STANFORD -- The whispers started early Sunday as top-seeded Stanford struggled against 16th-seeded Tulsa in an NCAA tournament opener at Maples Pavilion.
In 1998, Stanford lost to Harvard in the opening round to become the only top-seeded team, men's or women's, to fall to a No. 16 seed.
The ignoble piece of Stanford basketball history was pushed aside as Houston buddies Chiney Ogwumike and Amber Orrange led their team to a harder-than-expected 72-56 victory in front of a crowd of 5,206.
Ogwumike had 29 points and eight rebounds while Orrange added 14 points and six rebounds as the Cardinal advanced to the second round Tuesday against eighth-seeded Michigan. The Wolverines (22-10) defeated Villanova 60-52 in the other game Sunday at Maples.
Despite entering its 26th consecutive NCAA tournament, Stanford (32-2) looked like the star-struck team after a two-week break since winning the Pac-12 tournament championship. The Cardinal players, who had spring quarter finals last week, were lethargic in the opening minutes.
Tulsa (17-17) had three quick steals before Stanford could blink. The players weren't thinking about the Harvard upset once the game started, but they had reflected on it beforehand.
When the teams entered the locker room at halftime deadlocked 24-24, the possibility of a momentous upset felt real for the Golden Hurricane.
"It was in our heads," said forward Tiffani Couisnard, who led Tulsa with nine rebounds. "We can really do this."
The Golden Hurricane had advanced to the Big Dance after winning the Conference USA tournament title despite being seeded sixth. So it knew upsets were possible.
"Tulsa didn't come out here for the sunshine," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said in reference to the brilliant spring day.
"They came to play," added senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, who had nine points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
But then Orrange took over the offense as Stanford used a 16-3 run after trailing 28-27 with 18:08 left. Tulsa couldn't recover even with senior guard Taleya Mayberry scoring 18 points.
VanDerveer switched strategies after the clogged drain of a first half. She turned to Orrange for advice: What did she want to run?
"This team for us has been really challenging in that all season long I call it cooking spaghetti," VanDerveer said. "We take spaghetti and we throw it up on the wall and see if it sticks. If it works, we just stay with that."
The Cardinal stayed with Orrange, who made 5 of 9 shots, including her only 3-point attempt with 3:21 left that stopped Tulsa's last-gasp rally.
VanDerveer also leaned on sophomore Taylor Greenfield, who had nine points in playing the entire second half.
The Cardinal coach needed someone to take on more responsibility because starting forward Mikaela Ruef struggled in missing all four of her shots and making three turnovers. Ruef, who missed most of last season because of a foot injury, couldn't practice for much of the past two weeks after aggravating the foot.
The Ohioan said she was no longer in pain and will be ready Tuesday. But Stanford players also find comfort in knowing others have their back.
Greenfield got the message Sunday.
"I've been overlooking my job thinking 'someone else can do it' kind of thing, like I don't want to do it," she said. "But now something hit and it's tournament time, I want to win, I want to go as far as we can with this team."
The goal is to reach the sixth consecutive Final Four. But the country's fourth-ranked team has much to fix before talking about a trip to New Orleans.
"This wakes us up a little bit," Tinkle said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
Stanford (32-2) vs. Michigan (22-10) at Maples Pavilion, 6:30 p.m.
Senior guard Layshia Clarendon leads No. 2-seeded Cal against South Florida on Monday night. Page 5