March 31, 2011

Outnumbered but not outscored

Stanford fans were vastly outnumbered at the Spokane regional of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, but their team was not outscored. Instead, the No. 1-seeded Cardinal defeated No. 5 North Carolina 72-65 on March 26 and No. 11 Gonzaga 83-60 to win the regional trophy on March 28.

Because Spokane is Gonzaga’s hometown, the Spokane Arena was packed to the rafters with its fans. Initially on March 26, the stands held a smattering of Louisville fans along with what appeared to be a similar number of North Carolina followers. Approximately 120 Stanford fans were wedged into a corner diagonally across from the Cardinal bench, while perhaps an equal number, including family members, sat in several rows behind the bench.

Everyone else in the announced crowd of 11,339 seemed to be cheering for underdog Gonzaga. The roar was deafening as the hometown team defeated No.7 Louisville 76-69.

Everywhere you looked around town, people sported the Gonzaga logo. One exception was the Red Lion Hotel at the Park, which was the headquarters for Louisville. The team even brought along red Louisville T-shirts for the front desk staff to wear. That didn’t last long, though, as the team and its fans left the day after their defeat.

Cardinal Gathering Spots

Two other exceptions were the Davenport Hotel, the Cardinal headquarters, and the neighboring Post Street Ale House, which hosted fan get-togethers before the team sendoffs.

The hotel projected a Stanford logo on the wall of the car entryway and a Stanford banner in the ornate central atrium.

Several dozen fans gathered in a back room at the Ale House before the first game. The tables were adorned with small Stanford pennants and strings of shiny red and silver basketball beads for souvenirs. In the meantime, fans watched the men’s game between Arizona State and UConn, groaning when the Pac-10 team lost to the Huskies.

Videographer Bud Anderson captured this gathering as well as events throughout the team’s stay in Spokane. His videos can be seen on the Cardinal YouTube site. He also mentioned that he shot the popular “I Got Bounce” video that featured the team, cheerleaders and other students dancing to the song written by fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy and sung by Mel, junior forward Nneka Ogwumike and Bud.

The sendoff featured the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree performing while the beaming players clapped and took pictures before boarding their waiting bus.

This ritual was repeated prior to the Gonzaga game. The main difference was the players, coaches and staff carried their luggage to the bus first because they were flying back to the San Jose airport after the game so that they could go to class the next day. The spring quarter had begun the day before.

Another Packed House

Even though most of the Louisville and North Carolina contingents had left, the arena was packed for the Stanford-Gonzaga game. The local paper reported that only about 100 tickets were available for sale the night before.

When the arena doors opened 75 minutes before tipoff, most of the Stanford players were gathered near the bench prior to warmups. We could hear them say “Wow!” when it was announced that No. 2 seed Notre Dame was beating No.1 seed Tennessee 29-24.

Fans who had been wedged into a corner for the first game had a better vantage point across from the bench. More fans sat behind the bench. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude,’10, sat at the media table across from the bench as she provided commentary for Stanford’s radio KZSU.

Freshman guard Toni Kokenis, who had an ankle injury but had played against North Carolina, was not on the floor for the initial warmups, but joined the team shortly thereafter. A loud cheer greeted her arrival. In the meantime, athletic director Bob Bowlsby chatted with head coach Tara VanDerveer, and fans kept track of the Tennessee-Notre Dame game, which the Irish won 73-59.

Except for a 1-point lead at less than 1 minute into the game, Gonzaga trailed all the way but kept the margin fairly close during the first half, which ended at 47-38. After that, the Cardinal began pulling ahead. When a timeout was called with 3:54 left, the score was 79-53, and people began heading for the doors.

Cheers for Vandersloot

With 1:14 left and the score at 79-58, Gonzaga’s phenomenal senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot left the game and received a loud, prolonged standing ovation from everyone in the building, including Stanford fans, who had to admire her talent. She was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points.

