November 25, 2008

Lots of pluses but a big minus at Rutgers game

Fans of Stanford women’s basketball had many reasons to cheer Nov. 23 as the Cardinal defeated Rutgers 81-47. Nevertheless, they were dismayed and saddened to see junior point guard JJ Hones leave the game with a knee injury with about 3:10 to go in the first half. Her status was uncertain as of this writing. In the meantime, be sure to see the tributes to her in “With Love to JJ” under Stories of the Season. They’re all well deserved.

Except for JJ’s injury, things went well for the Cardinal. Center Jayne Appel recorded a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds in her 33 minutes of playing time. Her fellow big, forward Kayla Pedersen, chipped in 17 points and four rebounds in 37 minutes, while freshman forward Nneka Ogwumike came off the bench to rack up 11 points and six rebounds in her 30 minutes.

Nneka was the target of some of Rutgers’ most flagrant hits, absorbing at least two painful blows, but to her credit, she didn’t lose her poise. For that matter, all the players kept their poise and focus, not letting JJ’s injury or Rutgers’ aggressive play rattle them. Rutgers had 24 fouls to Stanford’s 13.

Before leaving the game, JJ contributed three three-pointers for nine points plus six assists. Also scoring the long shots were guard Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla with two each, and forward Jillian Harmon and guard Lindy La Rocque with one each for a total of nine. Jill’s three-pointer was the first Cardinal score of the game.

Those nine three-pointers fattened my tournament travel fund. I got the idea when Lindy unleashed seven in her Cardinal debut in the exhibition against Chico State and her teammates chipped in eight more a total of 15. For every three-pointer the team scores, I’m putting $1 in an envelope to build an expense fund for tournament travel.

The Vanguard game raised the fund to $19. Minnesota added $3, followed by $5 from Baylor, $12 from New Mexico and now $9 from Rutgers, raising the total thus far to $48. I don’t know how much there’ll be by the end of the season, but Head Coach Tara VanDerveer said after the New Mexico game that the team’s goal is to shoot at least 10 threes per game. I have high hopes that the team will exceed that goal and help me save for some of the travel costs all the way to St. Louis.

Besides the resounding win over Rutgers, the day was brightened by the annual Fast Break Club auction, which raised tens of thousands of dollars for the team. Congratulations to fund-raising chair Dana Stewart and her band of volunteers, who had everything so well organized. Dana also was an affable emcee.

She had some help at the microphone when guard Melanie Murphy served as the auctioneer soliciting bids for a chair used by the team at the Final Four tournament in Tampa last season. The bidding started at $200 and went up to $450.
Then Lindy oversaw the bidding for a quilt made by her mother, Beverly, and her mother’s friend Janet Weinberg. It has a square with each player’s name and number, along with the names of the coaches and a red ‘S’ dominating in the center. The bidding started at $300. Jeanette soon came forward to hold it up. Then Mel came along to help her. Then more players came up to touch it and enhance its value. As forward Sarah Boothe joined them, Mel commented, “Look at the subtle detailing of the ‘S’.” Along came Jayne and Kayla. “This is big time,” Lindy said. Soon the whole team was there.

Lindy then announced that if two people would bid $800 each, her mom and friend would make another one. Sure enough, two $800 bids came along, and the Las Vegas quilting team had another project ahead.

Nneka auctioned off a clinic conducted by the coaches and players for $200, and Assistant Coach Bobbie Kelsey got the bidding up to $775 for a bench seat at the Tennessee game.

Between the live auctions, the players circulated around the crowd, chatting with everyone, graciously signing autographs and posing for pictures. One shy but smiling little boy who looked to be about 6 or 7 years old started to kneel down next to 6-4 Jayne for his picture, but realized that might not work. Still smiling, he quickly stood as tall as he could – about tall enough for Jayne to pat him on the head without leaning over. It was a fleeting moment, but one that spoke volumes about the admiration that the Stanford women have earned from the younger set.

November 22, 2008

Cardinal women regain their winning ways

Morgan Clyburn got another workout Nov. 20 as the Stanford women coasted to an 84-46 win over the University of New Mexico. The senior forward, still recovering from foot surgery, high-fived her benchmates 12 times to celebrate three-point shots.

The fireworks started early as freshman guard Lindy La Rocque hit the first of her four three-pointers. Guard Jeanette Pohlen added two more, followed by two more from Lindy. Thus the duo treated the crowd to five consecutive threes to open the scoring. The tally was up to 10 at the half and 12 at the end. Like Lindy, Jeanette had four, guard JJ Hones had three and guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude had one.

Speaking to the Fast Break Club after the game, Head Coach Tara VanDerveer said the team has a goal of making at least 10 threes per game. Besides boosting the score in a hurry, the threes will open things up for center Jayne Appel, who has had to contend with a swarm of defenders under the basket, the coach said.

“Jayne is a very unselfish player,” Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker said earlier, so when she can’t do her own shooting, she passes off to someone who can. That’s how she tallied a team-high seven assists against New Mexico. “We’re not worried about Jayne. She’ll come through,” Amy said.

Besides the lopsided score, the game was noteworthy for several other reasons. One is that Lindy got the first start of her career. She looked nervous when she was introduced, but obviously she shook the nerves off in a hurry. Tara said at a news conference after the game that Lindy got the nod because Ros was late for practice. She redeemed herself with her usual tenacious defense.

Also noteworthy is that JJ was able to play. She had been sidelined for two games with a stress reaction in her right foot. She didn’t start, but she came off the bench about seven minutes into the game and began providing her steady leadership at the point.

Finally, all 14 healthy players saw some playing time, and 13 of them scored. It was a balanced attack with five players in double figures: forward Jillian Harmon, 13; Lindy, Jeanette and JJ, 12 each; and forward Nneka Ogwumike, 11.

