May 2, 2010

Thanks for the memories – A look back at 2009-10, Part 2

After compiling a 28-1 regular season record with no losses at home, it was time for the Stanford women’s basketball team to gear up for championship play.

Tournament time

The Cardinal came home from the Galen Center in Los Angeles with the Pac-10 tournament championship trophy after downing Arizona 72-52 on March 12, Cal 64-44 on March 13 and UCLA 70-46 on March 14. Thus Stanford made Pac-10 history with its combination of an undefeated conference season and the tournament championship.

In addition to the trophy, the team brought home individual honors. Sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Senior center Jayne Appel and junior 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.

Because of a sprained ankle, Jayne didn’t start against Arizona or Cal, so freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle got the nod. However, Jayne played in both games and contributed her share of points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. All 14 dressed players (sophomore center Sarah Boothe did not play all season after foot surgery) got into action against Cal. They included freshman forward Mikaela Ruef, who recorded the first 3-pointer of her college career.

Jayne did start in the championship game and amassed 15 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal. As the victorious Stanford players and staff began cutting down the nets, head coach Tara VanDerveer broke with tradition. Instead of making the final cut to remove the net herself, she handed the scissors to fifth-year Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who triumphantly held the net aloft.

Fans, the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree gave the team a sendoff from their hotel for all three games. During the sendoff for the final game, UCLA players and coaches had to thread their way through the enthusiastic crowd to reach their bus.

The big dance

By virtue of winning the Pac-10 tournament, Stanford got an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Its overall record and strength of schedule resulted in the second No. 1 seed overall. The Cardinal also hosted the first and second rounds. Before playing, they showcased their skills during a one-hour open practice March 19.

Stanford took care of UC Riverside 79-47 in the first-round game March 20. All 14 uniformed players saw action.

In the second-round game against Iowa on March 22, Ros played her final game at Maples in memorable fashion. She scored a team-high and career-high 26 points in the 96-67 victory. Not only that, she opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, then scored five more in succession. She went on to record one more 3 plus two other baskets and a free throw to go with one rebound, five assists, one block and one steal in 33 minutes. When she went to the bench for the last time, the crowd gave a roaring ovation to go with a hug from Tara.

The other four starters also scored in double figures – Jayne in her last Maples game with 16, Nneka with 23, and Kayla and junior guard Jeanette Pohlen with 11 each. Once again, everyone got to play. Thus the team completed its second consecutive undefeated season at Maples – 46 home games.

Off to the Sweet and the Elite

Two busloads of fans joined others wearing Cardinal red as Stanford advanced to the regional – aka the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight – at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

Preceding the first game on March 27, fans gathered at Bella Bru Cafe for a buffet on the outdoor patio. They then proceeded to the nearby arena, where their team tended to business, defeating 5-seeded Georgia 73-36. The starters were all on the bench with 6:16 to go and their team ahead by 36. Again, all 14 dressed players got onto the court.

Two more busloads of fans went to the Xavier game on March 29, but they weren’t nearly as relaxed. Stanford led 26-24 at the half, in part because Xavier’s taller post players made life difficult for Jayne, Kayla and Nneka. After Jayne fouled out in the second half, a fan yelled, “Do it for Jayne,” referring to the senior’s oft-stated wish for a national championship.

Then came the storybook finish – one that will go down as one of the greatest plays in the history of Stanford women’s basketball. With just seconds to go and the score tied 53-53, a Xavier player missed two easy layups. Kayla rebounded the second one and immediately called a time out. In the huddle, the coaches called what turned out to be the perfect play.

With only 4.4 seconds left, Kayla inbounded the ball to Jeanette under the Xavier basket. Jeanette streaked down the court and made the winning basket. In fact, the ball was in the air when the buzzer sounded, but it had left her hands in time. Thus the game didn’t go into overtime, jubilation broke out on Stanford’s half of the court, Jeanette was mobbed by her joyous teammates, and Stanford was on its way to its third consecutive Final Four with a 55-53 victory.

Two days later, the team was packed and ready to go to San Antonio. Before going to the airport, the players were given an enthusiastic send-off by about 100 fans, the band, cheerleaders, Dollies, Tree and media types. “Our team has worked extremely hard to get here,” Tara told the crowd. “We’re not just going to Texas for the barbecue.”

Deep in the heart of Texas

The weather was hot and humid in San Antonio, but the hundreds of Stanford fans, along with fans from Baylor, UConn and Oklahoma, enjoyed the River Walk, Alamo and other attractions. Prior to the Oklahoma game on April 4, Stanford fans gathered at the team’s Hotel Contessa for a social and send-off. After a 10-minute serenade by the band, the team headed to the bus while clapping to “All Right Now”. Once everyone was aboard, the bus took off, escorted by two police motorcycles with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

The Alamodome atmosphere was noisy and electrifying as fans from all four schools milled about wearing their teams’ colors. Stanford and Oklahoma started off the evening’s action. Nneka paced Stanford to its 73-66 victory over the Sooners with a breathtaking 38-point, 16-rebound performance.

