January 30, 2012

Whew! Too close for comfort

Thanks in part to the efforts of two sophomores, the Stanford women’s basketball team eked out a 74-71 home overtime victory over cross-bay rival Cal on Jan. 28.

Forward Chiney Ogwumike scored 3 (a layup and free throw) of her 27 points during the five-minute overtime, while guard Toni Kokenis recorded 2 of her 18 points in overtime, both on free throws. Chiney’s point total and her 18 rebounds were both career highs. She also had one each in assists, steals and blocks in 42 minutes. For her part, Toni had one rebound, four assists and two steals, also in 42 minutes.

Senior forward Nneka Ogwumike had 12 points plus nine rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals in 43 minutes. Even though her point total was below her usual output, it still was enough to move her into fourth place on Stanford’s all-time scoring list, surpassing Val Whiting, ’93.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the game that Nneka had been ill for much of the week and had missed some practices.

Bears make it a nail-biter

It was a tough game as the surging Bears proved to be formidable opponents. The lead seesawed through the early part of the first half, but Stanford slowly edged ahead, ending the half with a 38-29 advantage. The lead had opened to 61-49 with 7:41 to go in the second half, but Cal rattled off 7 unanswered points to narrow the gap to 61-56 at the five-minute mark.

Freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson gave Stanford some breathing room with two quick 3’s, making the score 67-60 with 2:46 to go. After that, Stanford had only 2 more points, while Cal poured in 9 points to tie the score at 69-69 at the end of regulation play.

Overall, Stanford ended with a less-than-stellar 36.5 shooting percentage for the game, while Cal made 40.5 percent of its shots. Bonnie’s two 3-pointers plus one by Toni were the only three of 20 Stanford attempts that went through the net – 15 percent. Cal made four of 16 for 25 percent.

Stanford won the battle of the boards, snaring 51 rebounds to Cal’s 47. Stanford also had the edge in assists, 15-10; blocks, 4-2; and steals, 9-5. Stanford had 13 fouls, Cal 19. Both teams had 15 turnovers.

With a reported attendance of 6,075, Maples was rocking. Cal sent over a contingent of band members, cheerleaders and mascot Oskie. Stanford had its band, cheerleaders, the Tree and the Dollies.

More reasons to cheer

The Peninsula Girls Chorus started the formalities well with a fine rendition of the national anthem.

Twice during the game the fans were treated to a new crowd-pleaser – T-shirts fired from the Shockwave, a T-shirt-shooting robotic cannon. About four times larger than the remote-controlled model cars one sometimes sees zipping around playgrounds, this shiny blue machine featured tubes that rotated into place to fire off the red T-shirts. It was remotely controlled by a teenage boy.

Halftime featured more crowd-pleasing moments. The first was the introduction of Stanford’s 2011 national champion women’s soccer team, which had defeated Duke 1-0 to claim its first victory in its third consecutive trip to the Final Four. Players were introduced individually, but several were absent because they were studying abroad or playing with the Mexican national team.

Those who were there entertained the crowd in a contest in which they had to cross the entire court bouncing soccer balls on their feet without the balls touching the floor. Then, again just using their feet, they tried to make baskets. A few even succeeded.

Much to the delight of Stanford fans, but probably not to Cal fans, the video board showed highlights from Stanford’s Big Game football victory over Cal this past fall to claim The Axe. Then six Cardinal football players paraded onto the court carrying The Axe trophy.

More football memories were evoked during the second half when former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was shown in the stands. Harbaugh now is the first-year San Francisco 49er coach who led his resurgent team to the NFC championship game the previous week.

During the post-game session, Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, gave a quick preview of the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles March 7-10. Since the top four teams will get a first-round bye on March 7, Stanford is expected to play its first game March 8 at Galen Center. The semi-finals will be March 9 and the championship game March 10, both in Staples Center.

Fans meet Lauren, Liz

Associate head coach Amy Tucker introduced the post-game guests, Lauren Greif, special assistant and video coordinator; and Liz Rizza, intern. Referring to Lauren, Amy said, “She went to a small school across the bay.” Of course she meant Cal, where Lauren was a standout guard who graduated in 2010 and came to Stanford as an intern last season.

Her job as video coordinator entails editing game videos and coding them according to a variety of factors. “All statistics get recorded” during the game, she said. She has 24 hours to upload each game video into a computer program accessible to other teams for use in scouting. By the same token, she also downloads upcoming opponents’ games for Stanford coaches to review and scout.

