November 23, 2011

Fans cheer from new venue

Several dozen Cardinal fans who couldn’t make the trip east and who wanted to share watching the UConn game with others had a new place to do so. They had the upstairs room at the Old Pro in downtown Palo Alto to themselves on Nov. 21 as they alternately cheered and groaned as the Stanford women’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the season, 58-68, to one of its most respected rivals.

Fans began to gather at 4 p.m. and helped themselves to water from a large cooler while a waitress took orders for food or beverages. Most of the fans sat on comfortable chairs at long wooden tables where they could watch the game on five large screens around the room. More fans watched the game in the main room downstairs while other people focused on screens showing Monday Night Football.

The first big cheer went up about 4:30 p.m. when the broadcast showed the team and senior forward Nneka Ogwumike. At the tipoff, Stanford went with a familiar starting lineup featuring Nneka, sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike, freshman forward Taylor Greenfield, senior guard Lindy La Rocque and sophomore guard Toni Kokenis.

Freshman guard Alex Green didn’t make the trip because she had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during practice last week. Junior forward Mikaela Ruef was sidelined with what was reported to be a quadriceps injury.

All of the coaches wore orange lapel ribbons, and players on both teams wore something orange, such as hair ribbons for several Stanford women. They were honoring Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke and his assistant Miranda Serna, who were killed in a plane crash in Arkansas Nov. 17. Scenes from the Stillwater, Okla., memorial for the two were shown during halftime.

The game started slowly, with neither team scoring until Chiney broke the drought with a free throw at 16:42. The score stayed fairly close throughout the first half, which ended 26-32 in UConn’s favor. Nneka had spent much of the half on the bench with two fouls, but she returned for the second half and helped to put the Cardinal in front for a bit. However, turnovers, fouls, limited rebounds and difficulty with UConn’s press proved to be Stanford’s undoing.

The Old Pro is the third venue in as many years that has hosted WBB fans for viewing parties. First and Main in Los Altos was the first and perhaps the most comfortable, although seating was somewhat limited and the screens were smaller. Its menu was the most varied with entrees available. Parking was free but crowded in a city lot behind the building.

Next came Mike’s in Menlo Park. Its somewhat sterile atmosphere didn’t lead to as much conviviality as the other two places. Its screens were small and its food, which included entrees, OK. The parking lot was cramped.

The Old Pro features a moderately priced menu of mostly appetizers, salads, burgers and other sandwiches, and pizza. Fans in the upstairs room received a 10 percent discount on their bills. Portions were generous, and most fans seemed satisfied with their orders. Free underground parking is just a few steps away.

The main drawback, which is true of most such venues, is that it was hard to hear the commentary. That’s why I was glad to go home and watch the recorded game in the quiet comfort of my family room.

Back to the game – it’s never fun to watch the team lose, but there were more than a few glimmers of hope for this young team. Best of all, these are smart players who will learn valuable lessons from playing an elite team this early in the season.

November 18, 2011

Old Dominion overwhelmed

With the Stanford women’s basketball team dominating in every statistical category, overmatched Old Dominion fell to the Cardinal 97-48 on Nov. 17. It was the Cardinal team’s 65th consecutive home victory.

This game and the home opener against Gonzaga were the first that I can remember in a long, long time that all 15 players were healthy and available for action. In this game, all 15 did see action and contributed to the win in some way – if only for hustle and defense.

In terms of scoring, senior guard Lindy La Rocque led the way with a career-high 15 points, all of them from a career-high five 3-pointers. She was followed by fellow starters Nneka Ogwumike, senior forward, with 14 points and Chiney Ogwumike, sophomore forward, with 13.

The other two starters weren’t far behind. Freshman forward Taylor Greenfield had 8, and sophomore guard Toni Kokenis had 7. Coming off the bench to score in double figures were junior forward Joslyn Tinkle with 12 and redshirt junior center Sarah Boothe with 10.

Besides the fact that all 15 players got into the game, the night was memorable for 12 3-pointers. Besides Lindy’s five, they included sophomore guard Sara James’s three and Taylor’s two. Toni and freshman guard Jasmine Camp each had one.

Also noteworthy is that no one played more than 20 minutes, the total logged by Sarah. Of the starters, Taylor and Lindy had the most time with 17 minutes each. Nneka, Chiney and Toni each played 16 minutes.

Another good sign: Chiney made five of her six free throws, thus showing a big improvement in this aspect of her game.

