"It’s fun to see different people stepping up,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the Stanford women’s basketball team recorded a 70-32 victory over South Carolina on Nov. 26, the day after the team had a Jimmy V’s Thanksgiving dinner with other athletes in Dallmar Court.
All 12 healthy players got into the game, and no one played more 30 minutes. The starting lineup featured senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and four forwards, one from each class -- senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike, sophomore Joslyn Tinkle and freshman Chiney Ogwumike. Tara substituted rather freely. With 4:25 to go in the game and the score at 64-28, the last of the starters was on the bench.
“A lot of different people are getting looks,” Tara said. She hasn’t decided which combinations work best together. “It’s a puzzle to put together.”
In this game, “our plan was to go inside,” thus opening opportunities on the perimeter. The strategy worked as the Cardinal made eight of 19 3-point shots, or 42.1 percent. Jeanette sank four 3s, Joslyn had two, and Kayla and freshman guard Sara James had one each.
The post-game session gave the FBC a chance to meet Chiney. “This is not a shy one,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said as she introduced the freshman. “I love Stanford so far. It’s great,” Chiney said. Commenting on the game, she said, “You can see how much we’ve been practicing.”
Fans also may have seen that “I have somebody who looks just like me on the team,” she said, referring to her older sister, Nneka. She also noted that the two sisters had a large family contingent at the game, including their mother, two younger sisters and several others.
Chiney didn’t start playing basketball until she was about 10 years old, after Nneka took up the game and got better and better. “We played in the driveway.”
She hasn’t decided on a major, but she’s considering a combination law-business degree program like the one that assistant coach Kate Paye earned at Stanford. International relations and communications are other possibilities.
She chose Stanford after asking herself, “What’s the best combination of athletics and academics? That was an easy decision.”
One of the big differences she has seen between the high school and college game is that in high school one person can set the tone, while “in college it takes five people to set the tone of the game. We call it tag team.”
She and Nneka played together in high school, but now that Nneka has two years of college experience, “she has completely developed into someone I don’t even know,” Chiney said, citing her sister’s maturity and experience. Still “we have protective instincts for each other,” and Chiney trusts Nneka’s advice.
“She’s something else, isn’t she?" Amy said as she excused Chiney. “Nneka is quite the little coach with Chiney.” As for the game, “I was happy to see our offense get going. Everyone did something well,” she said.
Other guests at the FBC gathering included South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and assistant coach Nikki McCray, who both were on the 1996 gold-medal winning Olympics team coached by Tara. “I’ve learned the most basketball from Tara,” Dawn said, adding that she was pleased that “we got a warm reception” from the Stanford fans.
Also speaking highly of Tara were Ruthie Bolton, another player on the 1996 Olympics team and a former professional player; and Edna Campbell, a former professional player who coaches the varsity girls basketball team at a Sacramento high school. Ruthie was there with her 18-month-old daughter.
Tara concluded the session by praising her team’s defense and the leadership of the Big Three – Jeanette, Kayla and Nneka – who accounted for 35 of the team’s 70 points.