December 28, 2010

Surpassing expectations against Xavier

It’s safe to say that most people were expecting a close game when the Stanford women’s basketball team hosted Xavier on Dec. 28. After all, Stanford had beaten Xavier by only 2 points in March, thus keeping the Musketeers out of the Final Four in March. So surely Xavier would want revenge and would figure to be tough with the loss of only one starter from last season.

So much for expectations. Stanford routed Xavier 89-52 and outplayed the visitors in every aspect of the game. “This was a statement game for our team,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the game.

Maybe the short holiday break was good for the Cardinal. More likely, the team learned a lot from its two road losses against DePaul and Tennessee before Christmas. And surely the coaches had prepared the team well and had a good game plan. The Cardinal knew all of Xavier’s plays and followed the game plan, Tara said. “I liked how our team came out and was the aggressor,” she said.

“That game plan was on the money,” said Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, as she awaited the coaches’ post-game arrival.

Not to be overlooked in all the statistics is that this was Tara’s 801st career win. She reached the 800 mark at the University of San Francisco on Dec. 22. Winning 800 games “is an amazing accomplishment,” Eileen said.

Stanford fans will have a chance to celebrate that milestone in a big way during the Arizona State game on Jan. 8 when more of Tara’s colleagues and others are on campus. Many of them are already in or on their way to Miami for the football team’s Orange Bowl game on Jan. 3.

Besides the victory over Xavier, it was gratifying to see the entire team at Maples. Many fans had wondered if everyone would be able to get back because of the blizzard that struck the East Coast. Associate head coach Amy Tucker said after the post-game gathering that everyone had left early enough to miss the worst of the weather.

The starting lineup featured senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike and freshman Chiney Ogwumike in the forward spots along with senior Jeanette Pohlen and junior Lindy La Rocque in the guard positions. By the end of the game, all 12 healthy players saw action, and nearly everyone scored. Even with most or all of the starters on the bench as time dwindled, the scoring margin grew. It went from +18 (46-28) at the 17:10 mark, to +21, +26, +30, +31 and finally +37 at the buzzer.

Some other telling stats: The Cardinal shot 49.3 percent for the game while holding Xavier to 30 percent. Stanford’s 3-point advantage was 38.1 percent (eight of 21) vs. 11.1 percent (two of 18). Contributing to the 3-point advantage were Jeanette and Lindy with two each, plus Kayla, junior guard Grace Mashore, senior forward Ashley Cimino and sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle with one each.

The Cardinal had 19 assists to Xavier’s four, 44 rebounds vs. 41, 13 steals vs. four, five blocks vs. two, and only eight turnovers vs. 17. Xavier had the advantage in fouls, 11 to Stanford’s 16, but Stanford made 13 of its 16 free-throw attempts for 81.3 percent, while Xavier made 14 of 23 for 60.9 percent.

Amy’s guests at the post-game gathering were Vanessa Nygaard, ’98, and her 6-month-old daughter, Emerson. Vanessa, who is coaching the girls basketball team at the private Windward School in Los Angeles, said the Cardinal “looked great today.”

“We’re nothing but pleased with this game,” Amy said. “This is a nice little tune-up” for the UConn game on Dec. 30. To continue its tune-up, the team was scheduled to watch video at 6:15 p.m. after the Xavier game.

December 25, 2010

Love fest at USF

With the crowd of 3,441 watching as the seconds ticked off the clock, red signs began popping up everywhere. “800” they said on one side. “Congratulations Tara – S” they said on the other. Thus with the Stanford women’s basketball team’s 100-45 victory over the University of San Francisco on Dec. 22, head coach Tara VanDerveer recorded the 800th win of her storied career.

The signs were a grace note on the accolades that USF gave the Cardinal coach. She also received the game ball and flowers from head coach Jennifer Azzi and associate head coach Katy Steding, both in their first year at USF. More significantly, they were in the first class that Tara recruited to Stanford after she arrived on the Farm in 1985. They went on to help Stanford win its first national championship in 1990. They also played for Tara on the undefeated U.S. Olympics team that won the gold in 1996.

Thus the gathering in the USF gym included a number of women who helped Tara rack up her 800 wins. Besides Jennifer, Katy and the present Cardinal team, they included her two assistant coaches, Stanford graduates Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye.