She also was named to the all-regional team along with North Carolina’s Italee Lucas and Stanford forwards Kayla Pedersen, senior; and Chiney Ogwumike, freshman. Nneka was named the tournament’s most outstanding player with a total of 42 points and 14 rebounds in the two games.

After the team had donned their championship T-shirts and hats and posed for pictures with their new trophy, they began cutting down the net. Tara took the final cut, then tossed the net to senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, who helped her team with 17 points, including five 3-pointers, to go with two rebounds and five assists against Gonzaga.

Ros was on the court celebrating with the team. She played an integral role when the team won the Spokane regional four years ago and went to the team’s first of four consecutive trips to the Final Four.

The next morning, several fans, including the parents of junior guard Lindy La Rocque, boarded the same Southwest flight to Las Vegas. Except for the La Rocques, who live there, the rest awaited other flights to their Bay Area destinations.

There isn’t much time to unpack, do laundry, repack and fly to Indianapolis for the Final Four. In the first game on April 3, Stanford will face No. 2 seed Texas A&M, which defeated No. 1 seed Baylor. That game will be followed by Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Conn, which advanced by defeating No. 2 Duke. The championship game is April 5.

March 23, 2011

Mission accomplished at Maples

When the Stanford women’s basketball team faced St. John’s University of New York City in the second round of NCAA competition March 21 at Maples Pavilion, the obvious goal was to win the game and advance to the Spokane regional.

In accomplishing that goal by a score of 75-49, the team’s seniors also did something no other Cardinal class before them had done – they ended their four years with a perfect record of 63-0 at home. They also gave themselves a berth in their fourth consecutive Sweet Sixteen in hopes of heading for their fourth Final Four.

But this game wasn’t just about senior starters, guard Jeanette Pohlen and forward Kayla Pedersen, along with forward Ashley Cimino and injured guard Hannah Donaghe plus fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy.

No, this was a total team effort with scoring led by junior forward Nneka Ogwumike with 22 points and five rebounds and Kayla with 14 points and eight rebounds. Freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike, celebrating her 19th birthday, had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Jeanette had 8 points.

The team’s two sophomores – forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle – made significant contributions. Their heads-up plays resulted in seven points, seven rebounds, two assists and one block by Joslyn and five points, four rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal by Mikaela. Their point totals included one 3-pointer each, to go with two each by Jeanette and Kayla.

As a team, the Cardinal had edges of 41-25 in rebounds, 19-11 in assists and 6-1 in blocks. The Red Storm had a 7-3 edge in steals and a 9-13 edge in turnovers.

The first half of the game was nip-and-tuck for a while, with St. John’s holding as much as an 8-point lead, but the Cardinal began closing the gap and pulled ahead to a score of 38-30 at the half.

The first half also was unsettling because freshman guard Toni Kokenis, who has become such a spark off the bench, limped off the court and then into the locker room with what appeared to be an ankle injury. When she returned to her teammates with about 11 minutes to go in the second half, the crowd of just more than 5,900 gave her a prolonged standing ovation.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer said in the post-game press conference that Toni would have a precautionary X-ray, but Tara was hopeful of having her ready for the March 26 game against North Carolina. Chiney was due for a precautionary X-ray on her finger, but she was able to stay in the game.

Halftime was highlighted by the introduction of the Stanford men’s volleyball team, which won the 2010 NCAA national championship.

When first Jeanette and then Kayla left the game near the end, they were loudly and deservedly cheered. With just 8.2 seconds to go, Tara walked along the bench and high-fived each player.

Afterward, many in the crowd waited while Tara, Kayla and Jeanette were interviewed for TV. As they walked toward the locker rooms, there were yet more cheers for the two senior leaders in their final home game and for Tara for guiding them.

Now it’s on to Spokane, where the class of 2011 journeyed to its first Sweet Sixteen in 2008, enjoyed two victories and went on to the Final Four and the championship game in Tampa.

