January 23, 2011

Trojans trip up at Maples

While many Stanford students were outside basking in the unusually warm winter sunshine, the USC Trojans were the latest women’s basketball team to feel the heat inside Maples Pavilion, falling 95-51 to the Cardinal on Jan. 22.

There was lots of praise to spread around, what with senior guard Jeanette Pohlen recording a career-high 12 assists to go with 21 points, five rebounds, one steal and zero turnovers. She notched 12 of her points via four 3-pointers.

And how about fellow senior, forward Kayla Pedersen, who pitched in with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. She accounted for three more of the team’s 10 3-pointers. Joining her and Jeanette in the 3-point parade were junior guard Lindy La Rocque with two and senior forward Ashley Cimino with one.

Also scoring in double figures were freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike with 14 (plus 11 rebounds), junior forward Nneka Ogwumike with 14 and red-shirt sophomore forward Sarah Boothe with 11 (plus nine rebounds).

What may be even scarier to upcoming opponents is that even though Stanford shot 52.1 percent for the game, more than a few missed shots, especially some layups, could easily have gone in.

Repeating the stats of her season debut against UCLA on Jan. 20, fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy played seven minutes and scored two points. She also snared one rebound. “It’s really great having Mel healthy,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the crowd in Maples after the game. Mel had knee surgery after last season and was cleared to play shortly before the UCLA game.

Freshman guard Toni Kokenis was held out of the game as a precaution after falling in the UCLA game. She reportedly is expected to play next week.

Tara complimented USC, saying, “They are a really skilled offensive team.” On the other hand, “The thing that’s been consistent (for Stanford) is our defense.”

Kayla comes in for praise

The coach lauded Kayla, who “had a great game. (She’s) just a rock.” She also noted that Ann Roubique, the Ogwumike sisters’ high school coach from Cypress, Texas, was at the game.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker joined in the praise for Kayla. “I thought she put together two great games” this week. Kayla said of her recent shooting prowess, “It’s all mentality.” The coaches tell her to keep shooting and eventually the shots will fall.

Responding to a question, Kayla said that the rest of the team has benefitted from Jeanette’s 31-point performance in the win over UConn because opponents have to pay so much attention to her, leaving openings for her teammates.

Kayla will graduate after this term and plans to enter the WNBA draft as well as play overseas, she said.

Uniform has a new look

Kayla then became the model for the new home white uniform as Amy pointed out its subtle features. Amy also cleared up a mistaken report that she had designed it. Made of a “hyper-elite, aerodynamic,” lightweight material, it was designed by Nike with some slight input from Amy.

Behind the number, the back has faint pictures of campus landmarks like Memorial Church and the quad along with a block S. The team’s red road uniform also features the new material and design. Next year the black road uniform will incorporate them.

As Kayla headed back to the locker room, she hugged her grandparents, whom Amy acknowledged. As a final compliment, “We started recruiting Kayla when she was an eighth grader,” Amy said.

Amy then fielded more questions. One concerned whether the coaches look at a recruit’s potential compatibility with the team. First, “they’ve got to get in” to Stanford, meaning they have to have the grades, she said. Second is skill level. “There are no superstars (on this team). It’s all about winning and playing together.” Smart kids figure that out, Amy said.

Once these smart kids get into Stanford, they get a lot of academic support, Amy said, noting that freshmen each have three advisers.

Regarding offensive plays, she said the team has been using only about five or six rather than 60 offensive sets in recent years. These are in addition to some plays for specific situations.

“We have settled on a starting lineup,” she said. Lindy has become a part of it – joining Nneka, Kayla, Jeanette and Chiney – because of her “high basketball IQ. She knows exactly what everyone else should be doing, and she has that 3-point shot going.”

During this question-answer session, a long line of people across the court waited for autographs from Nneka, Sarah, sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle, junior guard Grace Mashore and senior guard Hannah Donaghe. The five also were featured on trading cards handed out at the Fast Break Club table before the game.

