November 30, 2009

Big win over Gonzaga, but coaches want more

There’s no doubt that the Stanford women’s basketball team racked up its biggest win of the regular season to date with its 105-74 drubbing of Gonzaga on Nov. 29. The halftime score, 59-38, was almost equal to the 60-41 final score against Utah two days earlier.

Nevertheless, “our post defense wasn’t very good,” associate head coach Amy Tucker told the Fast Break Club after the game. Gonzaga’s 74 points were the most allowed by the Cardinal this season, but the team has the two-week finals break to work on defense before competition resumes, Amy said.

On the other hand, Amy called it “a great offensive game,” citing the play of forwards Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike. On her way to a 30-point game, Kayla scored the 1,000th point of her Stanford career with about 14.5 minutes to go in the first half. Nneka’s 29 points marked a career high. She also contributed 13 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Kayla recorded seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Center Jayne Appel, the third member of Stanford’s post triumvirate, scored the first basket just 18 seconds into the game. She wound up with 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal even though she wasn’t fully recovered from illness that struck on Thanksgiving and limited her production against Utah the next day. “She was a 6’ 4” decoy in that game,” Amy said.

“Gonzaga said, ‘We’re going to run with you,’ ” Amy said, but they couldn’t keep up with the Cardinal in the second half even though “our rotation is not quite as big as we’d like.” She was referring to injuries that have sidelined forwards Sarah Boothe and Joslyn Tinkle along with guards Melanie Murphy and Hannah Donaghe.

Mel, who missed the Utah game after hurting her knee in practice, can play when it no longer hurts. However, Tara said in the post-game press conference that if it has to be scoped, she could be out four weeks or so.

Sarah, a sophomore, has been cleared to practice with contact after foot surgery last spring, but “I have a pretty good idea that she won’t play at all” this season, Amy said, adding that Sarah wants to red-shirt. If she were to come back this season, she might not get much playing time.

It’s not certain when Joslyn, who has a foot injury, can return to action. A team doctor says the freshman can test it in another week or so, Amy said.

In previous comments, coaches have said that Hannah is progressing well from knee surgery early this year, but no date has been set for her return.

The post-game gathering gave the FBC a chance to become better acquainted with freshman forward Mikaela Ruef, who started playing basketball when she was in kindergarten and received a basketball for Christmas when she was 5. Hailing from Beavercreek, Ohio, she has an older brother, Joe, at Wright State in Ohio and a younger brother, Brian, a high school junior. Both are involved in sports. The family has two boxers and two cats who “think they’re dogs,” she said.

She also has relatives on her mother’s side in the Bay Area. They include her grandmother, great-grandmother, two aunts and six cousins.

She chose Stanford because it’s a great school, has a great team, and “I love the weather out here.” She also considered Ohio State and Purdue.

She hasn’t decided on a major, but she’s taking math and physics this term. In summer school she took physics and sports psychology, getting A’s in both.

One of the differences between playing in high school and playing at Stanford is that “in high school I didn’t play much defense because I didn’t have to.” Also, “it’s hard to adjust to not being the best player,” she said, adding that she even played some point guard in junior high. High school practices were two hours long, whereas college practices are three hours, and “there’s not much standing around.” She’s working on her speed and conditioning, and assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey is helping with her shot.

Tara credited Bobbie for a good scouting job on Gonzaga. “We played about as well as we played all season,” she said. “Nneka had a monster game, and Kayla is just awesome good,” she said.

With the two-week break ahead of them and the less-than-stellar Utah game behind them, the team didn’t want Tara mad at them for two weeks. They needn’t worry. “We’re very happy with how they played,” she said.

But maybe they’ll try to hone their defense to get even better.

November 28, 2009

Basket, basket. Who’s got the basket?

Poor shooting by the Stanford women’s basketball team led to a low-scoring post-Thanksgiving win over Utah on Nov. 27. The score was only 24-11 in the first half, when the team shot 25.8 percent. The percentage rose to 41.9 in the second half, resulting in a 33.9 percent average and a 60-41 victory, the team’s 31st consecutive win at Maples.

“Today was just trying to find the basket,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer, speaking to the Fast Break Club after the game.

Senior center Jayne Appel was ailing, playing 21 minutes and scoring only two points, along with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks. “I’m surprised that she played,” Tara said. In the post-game press conference, Tara said that Jayne was sick most of the night before and received two IV bags of fluid before the game.

Also of concern to fans was the sight of guard Melanie Murphy on crutches, joining guard Hannah Donaghe (knee), center Sarah Boothe (foot) and forward Joslyn Tinkle (foot) on the sidelines. Tara said Mel hurt her knee in practice. The exact nature of her injury is unknown except that it’s not an ACL or MCL tear, Tara said.

On the other hand, forward Ashley Cimino was back in uniform and played for the first time after missing several games with a sprained ankle.

The FBC gathering was delayed because the football team was meeting in Kissick Auditorium. After the men had left, FBC members filed in and heard from alum Angela Taylor, ’93, vice president and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Taylor spoke fondly of her Stanford days and praised the FBC as “second to none” in its support for WBB. After graduating from Stanford, she said, she was a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona, followed by a stint as an assistant coach at Texas A&M. She spent a year as an assistant at Stanford while Tara coached the USA Olympic team, then went to the WNBA’s New York office during the league’s first season. While in New York, she earned her MBA from NYU in 2002.