March 21, 2011

The reign of 3’s

The weather outside Maples Pavilion was cold and rainy March 19, when the No. 1-seeded Stanford women’s basketball team hosted No.16-seeded UC Davis for the first round of NCAA tournament. Inside, however, it was warmer as the Cardinal reigned with 13 3-pointers. They helped account for an 86-59 victory and advancement to the second round game against St. John’s, which defeated Texas Tech 55-50 in the earlier game.

Those 13 3’s were the most since 14 in the opening exhibition game against Vanguard on Nov. 6. The most in a regular game was 12 at Arizona on Feb. 5.

Junior guard Lindy La Rocque led the way with four 3’s. Senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and freshman guard Toni Kokenis had three each.

Also of note statistically – all five starters were in double figures. Junior forward Nneka Ogwumike had the game high 22 points, followed by Lindy with 14, Jeanette and Kayla with 11 each and freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike with 10. Toni had 11 off the bench.

All 13 uniformed players got into the game, and all of the starters were on the bench for the final minutes. Kayla logged the most time with 35 minutes, followed by Nneka with 33 and Jeanette with 32.

Although Stanford hosts the first two rounds of the Spokane regional, Maples underwent some transformation to reflect its NCAA status. Center court bore the NCAA logo, and the chairs at each team’s bench had NCAA covers over their Stanford stamp.

Stanford still appeared in bold red letters on the floor behind each basket, and the banner listing the team’s championships had already added 2011 to its Pac-10 array.

Another difference was that the players’ families sat behind the bench rather than across from it. To sweeten their experience, Jeanette’s mother, Cindy, was handing out little bags of customized red and white M&M’s imprinted with “Go Stanford” and 2010-11.”

The first game between No. 9 seed St. John’s and No. 8 seed Texas Tech was a rather sloppy affair. Each team had its band, cheerleaders, mascot and some fans in the stands. The Texas Tech crowd was larger because two of its players are from Solano County.

While that game was under way, head coach Tara VanDerveer and assistant coaches Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye observed from a courtside table. Associate head coach Amy Tucker was in the stands at the south end in front of the Stanford players. The Davis team sat behind them. The Stanford team left at halftime, but coaches continued to scout.

Another difference from Stanford home games was that the video board streamed NCAA features during timeouts. Near the end of the first game, it showed highlights of the 2008 Final Four championship game, when Candace Parker-led Tennessee defeated Candice Wiggins-led Stanford. Fans booed this clip, but cheered later when the live cameras showed Candice in the stands.

She was among the more than 6,500 people packing Maples as the Stanford-UCD game got under way. At halftime, the score was 42-30 in Stanford’s favor.

More of the Stanford flavor popped up at halftime when the 2010 national champion women’s tennis team was introduced. As of March 7, the team had amassed a 12-year streak of 173 match victories on its home court, the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
The streak extends back to Feb. 27, 1999, when Cal won 5-4, according to the Stanford sports site. This record is “recognized as the longest active home winning streak of any intercollegiate sport in NCAA Division 1 athletics,” the site says. The team is undefeated in Pac-10 play this year and will host the NCAA national championship in May, as will the men’s team.

As the Cardinal continued to pull ahead in the second half, the crowd was entertained by the antics of the Aggies’ mustang mascot, Gunrock, during timeouts. He cavorted about the court, dancing, doing handstands and maneuvering on his stomach. Sorry, Tree, but Gunrock beats you for entertainment value.

During the final minutes, when the game’s outcome was inevitable, Davis fans chanted “Thank you, Sandy” to honor head coach Sandy Simpson, who had announced he would retire from his post after the last game. They also chanted “We’ll be back.”
Not now, though. For now it’s the Cardinal who are looking ahead to another game as well as the opportunity to extend their own home winning streak to 63 games, meaning that the four members of the class of 2011 – Kayla, Jeanette, forward Ashley Cimino and guard Hannah Donaghe – have never lost a game at Maples.

March 14, 2011

The last Pac-10 champions

The Stanford women’s basketball team continued its dominance of the Pac-10 by adding the tournament championship to its undefeated conference season. It also was the last Pac-10 WBB crown because next season the conference becomes the Pac-12 with the addition of Utah and Colorado.