The team is on the road to Oregon next week and Arizona the week after. Fans won’t see the team at home again until Feb. 10, when Washington State comes to call.

January 21, 2011

Cardinal breeze by the Bruins

On paper, the Stanford vs. UCLA game at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 20 was supposed to be competitive, what with the Cardinal ranked fourth and the Bruins eighth in the AP national poll.

Tear up that paper. Stanford won 64-38 and placed itself squarely atop the Pac-10 conference.

“It was a great game for our team,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club afterward. UCLA was “very disruptive” in this “very physical game.” Therefore, Stanford tried “to take away their strengths.”

She credited assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey for “a great job of scouting” and the team for paying attention to the scouting report. “Our team focuses really well,” Tara said, adding, “Kudos to our defense.”

Mel makes welcome return

One of the highlights for Stanford fans was the return of fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy. She had been cleared to play only two days earlier after rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery at the end of last season. Many fans thought that if she got into the game at all, it would be toward the end with Stanford enjoying a big lead.

Instead, Tara sent her in with 6:03 left in the first half. Five minutes later, Mel stole the ball, ran down court and made a tough basket, bringing the crowd of nearly 4,300 to its feet. The crowd roared again in the second half when Mel’s basket was shown on the video board as the Impossible Play of the Game. She played a total of 7 minutes and contributed those two points and the steal. “I thought she did very well,” Tara told the FBC.

Mel’s return bodes well for greater depth and experience in the guard contingent.

The video board caught the players’ attention even before their official entrance. It featured the KerryCam video shot by team manager Kerry Blake during the team’s trip to the two Washington schools the previous week. The players stood laughing and smiling near their door.

The video showed such sequences as senior guard Jeanette Pohlen simulating a media interview with senior forward Kayla Pedersen and sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef after they had defeated Tara and red-shirt sophomore forward Sarah Boothe in a euchre game while awaiting a delayed flight. The link to the SWBB YouTube channel is available on the left side of the FBC website.

The team’s entrance, pre-game warmups, the National Anthem (sung by Stanford’s Everyday People) and player introductions proceeded as usual. Then the game was delayed for several minutes because the clock was malfunctioning. Between that delay and other stoppages for fouls and timeouts, the game seemed to run longer than usual.

Besides Tara’s comments, the FBC gathering featured a silent auction for a No. 14 jersey autographed by Kayla. Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, said that even though the FBC auction is on hiatus this year, player jerseys are so popular that a silent auction seemed in order. The minimum bid was $150 with the winner to be chosen the next day. In case of a tie, Tara would draw the winning bid from the basket.

New staff member aims to boost attendance

Eileen then introduced Kevin Aha, the new marketing associate for women’s basketball, who has been on the job since early November, shortly before the first exhibition game. The 2008 graduate of the University of Virginia worked at Auburn and the University of Akron before arriving on The Farm.

He said his job entails two primary goals. The first is to “build awareness and get people to come to these amazing games,” he said. The second is to go beyond the game itself and to make all aspects of it fun. That goal covers such areas as the halftime entertainment, music and the videos.

He’s enlisting the FBC to help increase attendance by staging the Fast Break Club Sales Showdown. It asks FBC members to tell groups they’re involved in that they can form groups of 10 or more to buy tickets at the discounted prices of $4 for general admission or $14 for upper reserved. Those groups could include churches, clubs, social or fraternal organizations and family groups.

When they buy their tickets, they list the FBC member as their reference. The FBC member who accounts for the most tickets sold by Feb. 21 will win a seat on the bench at the Feb. 26 game against Oregon.

The phone number for the ticket office is (650) 726-8181. Kevin can be reached for questions and suggestions at (650) 725-0779 or kaha@stanford.edu.

Interns learning the ropes

Kevin was followed by two more additions to the WBB staff – interns Lauren Greif and Sha’Rae Gibbons Mitchell. Lauren is well known to Stanford fans after playing guard at Cal for the past four years. Sha’Rae was a guard at UC Santa Barbara.