And some other notable stats: 52 rebounds (Chiney with nine), 23 assists (Lindy and Jasmine each with four), four blocks (Sarah with two) and nine steals (freshman guard Amber Orrange with two). There were only seven fouls (no one with more than one) and 12 turnovers.

Before the game started, head coach Tara VanDerveer was presented with a plaque honoring her as the national Women’s Coach of the Year.

In the meantime, Old Dominion got off on the wrong foot before the game started when a technical foul was assessed for failure to report its starting lineup on time. (The same thing happened when Texas visited last year.) Toni made both free throws, making the score 2-0 before the first whistle.

When Nneka went for the opening tipoff, the play was somewhat different but quite effective. Rather than tipping the ball to Toni, who then would set up the half-court offense, Nneka tapped it to Chiney, who scored an easy layup. Shortly after that, Taylor made two consecutive 3s, making the score 10-4. There was no looking back after that. The score was 56-24 at the half.

All of the game stats indicate that the starters could sit back and enjoy the game while head coach Tara VanDerveer could allow their teammates, especially the other five freshmen, to gain valuable experience. They’ll need it with the Cardinal headed into a tough stretch of games, starting with Thanksgiving week on the road against UConn on Monday and Xavier on Friday.

The team reportedly was scheduled to fly to Connecticut on Nov. 19, giving it a day to adapt to the three-hour time difference before facing the Huskies. Geno Auriemma’s team will no doubt be seeking revenge for the way that Stanford snapped its unprecedented 90-game winning streak 71-59 when the Huskies visited on Dec. 30, 2010.

Rather than flying back to California after that and then back to the Eastern Time zone later in the week – a grueling prospect - the team will go to Ohio to prepare for its meeting with Xavier in Cincinnati on Friday. The team will celebrate Thanksgiving at the home of junior forward Mikaela Ruef in Beavercreek, Ohio, a Dayton suburb that’s some 52 miles north of Cincinnati. I can just imagine the look on the Ruefs’ neighbors’ faces when a bus pulls up in front of the house and 15 female athletes plus coaches and staff members file out.

November 14, 2011

Victory balls fly for the 64th straight time

On a night when some of the greats of Stanford women’s basketball were honored, the team did its part by winning its home opener on Nov. 13. The Cardinal defeated a very good Gonzaga team 76-61. Thus it extended the home winning streak to 64 games for the beginning of a fifth year and sent the victory balls flying into the stands.

It wasn’t an easy win. The Zags led 32-31 at the half, but senior forward Nneka Ogwumike and her sophomore forward sister, Chiney, took over to start the second half, scoring all of the team’s 17 points by the 13:36 mark. A 3-pointer by sophomore guard Toni Kokenis with about 13 minutes to go was the first score by someone not named Ogwumike.

In the end, Nneka led the scoring with 33 points plus 18 rebounds, while Chiney had 19 points and six rebounds. Toni, with 14 points and six rebounds, was the only other Cardinal in double figures. These three, plus senior guard Lindy La Rocque and freshman forward Taylor Greenfield, started the game and logged the most minutes.

Honors for Cardinal Greats

During a timeout in the first half, Trisha Stevens Lamb, ’91, was honored for her induction into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame. She was accompanied by her two daughters.

The 1991-92 team, the last Stanford WBB team to win the national championship, was honored at halftime. In addition to several support staff members, honorees at center court included Chris MacMurdo, Christy Hedgpeth, Tanda Rucker, Anita Kaplan Fiedel, Ann Adkins Enthoven, Angela Taylor and Niki Sevillian-Hendrix. Kate Paye, now the team’s assistant coach was in the locker room with the team. Former assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey, who became head coach of the University of Wisconsin team this season, sent her former teammates good wishes via video.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer received her accolades after the game, when athletic director Bob Bowlsby gave her a trophy and framed photomontage to recognize her induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this past summer. Bowlsby was accompanied by Vanessa Nygaard, ’98, who had led a campaign that resulted in 60 WBB alumnae donating to the Buck/Cardinal Club. She gave Tara a commemorative whistle. Tara’s HOF acceptance speech was replayed while the video board showed highlights of her illustrious career.

Besides Vanessa and the 1992 team, some of the alumnae that I saw in the audience included Heather Owen, ’98; Candice Wiggins, ’08; Morgan Clyburn, ’09; and Melanie Murphy, ’11. Jeanette Pohlen, ’11, who’s playing professionally in the WNBA and Turkey, was represented by her mom, Cindy Pohlen.