The undefeated conference season gave the tournament’s top seed to the Cardinal, allowing it to sit out the first two rounds before a semi-final game March 11. Its opponent was Arizona, which had to win two games in two days to get to that level.

The competition – of sorts – started earlier than expected when the bands and cheerleaders from both schools were on hand at 10 a.m. to give their teams a loud sendoff from their hotel.

The Arizona delegation formed a reception line outside one door toward the waiting buses, while the Cardinal group, which also included the cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree, formed another line at the adjacent door. Joining them were perhaps two dozen fans and family members, who cheered as each player and coach appeared.

Although the two bands played simultaneously a few times, mostly they took turns. When the Arizona band launched into “Born to be Wild,” the Stanford players happily joined in the refrain.

The bands also played in the plaza outside Staples Center before the game. The Arizona band led off, followed by the Stanford band, which made its familiar running entrance as passersby took photos. Just before tipoff in the arena, it was the Stanford band that did the honors for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

After that, the crowd was treated to a lot of Stanford as the Cardinal women dominated the game from beginning to end, amassing a record 100 points against Arizona’s 71.

Although all 13 uniformed Stanford players got into the game, it was the bigs who did the most damage. Junior forward Nneka Ogwumike led the way with 32 points, followed by freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike with 21, senior forward Kayla Pedersen with 16 and red-shirt sophomore forward Sarah Boothe with 12.

All told, Stanford had 64 points in the paint, compared with Arizona’s 18. The Cardinal outrebounded the Wildcats 41-29 and had 30 assists to Arizona’s 10.

After briefly joining their families, the players, along with the coaches, returned to the arena to scout the other semi-final game between Cal and UCLA. Thus they were on hand to cheer when Kayla was honored with the annual Pac-10 Women's Basketball Scholar-Athlete Award. She received a plaque, and Toyo Tires, the award’s sponsor, gave $1,000 to the Stanford athletic scholarship fund. Last year the award went to Stanford’s Jayne Appel, ’10.

The competition and story line were different on March 12, when Stanford faced UCLA for the championship. The 9:30 a.m. sendoff from the hotel involved only the Stanford contingent, but it was far from quiet. With the band playing under the overhang at the entrance, the sound was amplified. With more such sendoffs likely in the NCAA tournament, fans would be well advised to have earplugs handy. They help a lot.

The game against UCLA had a promising start as junior guard Lindy La Rocque opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, but things began going downhill fairly fast. UCLA played tough defense, especially near the basket, bottling up the bigs and forcing Stanford to shoot from the outside.

At the half, the Cardinal women found themselves in an unfamiliar spot, trailing 21-30. UCLA expanded its lead to 11 points early in the second half, but then Stanford began closing the gap.

Coming off the bench, freshman guard Toni Kokenis provided some needed spark as she finished the game with a team-high and career-high 17 points. The speedy guard also contributed two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 23 minutes. Some of her points came from fast breaks as well as two crucial 3-pointers. Senior guard Jeanette Pohlen made two important 3’s in her 40 minutes on the court. Nneka, who had 15 points, and Kayla, who had 12, also played the full 40 minutes.

As the Stanford women rallied, their fans urged them along. Sitting behind me, two men, Stanford grads from Orange County, came up with a terrific variation on the “De-fense” chant. “Tree-fense,” they yelled. Others seated near us picked up on it.

After the game, the victorious players donned the traditional T-shirts and hats before Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott presented the championship trophy to Tara. She subsequently handed it to the team’s tri-captains – Kayla, Jeanette and Nneka.

Then it was time to cut down the nets, with the players going alphabetically, starting with Sarah and ending with sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle. They were followed by the staff and coaches. Tara made the final cut and held up the net before tossing it to Nneka, who put it around her neck. The net-cutting ritual went faster than usual because there were two ladders and two pairs of scissors, eliminating waiting time between players.

After the team, coaches and staff had posed for group photos, Chiney was honored as part of the five-member all-tournament team. Then Nneka was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

There were more festivities for the team and fans in the plaza shortly after the game, but by then I was headed homeward.

