading scorer Nnemkadi Ogwumike said of going undefeated at home. "That's pretty special. It's kind of like their senior night wasn't their senior night."

Stanford (29-2), the top seed in the Spokane Region, will host Big West champion and NCAA first-timer UC Davis on Saturday in the first round of the tournament. The Aggies (24-8) are the 16th seed.

A Stanford victory would set up a second-round date Monday night in Maples against the winner of Saturday's first game between eighth-seeded Texas Tech and ninth-seeded St. John's.

RATTO: Consistency shadows VanDerveer's genius
While Pohlen is always cautious not to get ahead of herself, finishing up unbeaten on campus would be a special feat and a strong beginning to what she hopes ends with that elusive championship in Indianapolis on April 5.

"I think that would be amazing if we didn't lose here on our home floor," said Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year. "It would be awesome."

Even with that monumental December win at home over the mighty Huskies, Stanford knows it is March and April when things truly count. All summer, the Cardinal were left to contemplate what went wrong in last year's final loss to UConn.

Stanford -- 36-2 last season with those lone losses coming at the hands of the Huskies - fell 53-47 to Connecticut in the 2010 NCAA title game after leading 20-12 at halftime. UConn won its 78th straight game to complete back-to-back unbeaten seasons.
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It may very well take getting through Maya Moore and UConn again for Stanford to complete its mission.

"It's really a special team and we're going to give it our absolute best shot," said coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team had to rally in the second half last Saturday to beat UCLA 64-55 in the Pac-10 tournament final, the Cardinal's fifth conference tournament crown in a row on the heels of their 11th straight regular-season title.

VanDerveer, who has the most versatile roster in her quarter-century tenure on The Farm, said that loss in last year's NCAA final made her a better coach, persuaded her to work even harder in her 32nd overall season as a head college coach.

That energy rubs off on the players she brings in to keep this program on the rise, such as Ogwumike and her Pac-10 Freshman of the Year sister, Chiney.

Or those two senior starters who believe it's finally time to put Stanford back on top.

"Our goal for the season, like other teams, is a national championship," Pohlen said. "We'll keep working on it. I was confident in last year's team, too. This year, we just have a great team overall."

Pohlen put it quite simply.

"We're going to have to beat everybody," she said.

When Pedersen and Pohlen were freshmen, do-everything guard Candice Wiggins carried the Cardinal back to the Final Four at long last after a 10-year absence. When Wiggins departed, she left the reins to VanDerveer's latest group of stars at Stanford.

KILLION: Only one elite Bay Area college basketball team

Now, this program expects to reach the Final Four every season.

While VanDerveer joined the elite 800-win club back on Dec. 22 with a victory at San Francisco, a team coached by former Stanford great Jennifer Azzi, she has always been all about her players and preparing them to have success at the right time.

Is this finally the year?

RELATED: NCAA statistics

"I love the similarities between the '90 and '92 teams with this team, and I'd love that to continue," VanDerveer said. "Honestly it's hard for me to believe this is really happening. This year has gone by so quickly. As a team, we know we can only play six more games together."

Former Cal Bear Jaylen Brown holds heavy heart in win over Warriors

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USATSI

Former Cal Bear Jaylen Brown holds heavy heart in win over Warriors

BOSTON – The NBA is an emotional game, but the feelings Jaylen Brown was working through on the eve of Thursday’s game against Golden State, are the kind you don’t wish anyone with the death of his best friend less than 24 hours before Thursday night’s tip-off.

Brown channeled his pain into a performance that was absolutely vital to Boston pulling off the biggest upset for them this season, a 92-88 win over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

He led the Celtics with a team-high 22 points in the win which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 14 straight. 

But he was in no mood to celebrate afterwards.

“My best friend (Trevin Steede) passed last night,” Brown said after the game. “It was tough to accept it. Everybody was kind of in shock. I knew coming in today, he would want me to play.

Brown paused, and added, “It’s hard to get my thoughts together. After talking to his mom and family, they inspired me to come out. I wasn’t in any shape to come out. I didn’t want to leave my room. They inspired me to come out and play and I came out and played in his spirit today.”

READ MORE AT NBCSportsBoston.com

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

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AP

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

The Raiders gave quarterback Derek Carr a massive contract extension last June. Right guard Gabe Jackson got paid later that month.

Khalil Mack’s big deal is coming, likely this offseason. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a deal getting done, and hopes Mack’s agent feels the same way.

Mack’s rep and Raiders contract folks will work out details of a massive contract extension. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have interest in all that. He has one preference above all.

Mack doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants to stay with the Raiders long term.

“Of course. That’s not even a question,” Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, which airs in this week's episode of "Raiders Central." “That’s a no-brainer for me, especially when you think about coming into this organization and try to build something special, that’s something you want to be a part of for a lifetime”

Mack has plenty of money, top-5 overall draft picks often do. The No. 5 selection in 2014 considered that first deal life-changing money, enough to help his family.

“That has been a treat for me so far,” Mack said.

He doesn’t daydream about signing a nine-figure contract. He doesn’t long to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player (although that might be in the cards, anyway).

“I’m not really even thinking about that,” Mack said. “I’m thinking about the Patriots, that’s just my focus that’s just my mindset – anybody who talked to me about that matter, whether it be my best friend, my mom, my dad, I tell them the same thing. I’m thinking about the Patriots and sacking Tom Brady.”

That, unlike signing a record contract, was a career a goal. Mack said in a post-draft press conference he wanted to sack legends. Peyton Manning and Brady topped the list.

Manning retired before Mack could check his box.

“Yeah, I didn’t get that mother----er,” Mack said. “Damn. Yeah, dang, I was disappointed.”

Mack will have a second chance at Brady Sunday when the Raiders play New England in Mexico City. He had eight tackles and two quarterback hits against Brady’s Patriots in 2014, but didn’t bring the quarterback down.

Mack considered his third regular season game a welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

The University of Buffalo alum has accomplished a ton since then, with 34.5 sacks and last year’s top defensive honor to his credit. He’ll need a Herculean performance against the Patriots to help the Raiders win a pivotal game. A sack would certainly help, but Mack isn’t calling his shot.

“Yeah, I’m not one to talk,” Mack said. “I’ll express that when I get on the field, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to play against him.”