Then there was the woman who was associated with Tara the longest time on the road to 800 – associate head coach Amy Tucker. She played for Ohio State for two of Tara’s five years as head coach there, was a graduate assistant coach for her for a year and an assistant coach there for another year. When Tara left Ohio State for Stanford in 1985, Amy was hired as an assistant coach.

That tie-in was indirectly symbolized in the bottled water given to the three dozen Stanford fans who rode the booster bus to San Francisco. Pasted on each one was a label saying, “800 … 800 … 800 -- A toast to Tara’s 800th win!! – Cheers – Amy Tucker Fan Club.” Bus riders also were treated to brownies made by Marian Cortesi.

The cheers for Tara started as soon as she walked into the gym prior to the players’ coming in. She and Jennifer spent a long time talking on the sidelines as photographers gathered around them taking pictures.

Fans were briefly concerned upon realizing that freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike wasn’t in uniform. It was later learned that she had tweaked her ankle in practice that morning, so she was being held out as a precaution. She seemed to have no trouble high-fiving everyone on the bench every time one of her teammates made a 3-pointer.

She made that high-five trip along the bench 11 times, thanks to four 3’s by freshman guard Sara James, two by senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and one each by junior guards Lindy La Rocque and Grace Mashore, freshman guard Toni Kokenis, and sophomore forwards Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef.

Jeanette, Lindy, Joslyn, senior forward Kayla Pedersen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike started the game, but Tara substituted fairly often. By the end of the game, all 11 available players had seen at least seven minutes of action and all 11 scored. Conversely, no one played more than 24 minutes (Kayla, Sara).

Kayla led all scorers with 16 points plus a career-high 20 rebounds. It seemed as if every time the ball missed the basket, she was there to rebound it or, better yet, to score if it was an offensive rebound. Nneka, Joslyn and Sara scored 14 points each. Lindy led the team in assists with eight. She also nailed the 3 that pushed the score to 100.

After receiving the game ball and flowers, Tara had some brief remarks. “800 is a lot of games,” she said, adding, “USF, you have a great coach. Jennifer and Katy were a big part of those wins.” The USF website says they accounted for 101 of them.

“I love coaching our team” and working with the coaches and administration at Stanford, Tara said. She then received hugs from each of her present players, who were waving the red signs.

Those 800 wins pay tribute to not only Tara’s prowess as a coach but also her ability to inspire and lead young women. Alumnae who played for her at Stanford have gone on to successful careers, some in professional basketball and/or coaching. Moreover, they have made significant contributions to their communities by becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals as well as community leaders and volunteers. Many credit her as their greatest inspiration.

Through it all, Tara maintains a low-key public persona. She’s always quick to praise opposing teams and coaches and to thank fans for their support. After the USF game, she went to the USF locker room to encourage the players, who never gave up even when greatly outmatched by Stanford. After all, Stanford wasn’t chalking up very many wins until she arrived.

Now look at the record – 800 and counting. Congratulations, Tara!

December 21, 2010

Cheering from afar

Although they were some 2,000 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday, Dec. 19, the 30 or so fans at Mike’s Cafe in Menlo Park did their best to cheer on the Stanford women’s basketball team in its game against Tennessee.

The good vibes almost worked as the Cardinal tied the game at 70-70 at the closing buzzer, but the tide turned in the five-minute overtime, ending in an 82-72 win for the Lady Vols.

Tennessee’s win also deprived head coach Tara VanDerveer of her 800th coaching victory. However, fans can take consolation in the possibility that they can be there in person to see Tara reach that milestone at USF on Dec. 22.

This was the first FBC viewing party at Mike’s, which is on Middlefield Road just north of Willow Road. Some may recall that it had been Late for the Train restaurant.

Mike’s offers a varied menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, main courses, desserts and drinks. Fans who bought a second drink received their first drink for free. The Stanford group occupied tables at the far end of the room, where several TVs were tuned to the game. The weather cooperated with a welcome break in the rain.

Once again the starting lineup changed. There were the usuals – senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and three forwards: senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike and freshman Chiney Ogwumike – plus a new starter, junior guard Lindy La Rocque. It was good to see Kayla back in action after she had missed the De Paul game while recovering from hurting her head in the Fresno State game. Her leadership and steadiness were missed in the 20-point loss at De Paul on Dec. 16.