Lauren is working on a master’s degree in sports psychology from San Jose State and hopes to become a coach. She said she was rooting for Stanford in the game but wore neutral colors.

For her part, Liz said she had become hoarse while yelling for Stanford from the bench. As an intern, her duties are many and varied, she said. She went to high school in Eugene, Ore., and graduated from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, where she played point guard, according to her Stanford bio. She earned her master’s degree at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

Tara assesses the game

When Tara came out to address the post-game gathering, she started with “It was a great crowd. … What a great win for our team.” She added that she was disappointed that the game wasn’t televised and that “this was a little bit of a gray hair day.”

Just then, Chiney, still in uniform, came onto the floor to head across court to greet her father and others. Tara acknowledged her arrival as the crowd cheered. “Thanks for coming,” Chiney said.

Tara said she was pleased with her team’s rebounding. She also complimented Cal. “It’s great to play a close game.” She was pleased “that we can beat a great team like Cal without shooting well. … We won by playing defense, by rebounding” and other things, she said.

“They’re a great group to work with,” she said of her team, but players’ health remains her biggest concern.

“Basketball is a game of spurts,” she said. This game will help the team realize how important each play is. “It was pretty physical,” but “it’s fun to learn from a game like this.”

January 23, 2012

Freshmen assist in 73rd home win

Starting freshman point guard Amber Orrange had nine assists, and freshman forward Taylor Greenfield came off the bench to make four of her five 3-point shots as the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated Washington 65-47 on Jan. 21.

Given that each assist means at least 2 points scored and that the margin of victory was 18 points, one might argue that Amber was the difference in the Cardinal’s 73rd consecutive win at Maples. Of course, it’s never that simple, given the major contributions made by her teammates.

For example, senior forward Nneka Ogwumike led the team in scoring with 17 points to go with seven rebounds, one assist, two blocks and two steals. Less than halfway through the first half, Nneka moved into fifth place on Stanford's career scoring list, passing Nicole Powell, ’04. Now with 2,082 points, she is 5 points away from moving into fourth.

Sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike added 15 points plus 11 rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals. In addition to her 12 points, Taylor had one rebound.

In the meantime, Amber had 4 points plus five rebounds and four steals. Her 33 minutes on the court were the most on the team. During that time, she constantly pressured Washington’s point guard and others, bolstering Stanford’s defense. “Our defense was great,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club in a behind-the-bench session after the game. “This is a very good defensive team.”

“Amber had a great game,” associate head coach Amy Tucker told the crowd. Tara agreed. “I’m really excited about Amber,” she said. “She played great on our road trip.” Tara was referring to the previous week’s wins at Utah and Colorado. She also praised Taylor.

Freshman guard Alex Green was the guest after the game. She’s “probably our shyest freshman,” Amy said. Alex hasn’t been playing because she’s rehabbing from surgery for a torn Achilles. “Rehab’s going well,” she said, adding that she’s allowed to do some walking without her boot.

Other schools she considered before deciding on Stanford included Tulane, Kansas State, Penn State and Colorado State. Her favorite class is Spanish. Her biggest surprise at Stanford – “I had to talk more and do more interviews.”

“That’s a woman of few words,” Amy said as Alex departed.

Assessing the team’s overall performance, Amy said, “We gotta shoot better. … We need more energy.” The team shot only 30.3 percent in the first half but improved to 46.7 in the second half for a game average of 38.1. “The bar is very high. This felt like a step back today,” she said.

One fan asked Tara what her biggest surprise of the season has been. “The development of the young players,” she said. They pay close attention to the scouting reports by assistant coaches Kate Paye and Trina Patterson, while Susan Borchardt, strength and conditioning coach, keeps them in good shape.

It was a physical game that led to 18 fouls by Washington and 15 by Stanford. The Cardinal took better care of the ball with 12 turnovers versus Washington’s 22.

The crowd got a scare with about 8 minutes to go in the second half when Nneka fell under the basket, gripped her leg and left the court. However, she returned about 2 minutes later. She had been kicked in the shin, Amy said after the game.

Center Sarah Boothe, wearing a boot, didn’t play. She has a sore foot, and her status is day-to-day, Amy said.

Although Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, didn’t provide details, she said the team is going to Hawaii to play in a tournament the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The afternoon began with a fine rendition of the national anthem by the Fisher Middle School Choir from Los Altos. The group’s several dozen members were among a sizable youth fan base that included some 500 Girl Scouts.

Youth also was on view during halftime when the Mountain View YMCA Dancers performed. What some of the tiniest dancers may have lacked in precision they made up for in enthusiasm and cuteness.

