LOS ANGELES -- Freshman Rachel Hemmer scored 18 points and pulled down 15 rebounds Sunday to lead Stanford to its second NCAA women's championship in three years with a 78-62 victory over Western Kentucky.
The Cardinal, making its third straight Final Four appearance, defeated Auburn in 1990 and lost in the semifinals last year. Molly Goodenbour, Stanford's junior point guard, who had 28 points and 12 assists in the two games this weekend, was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Stanford led 37-27 at halftime and opened a 59-35 lead on Christy Hedgpeth's three free throws with 13:20 left.
'I told our players at halftime to play like we were 10 points behind,' Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. 'We are actually a better underdog and comeback team so I wanted to be sure we kept our minds on the game.'
The Hilltoppers fought back with a full court zone press, closing the margin to 68-59 after a 3-pointer by Kim Pehlke and a free throw by Trina Wilson with 2:23 left.
'If I had it to do all over, I think I would press them the entire way,' Western Kentucky Coach Paul Sanderford said. 'It disrupted them down the stretch but I didn't think we would have anything left in the end if we pressed the whole game.'
The Cardinal closed with a 10-3 run, all on free throws, to seal the victory. Stanford did not score a basket after Val Whiting's follow shot at the 10:01 mark. Its final 13 points came from the foul line.
'We knew we had to hit some key free throws at the end,' added Vanderveer. 'And I'm glad that Rachel had another chance to show people what she can do.'
Hedgpeth scored 17 points and Whiting added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Stanford, 30-3. Liesa Lang led Western Kentucky with 17 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 25 seconds left. Pehlke added 16 points.
Stanford finished 30-3. Western Kentucky, making its first trip to the Final Four since consecutive appearances in 1985 and 1986, finished 27-8.
Western Kentucky led 5-0 before Goodenbour capped a 9-0 run with a layup, giving Stanford a 9-5 lead just 2:45 into the contest.
Lang's 3-point play gave the Hilltoppers their last lead at 17-16 with 14:18 left in the half.
'We thought we had to control Whiting in the middle,' added Sanderford. 'Hemmer had a poor game yesterday against Virginia but she just played great today.'
Hemmer's 5-foot bank shot with 8:25 left capped a 10-0 burst, giving the Cardinal a 26-17 lead as Western Kentucky went scoreless for six minutes.
Westmoreland and Pehlke ended the drought with consecutive 3- pointers, cutting the deficit to 26-23 with 6:40 before halftime.
Whiting then scored her first basket, and later added four free throws and a layup before halftime. Hedgpeth's steal and layup with 1:01 left gave Stanford a 35-25 lead, its largest of the half.
'I'm just excited we won the game,' said Goodenbour, a 5-6 guard from Waterloo, Iowa. 'I think a lot of players on our team could have won this award. It was a team effort.'