Few fans left after that game because they were eager to see how undefeated UConn would fare against Baylor with its 6’8” freshman phenom, Brittney Griner. No problem – the Huskies prevailed 70-50.

Two days later, Stanford fans gathered for a buffet and rally at Rio Rio Cantina restaurant near the team’s hotel. After enjoying Tex-Mex appetizers and other refreshments, the fans walked to the hotel for the send-off. Standing in front of the hotel, the team joined the fans and band in chanting, “This is our year. This is our team.” Then it was onto the bus, which again had a police escort.

The championship game was preceded by an impressive flag ceremony presented by military personnel from nearby bases. The crowd included Vice President Joe Biden and members of his family – thus necessitating stricter security at the gates.

Since UConn was the top No. 1 seed and Stanford was the second No. 1 seed, the Cardinal were in their red road uniforms for the first time since the regular season. The first half was low-scoring and ended with Stanford ahead 20-12, giving fans reason for cautious optimism.

UConn began to rally in the second half, especially after Jayne hobbled to the bench after aggravating her ankle injury. After retaping and a pain shot, she returned to the game. She gritted it out but finished the game scoreless for the first time in her college career. Still, she had seven rebounds and two assists in her 30 minutes. She also diverted defensive attention from her teammates and no doubt inspired them with her toughness. It later was revealed that she had been diagnosed with a stress fracture on March 21.

The final score was 53-47 in UConn’s favor. It was the closest margin of victory in the Huskies’ two-season, 78-game winning streak and its first by single digits.

Two days later, Jayne was in New Jersey with her parents and associate head coach Amy Tucker for the WNBA draft. It soon became apparent that she would be back in San Antonio because the Silver Stars, drafting fifth, made her their first-round choice. She then spent several days in Connecticut, where the USA National Team was training. Though she remained on the sidelines, she said she learned a lot. She also was reunited with Kayla and Nneka, who were there with the younger USA Select Team.

One final gathering

Before completing her travels and settling in San Antonio, Jayne joined her teammates one last time as friends, family and fans honored them at the bittersweet annual awards banquet at the Stanford Faculty Club on April 22.

Although the coaches usually announce the most outstanding player, best defensive player and most improved player, they decided to forgo those awards because of the team’s impressive record and the numerous individual honors garnered during the year.

In addition to its 36-2 overall record and Pac-10 championship, the team recorded the most rebounds ever – 1,719 total, or 45.2 per game, an 11.8 margin over opponents. It held opponents to a record-low 53.9 points per game and a record-low field goal percentage of .339 per game.

After praising each of the 15 players individually, Tara opened the floor to the three departing seniors – forward Michelle Harrison, Jayne and Ros. All three spoke emotionally of what an honor it was to play for Stanford and advised the underclassmen to savor every moment because the time goes fast.

Following a season highlights video by Bud Anderson, director of creative video, Sarah presented the Lizard Lung Award to junior guard Hannah Donaghe, the first upperclassman to receive her teammates’ lighthearted award for gullibility. Sarah was last year’s winner.

After dinner, as people mingled in the dining room, the team and coaches posed for their last pictures together. Then it was time for the 12 returning players to think about going back to their rooms, setting their alarm clocks for a 7 a.m. strength and conditioning workout, and getting ready for the 2010-11 season – which looks mighty promising once again.

May 1, 2010

Thanks for the memories – A look back at 2009-10, Part 1

Wow, what a ride the Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans took during the 2009-10 season. Compiling a 36-2 record overall, the team made history with its first combination of both an undefeated Pac-10 regular season and the Pac-10 tournament championship. From there, the team marched through the NCAA tournament at home and in Sacramento before going on to its third consecutive Final Four and the championship game in San Antonio in April.

All along the way, the team and individual players broke records and won well-deserved honors. Here’s a look back at how it all unfolded.

Pre-season events

Fans who couldn’t wait for the season to start got their first tantalizing taste of what was to come as they watched incoming freshman forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle in the Bay Area Pro-Am games during July and early August at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco. What they saw was promising indeed, as both players showed their overall scoring abilities as well as their 3-point shots and rebounding.

In the meantime, sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike went to Thailand with the USA U-19 team and helped lead it to a gold medal in the FIBA games. Classmate Sarah Boothe, center, was to have gone, too, but a foot injury forced her to withdraw. In addition, juniors Jeanette Pohlen, guard, and Kayla Pedersen, forward, helped the USA team win gold at the University Games in Belgrade, Serbia.

