January 3, 2010

Fans worry after victory over Cal

We fans of Stanford women’s basketball are a spoiled lot. The team has been ranked #2 in the nation since the start of the season, the record is 10-1, and the only loss was to #1 UConn – by just 12 points, UConn’s lowest margin of victory.

Now the Cardinal has just defeated Cal by 21 points, 79-58, at home on Jan. 2 – and we’re worried. We want perfection, and there were some troubling aspects to the game. This was especially true in the first half, when the Cardinal shot 30.8 percent, missing too many easy baskets.

Some of those misses were by star center Jayne Appel, but she made up for it in the second half, ending the game with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen the real Jayne yet,” associate head coach Amy Tucker told the Fast Break Club after the game. “Her knee (on which she had surgery after last season) has been sore the past two days, but traditionally she finishes well,” she said. “We know Jayne can play better.” It’s a matter of getting her knee better.

Perhaps more troubling is that neither of the starting guards, Jeanette Pohlen and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, scored. However, Jeanette tweaked her ankle in the second half and had to go to the locker room for taping before returning to action. Ros, who had four rebounds, two steals and an assist, helped keep Cal’s best player, senior Alexis Gray-Lawson, under control, limiting her to 9 points.

On the brighter side, guard JJ Hones, who has had knee trouble, came off the bench again and contributed 5 points, five assists and a steal. Freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle continued to make progress, adding 7 points and three rebounds in just 14 minutes. (Some fans have taken to ringing small bells when she scores.)

Guard Melanie Murphy, who also has had injury trouble, came in to score 11 points along with two rebounds and an assist. She initiated the game’s most exciting fast-break moment, a no-look pass to forward Nneka Ogwumike, who promptly made the basket. “I like how Mel came in,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the FBC.

Nneka continued to play in stellar fashion with 24 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Right behind her, forward Kayla Pedersen recorded 16 points, 10 rebounds and a steal.

Also on the bright side, the team made 80 percent of its free throws (the goal is 75 percent, Tara said) and outrebounded Cal 49-41. Furthermore, 13 players were suited up, and 13 got into the game. We haven’t seen that for a while. “I’m really happy to get more people in,” Tara said. They keep each other accountable, she said. Only guard Hannah Donaghe (knee) and center Sarah Boothe (foot) weren’t in uniform, but they’re both practicing.

Speaking to the FBC, Hannah said, “My knee is doing well. I scrimmaged the last two days in practice.” She was pretending to be Cal guard Layshia Clarendon, a freshman who drew raves from TV announcers Jim Watson and Mary Murphy during the game.

“Be her all the time,” assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey said to Hannah. “Don’t be sweet Hannah.” Speaking from her own experience, Bobbie said that returning from a knee injury is almost as much psychological as it is physical. The plan is for Hannah to be eased into action “sooner than later.”

Answering fans' questions, Hannah, a junior, said she’s majoring in earth systems, which she described as a mix of environmental science, geology and other disciplines. Because she’s from Atascadero, she wanted to stay in California for college. She looked at UC Davis, where her older sister plays basketball, and at UCLA, but “nothing could compare with Stanford” for academics and basketball, she said.

Talking about the game, Tara said, “We just missed some easy shots.” At one point, the Cardinal missed 14 in a row, but “they don’t get down on themselves.”

Something that the team has been working on is taking charges, meaning an opposing player charges into a Cardinal defender and is called for a foul. “We have a charge club,” Tara said.

Looking back at the UConn game, Tara said, “Playing there was a great experience for our team. Our team was very poised,” but made some defensive mistakes such as not boxing out well. “It was a Final Four atmosphere…. We’re very disappointed that we didn’t play better. … We have to improve.”

Now that Pac-10 play has started, “We are the big target,” she said. “Our team has to come out and be more aggressive” when it journeys to Los Angeles to play UCLA and USC next weekend.

Keeping the team healthy is a top priority. For example, “we train on bikes” instead of running, Tara said. The players also watch a lot of video of themselves. “Our players are very committed.”

They didn’t get much of a holiday break. They played at UConn on Dec. 23 and had to be back on campus Dec. 27. However, they got into the holiday spirit of sharing. Instead of having a gift exchange among themselves, they contributed some of their meal allowance to help a needy family have the Christmas it might not otherwise have had, Tara said.

After returning from the 68-46 win at Fresno on Dec. 30, the team celebrated New Year’s Eve with a party at the home of Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations.

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