Her next stop was Minneapolis, where she was vice president of business operations for the Minnesota Lynx. She was “part of the team that selected Candice,” she said, referring to Stanford guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, who was drafted by the Lynx in 2008.

After going to the Mystics in 2008, she played a role in hiring Julie Plank as head coach. Julie had served as an assistant coach at Stanford from 1985 to 1995.

The Mystics are slated for the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 WNBA draft, so Angela doesn’t expect her team will be lucky enough to get Jayne or UConn center Tina Charles, whom she called “two of the best” players in the country. She put forwards Kayla Pedersen (who led the team with 18 points Friday) and Nneka Ogwumike (who contributed 17) on her future wish list.

The WNBA is in its 14th season, but “the climate right now is very sensitive,” she said, referring to the nation’s economic malaise. The Sacramento Monarchs are looking for a new home after their owners put them up for sale. The WNBA hopes to keep going, though, and to have a team in the Bay Area, Angela said.

Also in her remarks to the FBC, Tara said, “This was not an inspired game for us. We weren’t playing as hard and as well as we wanted to.”

On the other hand, “We can learn a lot from this game.”

November 21, 2009

Joslyn's story of a bear scare

When a freshman basketball player joins the Stanford women’s team, it doesn’t take long before she has a favorite story to illustrate head coach Tara VanDerveer’s renowned dry wit. Usually it’s some admonition or word of advice. Last year, for example, guard Lindy La Rocque, now a sophomore, told the Fast Break Club that when she ventured too far from the perimeter toward the front court, Tara said something like, “Lindy, don’t you know there are alligators in there?”

Now freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle has her own favorite story, but this one is more at the coach’s expense. Joslyn, who hails from Missoula, Mont., said that as Tara was going out the door after the official home visit, Joslyn’s mother said jokingly, “Should we tell her about the bear?’ With that, Tara almost sprinted to her car, Joslyn said.

The personable Joslyn was speaking to the Fast Break Club on Nov. 19 after the Cardinal’s 99-50 victory over visiting Pepperdine – the Cardinal’s 30th consecutive home court win during the regular season. Unfortunately, Joslyn didn’t play because of a foot injury. An MRI showed that it has begun to heal, so it’s hoped that she can be back in action within a matter of weeks, said associate head coach Amy Tucker, adding that the coaches are eager to get her into the rotation of bigs. “She’s a great kid. She is a great player,” Tara added later.

Also sidelined were sophomore forward Sarah Boothe, who is recovering from foot surgery and might red-shirt, Tara said; junior forward Ashley Cimino, who has a sprained ankle but is expected back next week; and junior guard Hannah Donaghe, who continues to improve following knee surgery last season.

Commenting on the game, Tara said, “Our starting lineup and JJ (senior guard JJ Hones) really got after it.” JJ, who had knee surgery a year ago, is the first one off the bench and is considered part of the starting lineup. Even though she isn’t 100 percent, “she’s looking great,” Tara said. “It’s great to have Michelle back,” too, she said, referring to senior forward Michelle Harrison, who got her first playing time after back trouble.

The younger, smaller Pepperdine team pressed hard against the Cardinal, giving the home team a taste of what it can expect from other opponents. “We knew we’d wear them down,” but “we need to take care of the ball a little bit better,” Tara said, referring to the team’s 21 turnovers, compared with 17 for Pepperdine.

On the plus side, five players – JJ, junior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior center Jayne Appel, sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike and sophomore guard Jeanette Pohlen – were in double figures. The team also knocked in nine 3-pointers.

Asked about the recently signed recruits, Tara said “we’re very excited.” Guard Sara James works hard and “is going to be great.” Toni Kokenis, a point guard, committed to Stanford as soon as she was accepted and will be a good complement to JJ when she returns for her final year (she red-shirted last season).

Forward Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka’s sister, was “very highly recruited. She is going to make an immediate impact,” Tara said.

Joslyn, who has a younger sister and a younger brother – both of them athletes -- was born in Europe and lived there for about eight years while her father played professional basketball. Now he’s the men’s basketball coach at the University of Montana in Missoula. He and Joslyn’s mother met when both played basketball there. Amy interjected that Joslyn’s mother and Joslyn’s high school coach were on the Montana team that Stanford played against in its first NCAA tournament game in 1988.

Besides Stanford, Joslyn considered Oklahoma, Texas, Duke and Georgia, making official visits to all of them. Stanford was last on the travel itinerary, and then “I was sold,” she said. In making her decision, she thought about “where I would be most happy outside of basketball.”

Now that she’s at Stanford, “I’m loving the experience. I’m super glad to be here.”

She’s finding time management to be her biggest adjustment from high school, but “everyone here is so helpful.” She jokingly said that one of the things she has learned from her new teammates is to “wear my mouth guard.” She regards being one of the bigs a challenge and sees herself backing up Kayla at the 3 spot.

Tara had this comment about the team: “We have something very special,” she said, citing the players’ unselfishness and maturity.