Except for the two freshmen, who were barred from the trip by NCAA rules, the rest of the team gathered on campus for 12 hours of practice in early September before embarking on their 10-day trip to Italy. There they won three of their four games against mostly older players and had a terrific time touring the country.

Fast Break Club members got a chance to hear all about it from the coaches and staff during the fourth annual wine tasting at Vino Locale in Palo Alto on Oct. 11. Head coach Tara VanDerveer wasn’t there because she was giving a clinic for her sister Heidi, head coach at Occidental College. However, associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Kate Paye and Bobbie Kelsey all commented that, based on the trip to Italy, “the team is looking awesome,” as Kate put it. How right she was.

Fans saw the team in action during an open practice in early October. Then came the first exhibition game, a 107-49 romp over Vanguard in Maples on Nov. 1. The scoring included 15 3-pointers, thanks to Jeanette and Kayla; senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude; red-shirt junior guards Melanie Murphy and JJ Hones; and sophomore guards Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque.

The Cardinal won its second exhibition game, also at home, 107-55 against UC San Diego on Nov. 8.

The season starts

The first two regular season games were both on the road, and both resulted in victories – 89-56 over Old Dominion on Nov. 13 and 81-66 over Rutgers on Nov. 15.

Back in the friendly confines of Maples, the Cardinal topped Pepperdine 99-50 on Nov. 19. After the game, FBC members had a chance to meet Joslyn. The Missoula, Montana resident, whose father is the University of Montana’s men’s basketball coach, said she had made official visits to Oklahoma, Texas, Duke and Georgia before visiting Stanford. “I was sold,” she said, noting that she decided that Stanford was “where I would be most happy outside of basketball.”

A short road trip to UC Davis on Nov. 22 led to another victory, 76-51. Then it was back to Maples for a five-game home stand starting with Utah and a 60-41 victory on Nov. 27 After that game, the FBC heard from alum Angela Taylor,’93, now vice president and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Gonzaga was the next to fall to the Cardinal – 105-74 on Nov. 29. Scoring a team-high 30 points, Kayla joined the 1,000-point club. Nneka was just behind her with 29 points. Afterward, Mikaela told the FBC that she started playing basketball in kindergarten and received a basketball for Christmas when she was 5. Hailing from Beavercreek, Ohio, Mikaela still is close to family since several relatives live in the Bay Area.

After taking a two-week break for finals, Stanford defeated visiting DePaul 96-60 on Dec. 13. Halftime saw the return of those fan favorites, the agility dogs from Ace Dog Sports. The game also was noteworthy because senior center Jayne Appel snared her 1,000th rebound, joining the illustrious company of Nicole Powell, ’04, and Val Whiting, ’93.

Afterward, the team and fans gathered at Dallmar Court for the annual auction, a fun fund-raiser with “Back in the Saddle” as its western theme. A life-size black horse standing near the auctioneer’s stage was an eye-catcher. One of the most popular auction items was a colorful team quilt made by Lindy’s mother, Beverly, who also had made one for the 2008 auction. That first one sold for $800, but the new edition sold for $975.

Duke, ranked seventh in the nation at the time, was the next to fall, 71-55, in Maples on Dec. 15. The FBC’s post-game gathering was held in Maples for the first time. “This was a big win for our team. This is a really special team,” Tara said.

The final game of the five-game home stand brought a 67-52 win over Tennessee on Dec. 19. The Lady Vols had arrived with a 9-0 record and a No. 3 national ranking, while the Cardinal had an 8-0 record and a No. 2 ranking – a spot that the team held from the pre-season and all season thereafter.

After the game, both teams gathered in a circle. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Jeanette told the FBC later. The game had attracted in a crowd of 6,809, close to a full house. “The crowd and the excitement were just great,” Tara said.

Just four days later, on Dec. 23, the team was in Hartford, Conn. to meet the defending national champion and undefeated UConn Huskies. Stanford led at the half but fell 80-68 to a team that had been knocking off its opponents by 20 points or more. It turned out to be Stanford’s only regular season loss.

After Christmas break, the team took a short road trip to Fresno State, where the score was 68-46 on Dec. 30.

Pac-10 play gets under way

The new year was just 2 days old when the Pac-10 season began with Stanford’s 79-58 win over Cal in Maples. A highlight in this game came courtesy of Mel. On a fast break play, she made a no-look pass to Nneka, who promptly scored. Afterward, junior guard Hannah Donaghe was the FBC’s guest. She hadn’t played thus far because she was rehabbing from knee surgery, but she had been cleared to practice.

A quick trip to Los Angeles netted two more wins – 82-62 over USC on Jan. 8 and 65-61 over UCLA on Jan. 10.