Even though they don’t get paid, “They do a tremendous amount of work,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said. “They are both going to be great young coaches,” she said, adding that, among other things, they have been learning about recruiting and breaking down scouting tapes.

Sha’Rae explained that a computer program allows them to view a game video and label almost any aspect of the team’s, opponent’s or individual player’s game such as missed shots, 3-pointers, assists and others. The results are viewed by staff, team and individual players.

During the game, Lauren said, the interns work on statistics, chart plays and make note of who’s doing what, such as setting screens.

“This (Stanford basketball) program is different for a reason,” Sha’Rae said, citing the caliber of players and coaches. “Tara watches a ton of film,” she said.

Lauren said she’s impressed by “the staff and players’ ability to stay on an even keel” even after the historic win against UConn.

One fan asked what the interns are learning at Stanford that they hope to incorporate into their own coaching careers. “I’m going to go with Tara’s humor,” Lauren said, adding that the head coach is honest but funny.

“I’ve always wanted to be in coaching,” she said. That, along with her experience of playing against Stanford for four years, led her to apply for the internship.

Sha’Rae said she hopes to have the coaching staff’s “ability to enjoy what (they’re) doing” after so many years in the profession.

Tara cited one reason why she enjoys the job. Referring to the team, she said, “These are the nicest kids you can ever imagine.”

January 10, 2011

Tributes to Tara

On the afternoon of her 805th career victory, Stanford officials and women’s basketball fans honored head coach Tara VanDerveer for her 800th. The tribute was somewhat delayed because the 800th win came at an away game (USF, Dec. 22), and many from the Stanford community were in Miami for the football team’s Orange Bowl game after that.

Hence, the accolades from Stanford president John Hennessy and athletic director Bob Bowlsby came just after Tara’s team had defeated Arizona State 82-35 on Jan. 8. They gave her flowers, a game ball and a framed poster picturing her holding a net aloft following a tournament victory. A video (which you can view here) also paid tribute to her.

“Well, 800 was a lot of fun, but how about 802?” Bowlsby said, referring to the 71-59 home victory over UConn on Dec. 30 that ended the Huskies’ 90-game winning streak.

Surrounded by her players, Tara thanked everyone, then added, “800 wins is because I work for a great university” with a great administration and coaching staff as well as “fabulous players” in front of “the loudest fans in the land.”

“At Stanford you work with smart players,” Tara told the Fast Break Club a short time later in Maples. The goal of Tara and her staff is “to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses … This group gets it,” she said.

In games 800 through 805, the team’s average margin of victory has been 36.1 points. The team also has dominated in most other statistical categories. Against ASU, for example, the team had edges of 40-28 in rebounding, 17-4 in assists and 10-6 in steals.

Another telling statistic is that Stanford had 25 bench points to ASU’s 16. “We’re talking about terrific players coming off the bench for us,” Tara said. “We substitute early and liberally,” and need “all players to be as invested as our starters.”

At the same time, she and her staff “want to outwork other coaches.” “We have the potential to be a very special team,” she said, adding that “we took them (ASU) out of what they like to do.”

“I thought our team played very well today,” she said. She had reminded the players that ASU beat DePaul, which handed Stanford a 91-71 loss in Chicago on Dec. 16.

When a fan commented on the Cardinal’s crisp passing against ASU, Tara said, “For our team, ‘pass’ is not a four-letter word.”

As for the victory over UConn, “That was a statement game” after “the Xavier game (an 89-52 victory) gave our team confidence and motivation.” Looking ahead, she said that “the maturity that we have going on the road will be key.”

Kayla talks about being a senior

Preceding Tara at the microphone was senior forward Kayla Pedersen, introduced by associate head coach Amy Tucker. Being a senior “is extremely different,” Kayla said, because of the realization that she and her classmates have their last chance for everything. “You take in all the little things that you take for granted,” she said.

