For all her accolades, for all that Candice Wiggins had accomplished in four seasons at Stanford, her thoughts before Tuesday's region final against top-seeded Maryland drifted to what she hadn't done. She was reminded of the motivating disappointment from barely missing the Final Four in past seasons, like two years ago against LSU. ¶ "They were celebrating and dancing and I was just like, 'Gosh, I just want to dance like that, just be excited and go to the Final Four with my team,' " Wiggins said. "I kind of had that image in my head before the game started. And sure enough, we were all out here dancing." ¶ Stanford is in the Final Four for the first time since 1997, and a major reason is Wiggins, a 5-foot-11 senior guard who became the first women's player to score more than 40 twice in the same tournament. Scoring 44 in the second round against Texas-El Paso was impressive, but not as much as the 41 she dropped on Maryland in a 98-87 victory.
"What can I say about Candice?" Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said after Tuesday's win. "She is a great player, steps up in big games, and she really stepped up for our team and knocked down shots."
Perhaps because Stanford is on the West Coast, perhaps because she hasn't been to a Final Four, Wiggins isn't as well known nationally as other superstars in Tampa this weekend. Say her first name, and she's not the player most fans think of.
But as dominant as Tennessee's Candace Parker and LSU's Sylvia Fowles have been, as phenomenal as Connecticut freshman Maya Moore has shown herself to be, Wiggins is the Final Four's top scorer, statistically. Her average of 28.5 points puts her in position to challenge the tournament record of 177, set by Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes in 1993. In 26 years of NCAA Tournament play, there had been four games with more than 40 points before Wiggins this season.
Wiggins has worked for four years to make a name for herself, as the daughter of former Padres and Orioles star Alan Wiggins, whose promising baseball career was derailed by drug problems. He died in 1991 of complications relating to AIDS. He was 32; Candice was only 3. She has dedicated her athletic career as an extension of her father's, inspired by a man she barely remembers.
"For me to carry the traits of someone I don't really know, it makes me feel closer to that person," she told the Baltimore Sun last week. "Even though he's no longer here."
For all her scoring, Wiggins is far from selfish, leading the team with 115 assists this season. One reason she has excelled in this tournament is her supporting teammates, who have kept defenses from collapsing on her.
Her 44-point game against UTEP overshadowed a 20-point showing by sophomore center Jayne Appel, who went 9-for-9 from the field. Her 41-point game against Maryland came on a night in which freshman Kayla Pedersen had seven assists and zero turnovers in 40 minutes, going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers in scoring 15.
Indeed, some of Stanford's best games haven't been Wiggins' best. In a December overtime win against Tennessee, she scored a team-high 22, but went 1-for-6 on 3-pointers and had four turnovers. As a senior on a young team, her best contributions might be as a leader who will motivate returning players to send her out with something to remember, a legacy beyond honors and records.
"Before the game, Candice just gets us really focused and really gets our team in the right mind-set, telling us this is another step and we've worked really hard all year to play in this game," Appel said last week. "There is no tomorrow so leave it all on the floor."