Hannah was in uniform for the first time but didn’t play Jan. 14, when Washington State fell 80-43. Lindy made the highlights video by intercepting a pass in WSU’s backcourt, running it back to the Stanford arc and nailing a 3-pointer. Junior forward Ashley Cimino made the first 3-pointer of her college career late in the game.

Washington gave the Cardinal more trouble than expected on Jan. 16, but fell nevertheless, 66-51. The team was without starting guard Jeanette Pohlen, who had aggravated a sprained ankle, so Lindy started in her place.

Oregon was the site of the next two wins – 63-47 over Oregon State on Jan. 21 and 100-80 over Oregon on Jan. 23.

Visiting Maples on Jan. 28, Arizona State managed to do something no other team had done previously in the season. It led at the half – 29-25. Just slightly more than three minutes into the second half, Kayla hit the basket that put her team ahead, and there was no looking back after that. Final score – 71-48. Speaking to the FBC afterward, former Chronicle sports writer Michelle Smith predicted that Stanford, Tennessee and UConn would go to the Final Four (she was right on two counts).

The 83-62 victory over Arizona on Jan; 30 was the team’s 40th consecutive home win. Even though Arizona led 42-40 at the half, Stanford stormed back to outscore them 43-20 in the second half. In a departure from tradition, the team wore its red road uniforms rather than its home whites to call attention to the earthquake disaster in Haiti.

The entire team joined the FBC afterward for Fan Appreciation Day. Douglas Lee and Kelly Noonan, who have been loyal boosters for many years, won the Fan Spirit Award.

The two LA teams came to visit the following week and fell again – UCLA down 74-53 on Feb. 4 and USC down 77-39 on Feb. 7. During the UCLA game, Jayne scored 23 points, a season high for her. Her performance was marred with just under 8 minutes to go in the second half when she was ejected for what was called a flagrant foul on Jasmine Dixon. It wasn’t intentional, Jayne said later. Dixon and UCLA head coach Nikki Caldwell concurred.

The USC game was highlighted by a ceremony honoring members of the 1989-90 team, which won the first of Stanford’s two national championships. The ceremony took place right after the 1 p.m. game to allow fans time to watch the football Super Bowl.

“This was our Super Sunday,” Tara told the crowd. “I’m proud of this year’s team,” she said, but the 1990 team showed the way with its “commitment to excellence…. It set the standards.” The night before, that 32-1 team and the present team had a dinner that the present players said was both inspirational and educational.

Besides honoring the championship team, the game featured a major milestone when Jayne surpassed the Stanford rebounding record of 1,143 set by Nicole Powell in 2004. Jayne’s 1,444th rebound came with 7:34 to go in the first half. She finished the game with 13 rebounds for a career total of 1,153 – and counting. She also chipped in 15 points, two assists and one block. Hannah got her first playing time.

Then it was off to the Pacific Northwest, where the team downed Washington 58-36 on Feb. 12 and Washington State 98-67 on Feb. 14.

The Oregon teams came calling the next weekend. The fun started Feb. 18 when the Cardinal dismantled Oregon 104-60, a game in which all five Stanford starters reached double figures. Kayla gets credit for the play of the game – inbounding the ball by deflecting it off a Duck’s back, then catching it and scoring.

Mixed emotions dominated the next game on Feb. 20 as Stanford defeated Oregon State 82-48 and clinched at least a share of the Pac-10 season title. It also was Senior Night, a chance to honor the four members of the Class of 2010 and fifth-year player Ros.

The game itself opened fittingly with Jayne scoring the game’s first points just 15 seconds after tipoff. About 11 minutes later, she scored her 2,000th career point, vaulting herself into Stanford’s exclusive 2,000-point/1,000-rebound club. Its only other members are Val Whiting and Nicole Powell. All of her classmates got on the scoreboard, too. Near the end of the game, all five – Jayne, forward Michelle Harrison, guards JJ Hones and Melanie Murphy, and Ros -- were on the court.

After the game, they were honored with a moving video, then were introduced individually with their families. Later, at a packed Dallmar Court, Amy enumerated the seniors’ accomplishments – four Pac-10 season championships, three Pac-10 tournament championships (soon to be four), two Elite Eights (soon to be three) and two Final Fours (soon to be three). Their win-loss record, starting with the 2006-07 season, was 122-15, about 89 percent of their games – and still counting. The final tally was 133-16 after the national championship game.

The next weekend, Stanford went to Arizona and returned with two more wins – 62-43 over Arizona State on Feb. 25 and 75-48 over Arizona on Feb. 27.

A busload of fans traveled to Berkeley to watch their team topple Cal 63-48 for the final regular season game on March 6. Jayne didn’t play because of a sprained ankle, but her family and friends filled an entire section. They were obvious because of their red T-shirts inscribed “House of Jayne.” Joslyn started in Jayne’s place.

After that, it was tournament time – coming in Part 2.