By the end of the game, only eight of the 12 Stanford players saw action. Besides the starting five, they included freshman guard Toni Kokenis, sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle and redshirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe. Senior forward Ashley Cimino did the high-five honors after the eight 3-pointers – six by Jeanette and one each by Joslyn and Kayla.

Several fans at Mike’s said they were recording the game. I was among them, so I watched it after I got home that evening. It was easier to hear the commentators and convenient to fast-forward through the commercials.

It also gave me a second chance to watch the action and take heart. The team was playing in front of a crowd of more than 14,000 -- most of them knew all the words to “Rocky Top” -- yet the Cardinal managed to come from behind and almost pull out the win. It was a good learning experience that will serve the team well as the season continues.

December 12, 2010

Doggone fun for everyone but Fresno

It was the annual Dog Lovers Day as the Stanford women’s basketball team hosted the Fresno State Bulldogs on Dec. 12, and all the dogs shone except for the visitors, who lost 77-40.

Honoring Humane Society Silicon Valley, the afternoon was devoted to Cardinal dogs. Fans and players submitted photos of their favorite canines, which were shown on the video board. Then there were some hilarious videos of dogs and videos of the coaches and some staffers morphing into dogs. To top it all off, agility dogs from ACE Dog Sports made their third annual appearance at halftime. Dogs ranging in size from tiny Molly, a teacup poodle, to Zoe, a Great Dane, showed their stuff leaping hurdles and going through tunnels – all to the delight of the crowd.

The crowd also was delighted with the agility of the team, especially the Ogwumike sisters, who combined for 35 points and 18 rebounds. Freshman Chiney had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the first double-double of her college career, while junior Nneka had 17 points and five rebounds. Both forwards started, along with senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and freshman guard Toni Kokenis.

Jeanette passed a milestone in her career, becoming the 32nd Cardinal to score 1,000 points. She hit that mark in the first half and finished the game with 15 points, one rebound, three assists and five steals.

All 12 healthy players got into the game, and 10 of them had double minutes, head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the game. Ten of them scored, too.

“It’s really exciting to see so many people play and do so well,” she said while being interviewed by Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10, in front of the Maples crowd right after the game. Ros, a standout defensive player for the Cardinal, was providing color commentary for KZSU radio coverage of the game. Other recent alumnae at the game were Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Morgan Clyburn, ’09. Morgan had conducted a basketball clinic for youngsters in the practice facility before the game.

Tara neared another major milestone herself, notching the 799th win of her college coaching career. “I really try to appreciate each game” and each team, she told the FBC.

Guests at the FBC gathering were the two sophomores, forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle. Joslyn said she spent the summer at home in Montana, where she worked on her perimeter game. Mikaela attended summer school along with several teammates, so “we were able to work together” and play pick-up games nearly every day, she said. She and four teammates also played pro-am games at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

Both players said they don’t especially enjoy defending against smaller, faster guards. “I try to pretend I’m fast,” Mikaela said. On the other hand, “we have an advantage because we’re taller,” Joslyn said. She and Mikaela are both 6’3”.

Both said they’re glad to have final exams behind them. “It takes a lot out of you,” Joslyn said. The coaches scheduled practices around exams, but “school comes first,” she said.

She took her finals in sociology, a foreign language and earth systems. Mikaela’s finals were in physics, French, computer science and economics.

Now the team faces four more tough tests this month, playing DePaul and Tennessee on the road before Christmas and playing Xavier and UConn at home after Christmas. “We’ve been doing a cumulative scouting” to prepare for those teams, Mikaela said.

Post defense has been an emphasis, associate head coach Amy Tucker said. “We thought we might prepare a little early,” she said.

After the two-week layoff for dead week and finals, “it was fun to get out and play,” Tara said. “I thought we played very well defensively.”

She praised several players along with assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey, who scouted Fresno. Even though the three freshmen – Chiney plus guards Toni Kokenis and Sara James – made some mistakes, as can be expected, they’re “further along than I thought they’d be” at this point, Tara said.

Overall, “I’m impressed with this team’s maturity and their cohesiveness.” The players show “great consideration and support” for each other, she said.

She ended by wishing everyone happy holidays.