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.

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