Kayla has already completed the coursework for her major in psychology. This term she is taking only one class, the one that’s needed to complete her other major in communication. She’s finishing one quarter early with hopes of going into the WNBA and playing overseas. She doesn’t have a preferred country. “I’ll just jump at any opportunity to play overseas,” she said.

In her free time she likes to go to movies with her teammates. “Our whole team hangs out together,” she said.

Noting that Kayla has played many positions, one fan asked which is her favorite. “Anything that keeps me on the floor,” she said.

Asked about the UConn game, she said, “It was absolutely amazing. All the fans were just incredibly loud and rowdy.” Afterward, the team went out to eat, then hung out together at the hotel where they were staying during the break between quarters.

Reminders of the UConn game are likely to be seen often because red T-shirts emblazoned with “Stanford 71, UConn 59” were on sale in the concourse. Running down the right side of the shirts are these words: “All good things must come to an end.”

What Ros has been doing

Also speaking to the FBC was Rosalyn Gold-Onwude,’10, who talked about her post-Stanford activities. Her day job is with Tesla, the electric carmaker headquartered in Palo Alto. “I’ve enjoyed staying close,” she said. “California has really grown on me.”

The communication major also has auditioned for ESPN after meeting some of its staff at the Final Four and giving them her resume. As a result, she will provide color commentary for some of its women’s basketball broadcasts, starting with Oklahoma at Texas on Jan. 16. She also has done All Access webcasts of Stanford home games.

Sidelights from the ASU game

The national anthem was sung by the Fisher Middle School Choir from Los Gatos and was followed by prolonged applause. It was one of the best renditions I’ve heard at Maples.

With 14 minutes to go in the second half, freshman point guard Toni Kokenis made a basket, then lost her shoe as she was racing back on defense. She continued running, but luckily for her, a whistle stopped the action and gave her a chance to put her shoe on. In the meantime, Kayla, who was on the bench by then, had retrieved it.

All 12 healthy players logged at least five minutes of playing time. The most anyone played was 26 minutes – junior forward Nneka Ogwumike. Her 16 points were second only to senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, who had 18. Also in double figures was Kayla with 10 points.

January 8, 2011

Talking with Toni

Toni Kokenis gave up soccer to focus on basketball during her senior year in high school. Now fans of the Stanford women’s basketball team are delighted with that decision.

The freshman point guard told the Fast Break Club about that decision after she and her teammates defeated Arizona 87-54 on Jan. 6 in Maples Pavilion. Toni played 19 minutes and contributed 4 points, one rebound, three assists and two steals. The stat sheet doesn’t show her other contributions such as her ability to get the ball up the court in a hurry and to elude opponents – skills that she may have honed while playing soccer.

People in her hometown of Oak Brook, Ill., might not have liked her decision to forgo soccer, especially after she scored the goal that won the state championship for her team in her junior year. Instead, she concentrated on basketball, a sport that she began playing when she was in first grade.

The Stanford coaches had asked her not to play another year of soccer to avoid injuries, said associate head coach Amy Tucker. Soccer is harder on the knees than basketball, she said.

Now that Toni is in college, she has found the speed and the need to learn everyone’s game are the biggest adjustments from high school. However, she and the other two freshmen, forward Chiney Ogwumike and guard Sara James, got a head start in summer school, giving them a chance to play pick-up games with several returning players. They also were joined by sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef and red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe on a team in the recreational league at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

On a personal level, Toni said she likes to tie-dye and draw and taught herself how to air brush during the summer. For her first day in the weight room, she wore a tie-dye shirt instead of Stanford gear, Amy said, but she was quickly advised of proper attire.

She’s the oldest of four, with two sisters and a brother. She once had a pet lizard, but other pets, even a turtle that belonged to her brother, are out of the question because she’s allergic to them.

“Her mom can cook,” Amy said, noting that Toni’s mother cooked dinner for the team during its visit to Chicago for the DePaul game in December. DePaul was Toni’s second choice for college because it’s close to home, but Stanford was her first choice.

