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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Which Candi(a)ce can?

Star players likely to determine 2008 champion

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— Candice Wiggins and Candace Parker, two of the country's top players, will get a final chance in college to showcase their talent with the NCAA championship on the line tonight.

Candice Wiggins, Stanford's all-everything guard, practically willed the Cardinal to their first Final Four appearance in 11 years. She wouldn't leave without giving them a shot at their first national title since 1992.

Candace Parker led Tennessee to its seventh national title a year ago and will try to help the Lady Vols become the first repeat champs since Connecticut won three straight from 2002-04.

"It's what we've expected all season," Tennessee's Nicky Anosike said. "Everything we've done led to this game."

The All-Americans will play their final college games tonight before heading off for the WNBA, which holds its draft less than 24 hours after the game. Parker, who has decided to skip her final year of eligibility at Tennessee, is expected to be the first pick.

The Lady Vols (35-2), who beat LSU on Sunday night on Alexis Hornbuckle's putback with seven-tenths of a second remaining and Cardinal (35-3), which shocked UConn 82-73 in the other national semifinal, are not strangers.

The teams met on Dec. 22 at Stanford, with the Cardinal winning 73-69 in overtime.

Stanford enters the final with the nation's longest winning streak at 23 games. The Pac-10 champs haven't lost since dropping consecutive road games to UCLA and USC in the first week of January.

The Cardinal also are riding high after avenging a November loss to UConn, a 12-point setback that prompted coach Tara VanDerveer to tinker with her offense and gave Wiggins and her teammates a sense of how much work needed to be done to accomplish their goal of getting to back to the game's biggest stage.

"They're a better team now," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "I'm glad that we've played them. We know their tendencies. ... We've got our work cut out for us."

Wiggins had 25 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to pace Stanford's upset of UConn. Kayla Pedersen added 17 points and Jayne Appel had with 15.

VanDerveer doesn't plan to change anything Stanford has been doing.

Wiggins is on one of the greatest individual runs in tournament history, and her young supporting cast is giving her enough help that opponents can't afford to focus too much on trying to slow the Cardinal star.

"We'll come out, play our best and do what we've been doing all year," VanDerveer said.

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