Next up – the Big Dance.

March 6, 2011

Classy salute to seniors

Stanford women’s basketball’s salute to its class of 2011 was classy from start to finish.

The five seniors and their teammates responded in kind with a 75-51 victory over Cal on March 3 at Maples. Thus the team:

  • Recorded its second-straight undefeated season in the Pac10.
  • Won its 11th consecutive Pac-10 season crown.
  • Won its 55th consecutive game against Pac-10 opponents.
  • Extended its record-setting home game win streak to 61, which means that the class of 2011 has never lost a game at Maples.

As fans began filling Maples before the game, many of them carried signs thanking the seniors and picturing all five of them – forwards Ashley Cimino and Kayla Pedersen, guards Hannah Donaghe and Jeanette Pohlen, and fifth-year guard Melanie Murphy.

Among those sitting in the family section were Jayne Appel, ’10, and her parents, who chatted for a while with head coach Tara VanDerveer. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who graduated as a fifth-year senior last year, also was on hand. She was working as a TV commentator for the game.

The National Anthem was well sung by Hookslide, the men’s quartet that includes Bud Anderson, director of videography. They were followed by a video of Tara thanking all the people connected with the games, people who aren’t usually recognized but who are so important to the team’s success and the fans’ experience.

Flowers for Cal’s seniors

Another touch of class – Tara presented flowers to Cal’s two seniors: Rama N’diaye and Rachelle Federico.

Then it was time for the game. Cal played hard and kept the score close during the first half, which ended with Stanford ahead 38-33. Halftime featured a group of Stanford students displaying the Axe, the traveling trophy given to the winner of the Big (football) Game between Cal and Stanford. Among those watching this display were the Cal band, cheerleaders and mascot Oski.

During timeouts, three Trees cavorted in their costumes, joined by a green-hued guy, the Sprout, who will be next year’s Tree. As the second half wore on, this year’s Tree removed his costume and helped his successor put it on.

Special time for Hannah

And then there was Tara’s classiest gesture of all. With 25.8 seconds remaining and Cal with the ball, she put Hannah into the game. Hannah hasn’t played all season because of a knee injury, followed by surgery and ongoing rehab. Therefore, Tara kept Hannah safely in front of the bench, then quickly called a timeout to take her out.

All of Hannah’s classmates got into the game. Kayla and Jeanette both played 37 minutes, as did junior forward Nneka Ogwumike. Jeanette led the scoring with 18 points, while Kayla had 14 and Nneka had 16. Jeanette also had four rebounds, five assists and two steals. Kayla had nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Nneka pulled down eight rebounds to go with one block and three steals.

Following the traditional tossing of victory balls into the stands, the crowd was treated to a video featuring the evening’s five honorees plus managers Kerry Blake and Dorothy Boakye-Donkor, both seniors. It’s available here.

The first people to be honored in person were the two graduating male practice players, Greg Klausner and Ilan Kolowitz. They were followed by Dorothy and Kerry, each with their families.

Cheers for seniors, families

Then it was time to honor the players, starting with Ashley, joined by her mother, Lisa, and sister, Caitlin. With Hannah were her parents, Dale and Karen, and sister, Haylee.

Mel was escorted by her mother, Rochelle, while Kayla came onto the floor with her parents, Gary and Kelli. Finally, Jeanette was joined by her parents, John and Cindy, and her brothers, John and Tom.

Because the game had started at 8 p.m. on a school night, there was no opportunity to hear directly from the players and their parents. However, four of the seniors, minus Hannah, who was on a class field trip, had spoken to fans after the Oregon game on Feb. 26.

Finally, the seniors, families and everyone else involved in the ceremony, including the rest of the Stanford team, posed for pictures as the band played the alma mater song.

And the best part of it all – it’s not over. There’s the Pac-10 tournament in LA next weekend, followed by the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament at Stanford the following weekend and then …. Spokane? Indianapolis? We’re ready.