Fans get to meet Taylor

Fans then gathered behind the bench for a post-game session that started when associate head coach Amy Tucker introduced Taylor. Like some of her five freshman teammates, Taylor is a bit shy, but “she doesn’t play shyly,” Amy said. In Stanford’s 72-59 season-opening victory at Texas on Nov. 11, Taylor started at the 3 position, guarded the Longhorns’ best player and “did a wonderful job on her,” Amy said.

Taylor then took some questions from fans, revealing that she has a beloved cockapoo at home and that she started playing basketball in about first grade and joined an AAU team in fifth grade.
She hails from Huxley, Iowa, population 2,000, but it’s only about 9 miles from Ames, home of Iowa State, the alma mater of both of her parents. Despite those influences, she chose Stanford for “everything minus the part of leaving home,” Taylor said. Her parents backed her decision, have visited her several times and stay connected via Skype. They also went to the Texas game. Besides Stanford and Iowa State, the schools she considered were Duke and Texas.

During her visits to Stanford with her parents, she liked the weather and “this team. On my official visit, they made everything easy,” she said. She also liked the coaches.

One fan asked which of her teammates is the hardest to guard in practice. “Luckily I don’t have to guard Nneka,” she said. Sophomore guard Sara James is the hardest for Taylor to guard because Sara is strong and knows what she’s doing, Taylor said.

She has found that the biggest change from her high school playing days is that she was her team’s point guard, mainly responsible for getting the ball to others. Now, as a forward, she has to sprint down the floor and rebound.

Both of her parents played basketball, and her brother plays at Central College in Pella, Iowa. She hasn’t settled on an academic major, but she’s leaning toward human biology with thoughts of becoming a pediatrician.

When Tara joined the post-game session, she said of Taylor: “She’s making a great adjustment” and made good passes in the game.

Tara passes out praise

Overall, though, “we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Tara said. She had praise for veteran players. “I think Nneka showed up today,” she said in an understatement as she cited Nneka’s stats. “Her leadership has been great.”

“Lindy helped us a lot,” she said. And although freshman forward Erica Payne didn’t get many minutes, she’s “a small post that gives a lot of people trouble.” She also said that redshirt junior center Sarah Boothe, junior forward Joslyn Tinkle and freshman guard Amber Orrange did well in the Texas game.

One fan asked what she had said to her players at the half, when they were behind by a point. “Sometimes we have to make some adjustments,” she said. She has to factor in the reality that the freshmen don’t know all the plays, so “keep it simple” is her motto. “Our freshmen will come along,” she said, adding that the front line still has veterans like the Ogwumikes, Joslyn and Sarah.

With the graduation of Jeanette and classmate Kayla Pedersen, who each played major minutes in 155 of their 156 college games, Tara and her staff have been subbing more than usual as they look for what combinations work best in which situations. “It’s going to be a puzzle every night,” she said, thanking the fans for their support.

November 5, 2011

Team hits century mark again

The Stanford women’s basketball team coasted to another easy exhibition win at home on Nov. 5, defeating Vanguard 100-54.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer revised the starting lineup, going with two seniors, forward Nneka Ogwumike and guard Lindy La Rocque; a sophomore, forward Chiney Ogwumike; and two freshmen, forward Taylor Greenfield and point guard Amber Orrange.

Others got into action fairly quickly, starting with junior forward Joslyn Tinkle and freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson. By game’s end, everyone had seen action except for junior forward Mikaela Ruef, who has had a sore foot; and sophomore guard Toni Kokenis, who had left the UC San Diego game and stayed on the bench with ice on her ankle after taking a tumble. Both were in uniform, though.

The afternoon was highlighted by a barrage of 3-pointers – 14 in all. Bonnie and Lindy had five each and tied for game scoring honors with 17 points each. Taylor and sophomore guard Sara James each contributed two more 3’s.

Six players finished in double figures. Besides Bonnie and Lindy, they were Joslyn with 15, Chiney with 11, and Sara and Taylor with 10. Nneka, who usually leads the team in scoring, had 6 points in her 15 minutes of playing time. Since this was just an exhibition game and since there’s no doubt about her abilities, there wasn’t much need to play her any longer.

Often playing with four freshmen, as she did during Pro-Am summer play at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, Joslyn logged the most playing time with 23 minutes, closely followed by Bonnie with 22.

The crowd seemed somewhat sparse, perhaps because the high-flying football team was playing Oregon State in Corvallis at the same time. Still, the official attendance was pegged at 3,072. The video board showed the football game until 30 minutes before the tipoff, but WBB fans were given periodic updates after tipoff. (Stanford went on to win 38-13.)

