December 17, 2011

West is best in battle of brains

Princeton, a leading Ivy League women’s basketball team, paid a visit to its West Coast academic match, Stanford, and left with an 85-66 defeat before a crowd of 4,277 on Dec. 17.

The visitors kept the game close throughout the first half and went to the locker room trailing by only 7 points, 39-32. Returning for the second half, Stanford turned up its offensive and defensive effort to lead by as much as 27 with 2:23 to go.

As expected, the Ogwumike sisters led the way, with senior forward Nneka pouring in 22 points to go with 12 rebounds, while sophomore forward Chiney had 21 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Toni Kokenis was third in scoring with 11 and was the only other Cardinal in double figures.

Nneka and Chiney both started the game, joined by freshman forward Taylor Greenfield, freshman guard Jasmine Camp and senior guard Lindy La Rocque. Head coach Tara VanDerveer substituted liberally, giving everyone a taste of the action except for junior forward Mikaela Ruef, who’s still sidelined by a foot problem. There’s no timeline for her return, said associate head coach Amy Tucker.

When it comes to the rotation, “we’re giving everyone a look,” Amy said in a behind-the-bench session after the game. Except for Nneka and Chiney, who “are solid” at the 4 and 5, she said, the 1, 2 and 3 spots are still in flux, mainly because so many players are so young.

Speaking after the game, Tara gave her “compliments to Princeton. They have an excellent team.” She also complimented several players, including Chiney, Toni and Taylor, who “did a really nice job. She’s coming along well.”

Nneka also came in for accolades, especially her good-looking, high-arcing mid-range shot. She has been working on that shot to become more versatile. “She’s a woman with girls out there,” Tara said, citing her for great leadership, too.

However, “we’re going to need more contributions” from other players. “I don’t think we shot as well (45.2 percent) as we needed to today,” she said. “We have to rebound better and take care of the ball better.”

Stanford had a slight edge in rebounding, 46-42, but both teams had 17 turnovers. Princeton steals contributed to nine of Stanford’s TO’s, while Stanford had seven steals. On the plus side, Stanford had five blocks, while the Tigers had none. Stanford also led in assists, 13-9.

The team was coming off a two-week hiatus for finals, which ended Dec. 16. The team has two more games – Tennessee on Dec. 20 and Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 22 -- before taking a brief holiday break and returning to the Farm on Dec. 26, said Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations.

One member of the Princeton coaching staff, Milena Flores, is a Stanford basketball alum, class of 2000. Now that this visit is behind her, “I’m looking forward to cheering for Stanford all the rest of the way,” she told the post-game crowd.

While Stanford fans gathered behind the bench to hear the coaches, dozens of Princeton fans socialized in the area of their bench while they waited for the team to emerge from the locker room. Princeton players Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky are from the Bay Area and accounted for a large contingent of family and friends to cheer for them.

Stanford players had their own contingents. For example, several children and adults wore red and white tie-dye shirts with “Kokenis” and “31” stamped on them.

In keeping with the tradition of inviting the individual freshmen to speak to fans after a game, Jasmine was the post-game guest. She said she has been playing basketball “since I was 4 years old and never thought I’d wind up at Stanford.” She thought she’d play closer to her Atlanta home, but Stanford “is truly worth the trip. I have a great time here. It’s such a family. I love it,” said the articulate guard.

She has two brothers, ages 30 and 26. Her mother is an assistant principal at an elementary school, and her father heads the county probation department. As for her Stanford major, “I have no idea.”

She was asked to compare Stanford practices with her high school experiences. Her high school practices were much shorter and more casual while in “practice here, we go hard every minute.”

Another fan asked about the recruiting process. She said Tara and then-assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey made the official visit and had dinner at her home. Jasmine didn’t know that Tara is a vegetarian, but luckily “I made pasta salad on my own. She loved it. It got me in,” she joked. Several SEC schools and others recruited her, but “why go there when you can go to Stanford?” she said.

“We’ve been very excited about Jas,” Amy said. She brings great energy to the team and is loud and vocal, qualities that are important in a point guard, Amy added.

And as for the team’s victory over Princeton, it “was a good tune-up game for Tennessee,” Tara said. The game is sold out, so Eileen advised fans to arrive early.

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