Razing Arizona

After Toni left, head coach Tara VanDerveer spoke. “We didn’t start out that well,” she said of that night’s game, “but I was excited about how we played in the second half.” The Cardinal led all the way but let Arizona creep to within 2 points during the first half before closing it out at 40-33.

The team turned on the jets during the second half, shooting a torrid 70.4 percent and outscoring the Wildcats 47-21. All 12 healthy players saw action, and 11 of them scored.

Junior forward Nneka Ogwumike, whose status was doubtful after she landed on her shoulder during the Cal game, led with way with 24 points and eight rebounds. Chiney and senior forward Kayla Pedersen had identical double-doubles of 11 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard Jeanette Pohlen also was in double figures with 13 points and five rebounds.

Tara singled out several players for praise. Among them were Chiney, who “gets to guard the best players” on the other teams. “Chiney is fearless,” Tara said.

Still buzzing about UConn

Although the evening’s opponent was Arizona, many fans were still buzzing about Stanford’s 71-59 defeat of UConn on Dec. 30, a Cardinal victory that snapped UConn’s unprecedented 90-game win streak in the NCAA. One could see “the focus in their faces, the confidence” with which her team played, Tara said. “Jeanette had a great game” with a career-high 31 points. “Kayla made hustle plays,” she said.

“You’re a special team when you win special games,” she said. “It was a phenomenally electric atmosphere” at the UConn game. “We felt confident.”

Besides the UConn game, fans were buzzing about Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck’s announcement earlier in the day that he would return to The Farm next year to earn his degree in architectural drawing. Thus he chose his education over a chance to leave early and probably go No. 1 in the NFL draft.

His decision probably had a lot to do with the cheers that followed the showing of a short video with several football players, including Luck, congratulating the women for their UConn game. The football team missed attending that game but watched it while in Miami preparing for their Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, 40-12, on Jan. 3.

“It has been an exciting past two to three weeks,” Tara told the FBC. Since returning from the December road trip when the Cardinal lost to DePaul and Tennessee, the team has gone on a tear, defeating USF 100-45, Xavier 89-52, UConn 71-59, Cal 78-45 and now Arizona 87-54.

“We’re just going to get better,” she said.

January 3, 2011

Stanford starts the year off right

The Stanford women’s basketball team wished their fans a happy new year in a terrific way by defeating Cal 78-45 in the Bears’ den on Jan. 2. There was no sign of a let-up after the decisive wins over Xavier and UConn that ended 2010 so well.

Of the nearly 5,200 spectators watching this Pac-10 opener in Haas Pavilion, a great many wore the Cardinal red. They included 45 who rode the booster bus driven by the genial man who called himself Dave, the friendly bus driver. Dave also made a most cogent observation as the trip began: “We’ve got a longer win streak than UConn.”

Once again the Cardinal dominated nearly every statistical category such as rebounds, 49-26; assists, 21-9; and 3-point baskets, 7-3. The Cardinal also presented a balanced scoring attack with five players in double figures: senior guard Jeanette Pohlen with 15, junior forward Nneka Ogwumike with 14, freshman guard Toni Kokenis with 12 and senior forward Kayla Pedersen along with freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike with 11 each.

Leading the way in 3-point shooting was Toni with three. Kayla, Jeanette, freshman guard Sara James and sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle had one each.

The only worrisome part of the game for Stanford was that Nneka left the game with what was reported as a shoulder injury in the second half.

On the other hand, fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy was in uniform for the first time this season. She had been sidelined while rehabbing from knee surgery after last season. Even though she was the only player in uniform who didn’t get into the game, Stanford fans have to be pleased that she’s made so much progress.

Next up, the Arizona teams come calling.

January 1, 2011

Stanford stops the streak

Is the roof still on Maples Pavilion? I would have sworn that the sold-out crowd of more than 7,300 blew it off as the Stanford women’s basketball team blew out the vaunted UConn Huskies 71-59 on Dec. 30.

