“Fresno State has a good team ---- at their level.”
That’s the comment I heard from a man wearing a Fresno State sweatshirt as spectators were leaving Save Mart Center in Fresno on Dec. 4. That’s where the Stanford women’s basketball team had just defeated the home team 93-59.
Fresno State had a 5-2 record going into the game, helped in large part by sharpshooting from the 3-point line. The Cardinal edged out the Bulldogs in that statistical category with nine 3’s compared with Fresno’s eight. Once again, freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson led the team in treys by scoring on six of eight attempts, a 75 percent success rate. Senior guard Lindy La Rocque chipped in with two, while freshman forward Taylor Greenfield added one.
Wearing black road uniforms, Stanford led from the get-go and never ceded the lead or even tied. It pulled ahead 56-27 at the half. Shortly into the second half, the Cardinal led by 37 points, its largest margin.
The starting lineup featured Taylor along with senior Nneka Ogwumike and sophomore Chiney Ogwumike at the forward spots, while sophomore Toni Kokenis and freshman Jasmine Camp took on guard duty.
Initially, the game looked like “The Nneka and Chiney Show” with the two sisters dominating the boards and the scoring. Chiney played 27 minutes, the most of anyone on the team, scored 13 points and had a career-high 16 rebounds.
Even though Nneka sat out much of the first half with two fouls and played a total of only 18 minutes, she scored a team-high 21 points and pulled in 12 rebounds. Even when she wasn’t playing, she was helpful. When the ball got stuck between the backboard and rim, she got off the bench and used her leaping ability to free it.
Stanford’s superior height allowed the Cardinal to virtually own the boards, recording 67 rebounds to Fresno’s 28. The Cardinal also dominated in the assist department 26-12. Lindy led the team with five assists, closely followed by sophomore guard Sara James and freshman guard Amber Orrange with four each. The Cardinal had seven blocks to Fresno’s two. Bonnie and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle had three blocks each. Nneka had the other one.
On the other hand, Fresno took better care of the ball, amassing only 10 turnovers to Stanford’s 16. Fresno proved to be better at theft, too, recording seven steals to Stanford’s five. Stanford had 13 fouls to Fresno’s 18 but could have done a better job at the free-throw line, cashing in on only 44.4 percent of its shots, while Fresno made 55.6 percent.
It was good to see Lindy back in action after she had missed the UC Davis game with a sore foot. She took her customary place at the head of the line and led the team onto the floor for warmups. She had a total of 10 points, five assists and one steal in 22 minutes.
Junior forward Mikaela Ruef was still on the sidelines with a sore foot and leg. Freshman guard Alex Green, though on crutches, was able to travel with the team. She had missed the Thanksgiving week road trip to have surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. As the team warmed up, Laurie Payne, mother of freshman forward Erica Payne, went down to the bench to greet Alex. Various teammates and staff members also talked with her throughout the afternoon.
Otherwise, head coach Tara VanDerveer was able to allot playing time to everyone else on the team.
The arena went silent during the second half when Fresno’s Alex Furr, a 5’5” guard who had been pressuring Stanford’s point guards, cried out and fell to the floor clutching her knee. She was helped off the court and to the locker room. Wearing a large ice bag on her knee, she later walked back to the bench during a timeout and was warmly applauded.
Save Mart Center, which seats about 15,500, seemed sparsely populated, but the official attendance was 3,324. Several dozen Stanford fans figured into that number.
As the teams warmed up, a remote-controlled mini-blimp floated above the perimeter of the court. A four-person honor guard from the Fresno State Air Force ROTC presented both the U.S. and California flags preceding a recorded version of the national anthem.
The Stanford players had reason to celebrate even before the game because they knew that the women’s soccer team had won the NCAA national championship by defeating Duke 1-0 earlier in the day.
Stanford athletes are now taking a two-week break for study and finals. Women’s basketball returns to action Dec. 17 when Princeton comes to Maples.