January 20, 2012

Cougars get snowed under

The Washington State Cougars escaped being snowed in by the storms pounding the Pacific Northwest, but they couldn’t escape being snowed under by the Stanford women’s basketball team. The Cardinal prevailed 75-41 on the slightly rainy (the first rain in weeks) evening of Jan. 19 at Maples Pavilion.

This game featured the home debut of the revised starting lineup that head coach Tara VanDerveer had initiated on the team’s first-ever Pac-12 visit to the Mountain Time schools, Utah and Colorado, the prior week..

The combination of senior forward Nneka Ogwumike, junior forward Joslyn Tinkle, sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike, sophomore guard Toni Kokenis and freshman guard Amber Orrange helped to bring two victories home, so the five got the nod again against WSU. Still, Stanford the team started slowly, trailing for much of the first half until finally grabbing the lead with about 5 ½ minutes to go and never looking back.

The first half ended 31-20 after Joslyn stole the ball and got it to Toni for a successful layup with just 1 second to go.

Part of the dominance can be explained by defense, which didn’t allow any WSU player to score more than 7 points. For the game, Stanford had 12 steals to WSU’s four and 19 assists to WSU’s eight.

All 12 available players got into the game, and all contributed in some way. Nneka led all scorers with 22 points as well as 10 rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes. Chiney was close behind with 19 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and one block in 24 minutes. Joslyn chipped in with 9 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and three steals in 24 minutes.

With official attendance at 3,186, the game was marked by the first appearance of the Stanford cheerleaders. Also adding spark to the evening were the band, the Tree and the Dollies.

The Dollies also were part of a halftime competition among three Stanford dance groups to determine which would perform at the final home game Feb. 29. The crowd gave its loudest cheers to the Stanford Steppers, a group of men and women who stamp and clap. Also competing was a women’s group, Catch A Fiyah.

One timeout during the first half was highlighted by the introduction of the wrestling team, whose players tossed T-shirts to the fans.

The fans got a chance to do more catching at the end of the game as the victory balls went flying for the 72nd consecutive time at Maples.

January 9, 2012

Nneka vaults into exclusive Cardinal club

Leading her team to a 67-60 victory over Oregon State at home on Jan. 7 and playing 39 minutes, senior forward Nneka Ogwumike became only the fourth player in the history of Stanford women’s basketball to tally at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds over her collegiate career.

With a team-high 33 points and 16 rebounds, she joined only three others -- Jayne Appel, ’10; Nicole Powell, ’04; and Val Whiting, ’93 – in the exclusive 2,000/1,000 club. She was the first to reach both milestones in the same game.

The only other players to score at least 2,000 points are Candice Wiggins, ’08; Kate Starbird, ’97; and Jeanne Ruark Hoff, ’83. The only other player to snare at least 1,000 rebounds is Kayla Pedersen, ’11.

Nneka reached the 1,000-rebound mark with less than 7 minutes to go in the first half. With 46 seconds left in the game, she hit her 33rd point to reach 2,000 for her career.

The Cardinal needed every one of Nneka’s minutes, points and rebounds, as well as her two blocks and one assist against the scrappy Beavers. The team also got a big lift from her sister, sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds, one assist and one steal in 35 minutes.

It’s worth noting that Chiney made four of four at the free-throw line, an area where she hasn’t always had success. As I headed toward my seat about 55 minutes before tipoff, most of the team was in the locker room after initial warmups, but Chiney was still on the court practicing free throws. The extra work apparently paid off.

Together, the sisters accounted for 53 of the team’s 67 points and 26 of its 45 rebounds. The only other points came from junior forward Joslyn Tinkle with 5 and from senior guard Lindy La Rocque, sophomore guard Toni Kokenis and freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson with 3 each.

Arriving to cheers and a standing ovation, Nneka appeared briefly before fans gathered behind the bench after the game. “We’re so proud of you,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said.

Tara’s take on Nneka and the game

Head coach Tara VanDerveer noted that a San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist recently called Nneka “a precious gem.” Tara agreed with that assessment, noting “how hard she works (and) what a great leader she’s been for our team” She’s “one of the greatest players to ever play at Stanford.”

With the Cardinal trailing 31-35 at the half, “you did not want to be in that locker room” during the break, Tara told the fans. After whatever words the coach had for her players during halftime, “we did much better defensively” and with rebounds, she said. Toni and freshman guard Amber Orrange “helped us a lot defensively.”

