March 17, 2010

Making history

The Stanford women’s basketball team powered its way through the Pac-10 tournament at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, defeating Arizona 72-52 on March 12 and Cal 64-44 on March 13 before toppling UCLA 70-46 on March 14 to take home the championship trophy. Thus the Cardinal became the first team to go undefeated during the Pac-10 season and then win the conference tournament.

Now the players have their eyes on an even bigger prize, the national championship. Just four more wins will send the team to the Final Four in San Antonio. The march starts at about 7:30 p.m. March 20 when No. 1-seeded Stanford faces UC Riverside at home in Maples Pavilion. Assuming a Stanford win, the next opponent would be either Rutgers or Iowa on March 22 at home Winning that game would mean the Sweet 16 and a bus ride to presumably two more games in the regional at Sacramento’s Arco Arena the following weekend, March 27 and 29.

Besides bringing home the Pac-10 trophy and net as a team, Stanford collected individual honors. Forward Nneka Ogwumike was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Center Jayne Appel and forward Kayla Pedersen were named to the all-tournament team. Just before the Cal game, Jayne was honored as the Toyo Tires Pac-10 Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Toyo Tires also donated $1,000 to the Stanford women’s basketball scholarship fund in Jayne’s name, according to a Pac-10 press release.

The tournament actually began March 11, when the four bottom seeds played. Between those two games, Jayne and Nneka joined two players from each of the other nine teams to sign autographs for young fans. In the meantime, Stanford videographer Sarah Boruta worked on her laptop as she sat on the floor behind the video cameras in the stands, presumably preparing a scouting video of Arizona’s 2-point victory over Washington State. Sarah spent most of the tournament in that spot.

Friday’s festivities began with a sendoff from the Marriott Hotel downtown, where all of the teams were staying. Only a few fans were there, including Nneka’s father, Peter, who took pictures with his camera phone as the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree performed.

Because of a sprained ankle, Jayne didn’t start in the game against Arizona. Freshman Joslyn Tinkle got the nod instead. Jayne got into the game during the second half and played for about 10 minutes, contributing 7 points, three rebounds and a block.

Stanford was a perfect 9 for 9 from the free-throw line during the first half even though some Arizona fans, presumably students, ran back and forth in the stands behind the basket while Stanford players were at the line. Obviously their strategy didn’t work. In response, a few Stanford band members made some distracting motions behind the Arizona basket.

There were a few more fans at Saturday’s sendoff, and several hotel employees used their camera phones. After about a 15-minute serenade by the band, guard JJ Hones led the team off to the bus.

As she had done at the Arizona game, Jayne spent part of the warm-up time riding an exercise bike next to the Stanford bench. The Tree showed that he can do more than dance by playing drums with the band for a short time before resuming his usual persona.

Joslyn again got the start for Jayne, who came in with about 14 minutes to go in the first half. She played a total of 19 minutes and scored another 7 points to go with two rebounds, two assists, a block and two steals.

All 14 dressed players (center Sarah Boothe hasn’t played all season after foot surgery) got into the game. They included freshman forward Mikaela Ruef, who recorded the first 3-pointer of her college career.

The Cal game was marred by a scary scene in the second half when Cal senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson fell onto her back and head after trying to shoot near the basket. She lay motionless on the court for about 15 minutes before being wheeled off on a gurney, accompanied by her mother. Later, after she had been evaluated at a hospital, it was reported that she had suffered a sprained neck and would be OK.

The final sendoff on Sunday attracted a larger crowd. As the band played – as only the Stanford band can play – UCLA players and coaches had to thread their way through Stanford players and the band to reach their bus. It’s not certain what they were thinking.

The Stanford players’ reaction was readily apparent, though, as they smiled and pumped their arms during the fanfare that preceded a mini-dance to “It’s All Right” and the trek to the bus.

For all its goofy antics, the band has proven to be a loyal backer of the team, enthusiastically following it through tournament play. I marvel at these musicians’ stamina, for they seem to get almost as much exercise as the team during the course of a tournament game day, yet they’re just as energetic at the end of the game as they were at the sendoff several hours earlier. They’re also vocal rooters during the games.

Jayne started against UCLA and played 28 minutes, amassing 15 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal. The contributions of other players have been enumerated elsewhere on this FBC site, but guard Melanie Murphy deserves additional recognition for serving as a sparkplug off the bench. She has been hampered by various injuries throughout the season, but during this tournament she played a total of 52 minutes and seemed to get better with each game. She’s a playmaker who gets the ball to open teammates and doesn’t hesitate to shoot it herself if that’s the right thing to do.

At the end of the championship celebration, as players, coaches and staff members took turns cutting off a piece of the net, head coach Tara VanDerveer broke with tradition. Instead of making the final cut to remove the net, she gave that honor to fifth-year senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who triumphantly held the net aloft.

Now that the ticket has been punched, shall we dance?

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