December 16, 2008

Fun for fans at Fresno game

One of this season’s goals for the folks who market Stanford women’s basketball is to increase attendance by making the games as much fun as possible.

Of course, the team does its share, too, as it did Dec. 13 when it defeated Fresno State 100-62. Such an easy win is fun, and it gives fans a chance to see the bench players in action – players who usually don’t get a lot of game time but who are always ready to step in. They played their part admirably, even creating some suspense as the score hit the 90s in the final minutes. Would it reach 100? It did, thanks to sophomore forward Ashley Cimino, who made three free throws in the final 30 seconds to reach the century mark. Also noteworthy – all 13 healthy players scored.

The marketing team fulfilled its part of the equation with an enormously entertaining halftime show by agility-trained dogs. Ranging from a tiny teacup poodle to a stately Great Dane, they swiveled their hips through a series of closely spaced uprights, leapt barriers and raced through cloth tunnels.

Their appearance was part of the day’s focus on the Humane Society of the Santa Clara Valley and its adoptable pets. Photos of the animals along with photos of owners and pet look-alikes were displayed on the scoreboard throughout the game.

Yet another reason for the crowd to cheer came during a timeout, when Jason Pondexter accomplished a seldom-seen feat: He made a half-court shot and won a framed, autographed John Elway jersey.

A group of kids from the East Palo Alto Charter School got to see all this fun during the game. After the game, they enjoyed a meal and met the players at Jimmy V’s.

While they were doing that, the Fast Break Club was in Kissick meeting freshman guard Grace Mashore and hearing from head coach Tara VanDerveer, along with associate head coach Amy Tucker, who introduced Grace.

Grace lives in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., and attended Sidwell Friends School and National Cathedral School, both in Washington. The daughters of president-elect Barack Obama will attend Sidwell. Many of Grace’s classmates at both schools were the children of politicians and other officials. Her parents will attend Obama’s inauguration, and she would, too, if it weren’t for classes and basketball.

Even though her father is a Duke graduate and her 21-year-old brother attends Wake Forest, “I always wanted to come to Stanford,” she said. He father shifted his loyalties when he visited Stanford during a business trip and “fell in love with it,” she said. After Tara was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she cut it out and put it on her wall. She attended one of Tara’s hoops camps to get the coaches’ attention and committed to Stanford as soon as she was admitted.

Before starting this fall, she attended summer school and had a chance to become acquainted with fellow freshman Lindy La Rocque along with Melanie Murphy, Michelle Harrison and Morgan Clyburn. As she becomes more familiar with the campus and its people, “I’m surprised every day. Everyone here is great at what they do,” she said. Although she hasn’t yet declared a major, she’s leaning toward history and English.

On the basketball court, “I’m trying to learn a lot,” she said, adding that she wants to be aggressive and bring energy to the team.

She didn’t play against Fresno because of a sore groin muscle. She was hoping to start running the next day and to be back in action Tuesday or Wednesday during the road trip to Duke, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Tara then reported on the other sidelined players. Senior forward Jillian Harmon sat out after injuring her back during the tournament in Hawaii, where she was playing “the best she ever was playing,” the coach said. An MRI was negative, so Jill has been resting. She’s with the team on its road trip, but her return to play is on a day-to-day basis.

Junior point guard JJ Hones, who tore her left ACL in the Rutgers game, was to undergo surgery at Stanford before Christmas, but it was postponed until Dec. 29 so that she could go home to Oregon for the holiday.

Morgan, who had surgery on both feet after last season, “is coming along great. She’s working her way into basketball movements,” Tara said. “I’m really impressed with her dedication and loyalty to our team.”

As for the Fresno victory, the coach saw “too many turnovers today, and we need to be more aggressive.” On the other hand, Fresno “is tough to guard, so it was a good experience for us,” a preview of some of the tactics that can be expected on the road trip. “It’s (going to be) a great trip for us.”

She was pleased with many of the players. “People are gaining in confidence,” she said. Filling in for Jill and getting her first career start, freshman forward Nneka Ogwumike “did a great job,” she said. She praised Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Mel, who have replaced JJ at the point. Lindy, known for her high, arcing three-point shot, “gets the dust off the ceiling.” Ashley “had some good moments.” She also cited guard Jeanette Pohlen and forwards Kayla Pedersen and Michelle.

Although center Jayne Appel wasn’t the leading scorer, which she often is, she “gets her stats in the big games,” Tara said. She’s an unselfish player who’s willing to pass to an open teammate.

“This team has a great attitude and makes a great effort,” she concluded.

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