January 30, 2010

Slow start, fast finish against Arizona State

The Arizona State Sun Devils managed to do something on Jan. 28 that no other team, not even UConn, had been able to do all season: It led the Stanford women’s basketball team at the half, 29-25. ASU’s lead had been even greater than that earlier in the half, but Stanford began inching upward.

Just slightly more than three minutes into the second half, forward Kayla Pedersen hit the basket that put Stanford ahead 32-30, and there was no looking back. The final score was 71-48. Kayla also led all scoring with 23 points, to go with seven rebounds, but it was a solid team effort that put Stanford in control.

The game illustrated another Cardinal trait: When one usually high-scoring player gets in trouble, others take over. Such was the case this time when forward Nneka Ogwumike had to spend 17 minutes on the bench because of fouls, thus limiting her scoring to 8 points to go with seven rebounds, an assist and two steals. Nneka had scored 30 points and snared a school record 23 rebounds in Stanford’s 100-80 defeat of Oregon there on Jan. 23.

With Nneka sidelined for so long against ASU, her fellow bigs, Kayla and center Jayne Appel, helped to pick up the slack. Jayne, who has steadily improved as her surgically repaired knee has healed, had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds plus a block and a steal.

Guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who has shown up big in recent games, rose to the occasion again with a career-high 19 points (including three 3-pointers), three rebounds and an assist. And as has been her trademark throughout the season, she dominated defensively. Head coach Tara VanDerveer said in the post-game press conference that not only is Ros the best defensive player in the Pac-10, she’s possibly the best defensive player in the nation.

“Our defense really amped it up in the second half,” associate head coach Amy Tucker told the Fast Break Club after the game. That was good because, “We didn’t match their physicality or their aggressiveness” in the first half.

“It was interesting,” Tara said in an understatement. “I’m really proud of how our team stayed together.”

Michelle Smith, who covered women’s basketball for the San Francisco Chronicle, talked about the challenges she has faced in the nine months since losing her job in one of a series of cutbacks at the paper. “Every day is something new,” she told the FBC. In creating her Internet site, Left Coast Hoops, she’s had to learn new skills, such as how to write an ad contract.

After the college basketball season ends this spring, she might cover the WNBA. “I’ll figure it out,” she said. She also writes for Fan House, an AOL feature.

As for this year’s Stanford team, it has, “a good vibe. This is a pretty poised team.” She expects it to go to the Final Four along with UConn and Tennessee, but she couldn’t venture a guess on who will fill the fourth slot.

As a side note, she mentioned that her 16-year-old daughter, Annie, is one of the Irish dancers who are popular halftime entertainers at Stanford games. She’s one of the taller ones in a lime green dress, Michelle said.

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