Fans of Stanford women’s basketball had a chance to see two fondly remembered alumnae – Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Nicole Powell, ’04 – square off against each other Sept. 13. That’s when the Fast Break Club journeyed to Sacramento’s ARCO Arena to see the Sacramento Monarchs, Nicole’s team, host Candice and the Minnesota Lynx in their final WNBA games of the season.
The Monarchs led most of the way and won 88-66. Nicole topped both teams in scoring with 27 points, including five of eight 3-pointers. She also set a franchise season scoring record with 567 points. She recorded 12 rebounds for a double-double in the game, along with four assists and a steal.
Plagued by foul trouble, Candice played only 22 minutes and scored 6 points to go with five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Thus a panel of five Stanford judges had no trouble naming Nicole the winner of the Candice-Nicole rematch.
Both teams are out of playoff contention with Minnesota ranking fifth and Sacramento sixth and last in the Western Conference. Sacramento’s overall 12-22 record leaves it last in the WNBA, finishing behind the New York Liberty at 13-21 and the Lynx at 14-20. The Lynx had started out well, but were set back when leading scorer Seimone Augustus suffered a torn ACL. Another top scorer, Nicky Anosike, was sidelined with a sore knee late in the season, dashing the team’s playoff hopes.
The FBC’s evening included a pre-game dinner, the game itself and a post-game gathering to hear Nicole and Candice along with former San Francisco Chronicle sports writer Michelle Smith.
The dinner (much healthier than last year’s) started off on a high note as fans arrived to a background recording of the Stanford band playing some of its signature tunes. Introduced by emcee Otis Watson, the guest speaker was Danette Leighton, vice president of marketing and Monarchs business operations. Danette is responsible for promoting the Monarchs and Kings as well as all events at ARCO. One of her overall goals, she said, is to promote women’s basketball at the professional and college levels.
Demographics show that 60 percent of the WNBA’s fan base is female. Its leading age group is 34-45 years old, but more men are going to games, and “We have pushed hard for families” to attend, she said. Attendance at that night’s game was expected to top 10,000. Official numbers show it at 10,212, but it didn’t seem like that many because the arena is so vast.
The league is likely to add an expansion team in the East next season and in the Midwest the following season. There also are hopes of adding one in the Bay Area, she said.
As for Nicole, who has been with the team for five seasons, “We can’t say enough about Nicole,” Danette said. She noted that when team members were asked about their favorite magazines, most players cited lightweight fare like People or others. Nicole’s favorite was The Economist – “spoken like a Stanford alum,” Danette said.
Even though the Lynx and Monarchs were playing mainly for pride, they played hard. WNBA games are faster and more physical than college games. And in this case, they’re much louder than Stanford games. Unlike Stanford’s Betty Ann Boeving, the announcer is shrill. The music and background sound effects are ear-splitting. Ear plugs are strongly advised. Still, the fans are enthusiastic and supportive, spanning a wide age range from tykes to seniors.
After the game, Michelle talked about the deteriorating situation at Bay Area newspapers, which are cutting staff and coverage to compensate for declining revenue. She decided to accept a buyout at the Chronicle this spring when it became apparent that the newspaper “was a little bit like the Titanic,” and she didn’t want to rearrange deck chairs.
Because she loved what she was doing – covering women’s basketball with a focus on Stanford and Cal – she has founded a Web site, LeftCoastHoops, that she hopes to have online within the next few weeks. This subscription site, which will have Pac-10 backing, she said, will offer a bigger picture of West Coast sports, “not all Stanford all the time.”
In the meantime, she’s writing for two other sites, AOL Fan House and CSN Bay Area. Some of her work will be found on WomenTalkSports, an aggregate site.
Her outlook for the Stanford women? “I think they’re going to be great,” ranking second in the nation behind the University of Connecticut. The pre-season schedule will be a good barometer of the team’s standing with tough opponents like UConn, Tennessee, Vanguard, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Duke and others. After that, “the Pac-10 will be a bit of a walk,” she said.
Next on the agenda was Candice, who thanked the fans for being there. “You don’t understand how much Stanford means to me,” she said. She then answered some questions.
On the Nike commercial that shows her boxing – It started as a photo shoot and turned out to be “the hardest thing I ever did in my life.” It was hard to look tough because “I was laughing at myself.”
On the hardest thing about playing in the WNBA – “The travel is pretty crazy. You learn to adapt. You have to adapt.”
By then a Lynx representative was urging her to wrap it up because the team bus was leaving. She still had time to pose for pictures with Nicole, who had arrived while Candice was speaking.
Like Candice, Nicole thanked the fans for being there. “It means so much to be part of the Stanford family,” she said. Part of her own family was there, too, including her parents, who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.
Nicole has been with the Monarchs for five seasons. This was the first time the team missed the playoffs in six years, but it faced its own adversity with injuries at the start of the season.
“This league is competitive” she said, and “it gets better every single year” with better players coming out of college. She cited Candice along with Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and rookie Courtney Paris on her own team. (Unfortunately, Courtney doesn’t seem to have lost weight. She scored 6 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, but she was slow getting up and down the court.)
In October, Nicole will return to Turkey, where her team won the national championship last year. Her Stanford teammate, Kristin Newlin, ’06, is there already. “Her game is growing,” Nicole said, adding that the WNBA could be an option for Kristin in the future.
Then it was time to pose for more pictures and sign autographs before the fans left. Those who drove back to the Bay Area that night had to use their windshield wipers as an early season rain fell, but they went back happy and looking forward to a new season.