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A storybook finish

Senior Candice Wiggins has Stanford off to a fast start, putting the focus more on her and less on the death of her drug-addicted father

January 04, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

As her decorated Stanford women's basketball career winds down, Candice Wiggins still can't sit through an interview without being asked about her late father.

Alan Wiggins was a fleet-footed second baseman who helped lead the San Diego Padres to the 1984 World Series, only to have his career dissolved by drug use, an addiction that ultimately led to his death at age 32.

A month shy of her fourth birthday when her father died, she still remembers but believes their relationship is better described as an epilogue than a theme.

"The story has been told," Wiggins said. "It's not necessarily a story anymore."

A more pertinent narrative, one that's reverberating through the Stanford athletic offices and will surely be told to future recruits, is the Cardinal's monumental home victory two weeks ago against defending national champion Tennessee, which swaggered in ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Wiggins, a 5-foot-11 shooting guard, scored 16 of her team-high 22 points in the second half and Stanford, ranked No. 5 at the time, won in overtime, 73-69. It was the Cardinal's first victory against the Lady Vols in 11 years and propelled Stanford to No. 2 behind Connecticut.

It was the type of surprise ending that's usually reserved for a best-selling novel.

"For all the people who might've doubted that we can compete at the highest level, this was a testament to the hard work," Wiggins said.

She's slick, fluid, precise and confident. Wiggins is also her biggest critic.

Ask about her most memorable moment from the Tennessee game and Wiggins doesn't bring up the game-tying free throws she converted with 1:32 remaining in regulation, the 16-foot jumper she made on the next possession or the steal that led to two more foul shots and a four-point lead with 32 seconds left.

The moment that remains frozen in her mind is when she missed two free throws with 16.9 seconds remaining, allowing the Lady Vols to tie the score at the buzzer and send the game into overtime. It's that brand of mentality that impressed UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier when she recruited Wiggins out of La Jolla Country Day High.

"The thing that impresses me so much is she just finds a way to get it done," said Olivier, whose Bruins will play host to Stanford tonight at 7 at Pauley Pavilion. "A will to win."

Wiggins averages a team-high 17.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.3 steals for Stanford (12-1, 2-0 in the Pacific 10). Among the regulars, she's also the most accurate from the three-point stripe (22 for 68) and free-throw line (71 for 83). Throw in her leadership role, and she has all the bases covered.

"She's a gamer," said UCLA senior forward Lindsey Pluimer, who began playing against Wiggins while at San Clemente High. "She gets them pumped and ready."

During her high school career and into her freshman season, when Wiggins was named Pac-10 player of the year and freshman of the year, her exploits often were buried beneath details of her father's struggles.

Alan Wiggins was a first-round draft pick by the Angels in 1977 and went on to play five seasons in San Diego and three in Baltimore.

In 1984, he stole 70 bases, which remains a Padres record, and scored 106 runs. He was released by the Orioles after the 1987 season and, 17 years ago this Sunday, died in Los Angeles from complications related to AIDS.

"The memories don't fade, I still have the same flashes," Wiggins said of her father. "I think that my father's story has motivated me to become more of an inspiration."

Wiggins wants to become more involved in anti-drug education and hopes that she can spread her message -- as long as she continues to gain visibility as an athlete. So far, that hasn't been difficult.

In addition to her freshman honors, when she led Stanford to the Elite Eight during the NCAA tournament, she was conference player of the year again as a sophomore and was selected Associated Press second-team All-American each of her three seasons.

Wiggins was named to the U.S. women's national team last summer and will compete for a spot on the Olympic team, which heads to Beijing this summer. On Thursday, she was named USA Basketball's female athlete of 2007. She is also expected to be one of the top picks in the upcoming WNBA draft.

But that's for later.

"Obviously, there's always the dream of going to the WNBA," Wiggins said. "But this season, I'm having so much fun and it's the most exciting time, I can't even begin to start thinking about the WNBA."

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dan.arritt@latimes.com

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