Once again Lindy led the team onto the floor, and Nneka met with the officials as the team captain. Maples was a bit quieter than usual because the band was in Corvallis. Instead recordings were used for the national anthem, “All Right Now” and the alma mater song. The Tree and Dollies also were absent.

The game was marked by a number of heads-up and unselfish plays, as shown by the team’s 24 total assists. Amber had the most with six, but nine other players had at least one.

Turnovers were limited to just seven, while Vanguard had 16. Freshman guard Jasmine Camp had three of the team’s eight steals. Rebounding was fairly well balanced. Of the 51 total rebounds (to Vanguard’s 28), Joslyn and Amber led the team with eight each, followed by Nneka and Erica with six each. Ten Cardinal players got into the rebounding column.

A handful of fans met in the south concourse after the game to share their views. The consensus was that they liked the freshmen players’ hustle and cited the “pesky point guards” who harassed their Vanguard counterparts from one end of the court to the other. With “no complaints,” the fans agreed the team’s performance was “very impressive.”

However, no one ventured an opinion on the outcome of the team’s first official outing, an away game at Texas at 5 p.m. PT on Friday, Nov. 11.

November 3, 2011

Freshmen frolic in Maples debut

All six freshmen got into the scoring column as the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated UC San Diego 106-56 in the season’s first exhibition game Nov. 2 at Maples Pavilion.

Before the game, there was much speculation about how the newcomers would fare, but “all the freshmen played well,” one fan commented during an informal discussion in the south concourse immediately after the game.

When it came to scoring, freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson led her classmates with 15 points – going five for seven on 3-pointers – in just 10 minutes of playing time. She also recorded one assist.

For the team, scoring honors went to sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike with 19 points, followed by her sister, senior forward Nneka, with 17 and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle with 16. Both Chiney and Joslyn made eight of their nine shots. Rebounding honors went to Chiney with 14 and Joslyn with 11.

The starting lineup featured team captain Nneka plus Chiney along with senior guard Lindy La Rocque, sophomore guard Sara James and, at the point, sophomore guard Toni Kokenis. Freshman guard Jasmine Camp was first off the bench, subbing for Toni less than 3 minutes into the game. Joslyn and freshman forward Taylor Greenfield were next, soon followed by freshman guard Amber Orrange.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, all 14 healthy players had played and scored. Only junior forward Mikaela Ruef, who was in uniform but has had a sore foot, remained on the sidelines, but she did the high-five honors every time a Cardinal made a 3-pointer. She made that trip along the bench eight times thanks to Bonnie’s five, plus one each by Lindy, Sara (the game’s first) and senior guard Grace Mashore.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer used various combinations of players throughout the game, but no one played more than 20 minutes (Joslyn and Jasmine). There were a few times when as many as four freshmen were on the floor together, but always there was an experienced player with them to provide leadership if needed.

During one of those times, Joslyn was the veteran with the freshmen, bringing to mind her outstanding performances with them during summer league play at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

The score was 47-24 in Stanford’s favor at the half. Following halftime entertainment by 12 members of Stanford Taekwando, the Cardinal outscored the visitors 59-32, leading to the 50-point margin of victory.

By game’s end, the freshmen had logged significant minutes: Taylor with 19, just behind Jasmine’s 20, followed by Amber with 18, forward Erica Payne with 16, Bonnie with 10 and guard Alex Green with six.

Even though UCSD was outmatched, the players were scrappy and didn’t let up. A few fans and a spirited bench cheered them on. UCSD pressed fairly often, but Stanford pressed back, especially in the second half.

Stanford’s bench was equally supportive, especially of plays by the freshmen. Alex was the last newcomer to see action, but it was her first in nearly a year after an ACL injury early in her high school senior season. Her arrival was greeted by applause and cheers that were even louder when she scored the first basket of her college career.

Some other stats of note: Stanford outrebounded UCSD 54-23, had 21 assists to UCSD’s six and notched only 13 turnovers to the visitors’ 17. Amber had the highest number of assists with seven. UCSD had 20 fouls to Stanford’s 17. Redshirt junior center Sarah Boothe was the only player to foul out.

Also noteworthy, the band, Tree and Dollies were there to cheer the team, something that hasn’t always been in case in previous exhibition games. Betty Ann Boeving was back as announcer.

As some fans discussed the game in the south concourse, there was some debate but no conclusion about the merits of Amber vs. Jasmine, both speedy, seemingly fearless guards.

For the entire team, “there were a lot of nice plays,” one fan concluded.

The next exhibition game is against Vanguard at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, in Maples.