It truly was a storybook ending with the Cardinal book-ending UConn’s unprecedented 90-game win streak. The last time UConn lost was to Stanford 998 days earlier in the semi-finals of the 2008 Final Four in Tampa. Not to be overlooked is that while the Stanford women ended the UConn streak, they extended their home-game winning streak to 52 games.

The final score was indicative of the whole game. Except for 0-0 at the tipoff, the score was never tied, nor did UConn ever take the lead. And with its victory, the Cardinal gave head coach Tara VanDerveer her 802nd career win.

Tara used the same starting lineup that was so successful in the preceding win against Xavier. The forwards were senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike and freshman Chiney Ogwumike, while senior Jeanette Pohlen and junior Lindy La Rocque handled the guard duties. Coming off the bench at various points were three forwards – red-shirt sophomore Sarah Boothe and sophomores Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef – plus freshman guard Toni Kokenis.

Jeanette was the game’s undisputed MVP, scoring 31 points, including five 3-pointers, and snatching nine rebounds while dishing out six assists and making one steal. Also in double figures was Nneka with 12. Kayla snared 11 rebounds.

When Chiney fouled out in the final minutes after helping to control UConn great Maya Moore, she went to the visitors’ bench and hugged head coach Geno Auriemma. It was a classy gesture that exemplifies the way that Stanford players and coaches conduct themselves.

In her post-game remarks at center court, Tara praised the UConn team and coaches. After all, their 90-game win streak is the longest of any NCAA team, men’s or women’s. Tara also lavished praise on her own team. “Our team believed in each other,” she said, adding more praise to her coaching staff for their scouting on the Huskies.

Both Tara and Jeanette thanked the crowd. “It was a tremendous atmosphere,” the coach said. “This place was rocking, and all of us really appreciate it,” Jeanette said.

After tossing victory balls to the fans, the players went to the locker room, but Tara called them back to relish the crowd’s cheers. When they returned to the locker room again, they were joined by last year’s graduates Jayne Appel, JJ Hones and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude along with Candice Wiggins, ’08, who wore a shirt reading, “No. 1.” All of them were on the Stanford team that had previously defeated UConn. This year’s seniors – Kayla, Jeanette, forward Ashley Cimino and guard Hannah Donaghe – also were on that team, as was fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy.

Prior to the game, Angela Taylor, ’93, hosted a gathering in Dallmar Court to announce the launch of her new venture, Networks Sports Consulting. She plans to use her experience as a WNBA player and administrator to implement “a huge dream of mine.”

"Our mission is to assist potential employees & employers at collegiate institutions within women’s sports & Olympic sports by broadening the coaching/employment opportunities within the industry for a diverse group of rising stars,” says its website, www.networkssports.com.

Among others, she credited her older brother, Gary, who played football at Stanford; Alana Beard, a Duke graduate who plays with the Washington Mystics and who is doing an internship with Jamba Juice during the off-season; and Candice for helping her. She said Alana and Candice “are what women’s basketball is like.”

One of her first projects is to help Candice organize a tour of Spain, where she played two years ago. Candice said that experience made her realize how valuable it was to go overseas, but American fans don’t hear much about teams in other countries. She wants to “bring the fans overseas” and “show the world what we go through when we finish playing in college,” she said.

Candice plays for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and spent her first off-season in Spain and her second in Greece. After tearing her Achilles tendon, she returned to Stanford last quarter to complete her undergraduate degree. The link for the trip to Spain is www.travelwithcandice.wordpress.com.

While the group enjoyed Angela’s hospitality, which included refreshments, other fans were lining up to get into Maples, which opened 90 minutes before the game, rather than the usual hour. Five TV trucks were parked outside the southwest entrance, and Chron Live was broadcasting in the concourse.

It was all a prelude to a game that will long be remembered – even though it was only in December, as Tara noted. Next up – the Pac 10.