Some items of note emerged during the talk after the game. Asked about recruiting, Tara said the coaching staff is happy with its two recruits, both forwards. “They’re really talented players.” She has no plans to pursue anyone else. “That means Ros stays,” Tara said, referring to the additional year of eligibility the guard gets after missing much of her sophomore year with a knee injury. “Ros is excited about that,” she said.

Tara also said the team is going to Italy next fall, but provided no details. Amy said afterward that Stanford will play several Italian teams and “eat lotsa pasta.”

In keeping with tradition, FBC members met another freshman, forward/center Sarah Boothe, introduced by Amy. Sarah has an older brother at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and a younger brother in high school in their hometown, Gurnee, Ill., north of Chicago. Her family also has a pet albino rabbit, Sugar, living in the basement.

Her biggest adjustment to college life is sharing a room, she said, noting that with two brothers, she’d always had her own room. She was quick to add that she has a good roommate. Doing her own laundry for the first time has been another challenge. She has had to spend time on the phone getting tips from her mother.

As for basketball, “I like being physical,” she said. Amy agreed, saying, “Sarah is by far our most physical player in practice,” but she’s getting good experience by playing with Jayne and forward Kayla Pedersen. “You have yet to see Sarah play up to her abilities,” Amy said. To help her do so, her coaches are trying to get her to slow down for at least a second and look around before acting.

Tara had some final comments. “We’ve seen people improve a lot” since the tough home victory against Minnesota and the road loss to Baylor the previous week. “This is a very different team from last year. … The puzzle is not together yet.”

Losing to Baylor “was horrible,” but no one tried to make excuses. Instead players wanted to watch the video to see where they could improve. “We expect great things on Sunday,” against Rutgers, she said. “We’re going to play really hard.” The team is excited to meet an opponent that’s “really, really athletic.” Rutgers also is well coached by C. Vivian Stringer, whom Tara has known and liked for many years, she said.

November 16, 2008

Tara puts a tough win in perspective

Launching her 23rd season at the helm of the Stanford women’s basketball, Head Coach Tara VanDerveer knows how to take both the short- and the long-term view. She took both in talking to the Fast Break Club after the team toughed out a 68-55 home court win against the gritty Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big 10 on Nov. 14.

After two easy exhibition wins, the team’s season opener started with some adversity. Point guard JJ Hones was on the bench wearing a boot on her right foot because of a stress reaction, an injury usually caused by overuse. “She was just resting tonight,” the coach said, but it’s uncertain when she’ll be back. Rest is the recommended treatment.

With JJ sidelined, guard Jeanette Pohlen got the starting call along with center Jayne Appel, forwards Kayla Pedersen and Jillian Harmon, and guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. By the time the game was over, every healthy player except freshman guard Grace Mashore and sophomore forward Ashley Cimino saw some action.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Tara said. “It was a very physical game” that left freshman forward Sarah Boothe with a bloody nose, limiting her playing time. Nevertheless, “I was excited about how hard our team played.” She praised several players, including forward Michelle Harrison, who had suffered a season-ending knee injury last November.

With JJ out, “we need to develop other people. Things are not smooth just yet …. The guards are going to have to step up…. We’re a lot better with (JJ).” Still, “people did not back down” even though “we missed a lot of easy shots… We missed at least 10 layups.”

Although she couldn’t criticize the officiating, the crowd was unhappy when fouls were called on Stanford players who had made clean blocks, as verified by replays.

Assistant Coach Bobbie Kelsey, speaking before Tara’s arrival, noted that physical teams are good for the Cardinal. Looking ahead to the first away game against Baylor on Nov. 16, she said that with four starters back from last year, “they’re very physical. We need that.” Bobbie was responsible for scouting Baylor.

“Tonight we just couldn’t get a shot” despite some good looks, she said. Stanford finished with 45.8 percent shooting to Minnesota’s 35 percent. Three Stanford players – Kayla with 14 (plus 12 rebounds) Jane with 14 and freshman forward Nneka Ogwumike with 11 – finished in double figures.

It takes time to learn to play together, Tara said, but “this is a motivated and close team. It’s really exciting to see how much this team will improve.” She noted that she could schedule pushover teams before Pac-10 and tournament play begins, but they wouldn’t help the Cardinal improve. She relishes the tough competition that makes her team tougher.

As is customary, FBC members had their first chance to meet one of the freshmen. In this case, it was a smiling Nneka. “The team is wonderful. I’m having fun,” she said. She added that she was looking forward to the Baylor game because her family in Texas would be there. Her mother planned to see the team’s home games against New Mexico and Rutgers this week.

She wants to become an orthopedist, but she also wants to play professionally or overseas after graduation. While in high school, she volunteered as a coach for recreational basketball and volleyball teams. She also helped organized a marathon run by female athletes to benefit children in Darfur and helped raise money for the family of another school’s coach who died.

Nneka was actively recruited by a number of schools, including Baylor, but she appreciated the fact that the Stanford coaches “respected my schedule.” She played coy about where she’d go, Bobbie said, but “I felt good when she bought a (Stanford) T-shirt at the bookstore.”

So far she has found the academic demand to be “much easer than I thought it would be,” but she had learned how to be disciplined in high school, Nneka said. Bobbie added that Nneka’s Nigerian-born parents instilled that sense of discipline along with a sense of responsibility as Nneka helped her three younger sisters get ready for school every morning.

In playing for Stanford, “there are a lot of expectations” for a team with the No. 2 national ranking, but it’s a “motivation to strive for success,” Nneka said. She followed Stanford’s success last season and knew she wanted to be a part of it. She also likes the college game’s faster tempo.