“We had to battle,” Tara said. “Every team in the Pac-12 wants what we have,” she said referring to the Maples banner listing year after year of the team’s conference championships.

“This is an excellent win for our team” that will “help us in the long run,” she said. “It was a bumpy road the whole game,” but Nneka and Chiney “put the team on their back.”
“Winning is winning. We do whatever it takes.”

She cited Joslyn’s overall play. “She’s really helped us,” Tara said. Besides scoring 5 points, Joslyn had six rebounds, three steals and one assist in 18 minutes.

Tara also reported that Joslyn’s classmate, forward Mikaela Ruef, is getting better after missing several games with a foot injury.

Dog lovers have their day

Even though the game was a nail-biter, there were lots of laughs because of Dog Lovers Day. It started with a Peninsula Humane Society display of cute, playful dogs available for adoption outside the northwest entrance before the game.

Before and during the game, the scoreboard displayed pictures of fans’ dogs, many in Stanford attire. It also featured videos of doggie antics.

One of them was what appeared to be a St. Bernard or Bernese mountain dog sitting in the front passenger seat of a car. As the driver ate a sandwich, the dog drooled ever more copiously before being given the last morsel. Speaking to fans after the game, Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, said she was glad she didn’t have to clean up the puddles.

The highlight of Dog Lovers Day was the annual visit of the Ace Dog Sports agility dogs. Led by their owners, 11 dogs ran, jumped and wiggled through an obstacle course that included two fabric tunnels. The dogs were of assorted breeds, ages and sizes from tiny Roxie to Zoe, a Great Dane.

Susan visits with fans

Besides Nneka’s brief hello after the game, fans enjoyed hearing from Susan Borchardt, ’06, the team’s sports performance coach. Susan “was one of our most tenacious defenders that we’ve ever had,” Amy said.

“It’s great to be back,” Susan said. In addition to overall strength and conditioning, her duties include providing nutritional guidance, helping some players stretch before games, instituting more running and working with individual players. Some, for example, are trying to gain muscle mass while some are working on body composition.

She works with injured players, focusing on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. Since she herself came back from two knee injuries, she can provide firsthand knowledge and encouragement, reassuring the players that they can come back and be better than ever, she said.

Amy added that it’s helpful that Susan is a former player because she can advise players. She also makes helpful observations for the coaches. “It’s almost like having another assistant coach,” Amy said.

During games, she fetches the stool where Tara sits while talking to the team during timeouts. She’s available to run to the locker room for whatever and will stretch players who need it.

After graduating from Stanford, Susan played in the WNBA for a year. She then went to Spain to join her husband, Curtis Borchardt, who was playing professional basketball after playing at Stanford. She subsequently continued her education and received certification as a sports and conditioning coach, working with Curtis’s team in Spain.

Now living in Palo Alto, she and Curtis have three children: a 21-month-old son and 5½-month-old twins, a boy and a girl. Curtis was back at Stanford last term to complete his degree and has just returned to basketball.

January 6, 2012

Winning way to start the year

After beginning the inaugural Pac-12 season by sweeping the two LA teams on the road, the Stanford women’s basketball team began 2012 with an entertaining 93-70 victory over Oregon at home on Jan. 5.

Highlighting that entertainment were the seemingly impossible moves by senior forward Nneka Ogwumike. She scored 32 points, snared 15 rebounds and recorded two assists, three blocks, two steals, no turnovers and only two fouls in her team-high 33 minutes of playing time.

When they weren’t marveling at Nneka, the 3,434 fans could roar their approval for freshman forwards Bonnie Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield, who delivered six and five 3-pointers, respectively. Besides her 18 points, Bonnie had two rebounds, an assist, no turnovers and one foul in 22 minutes off the bench. Starter Taylor had a total of 17 points plus two rebounds, two assists, two steals and no turnovers or fouls in 22 minutes.

The team had a total of 14 3’s, thanks to Bonnie and Taylor plus one each from senior guard Lindy La Rocque, sophomore guard Toni Kokenis and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle.

Sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike nearly missed a double-double with 9 points and 12 rebounds to go with one assist, two blocks and two steals but had three turnovers and two fouls in 23 minutes.

Her point total of 9 was matched by Joslyn, who also had three rebounds, one assist, one foul and no steals, blocks or turnovers in 20 minutes. The only other player to score for the Cardinal was redshirt junior center Sarah Boothe, who had 2 points plus one rebound, one assist, one foul and no turnovers, steals or blocks in four minutes.

As a team, Stanford outrebounded the Ducks by only 47-40, which is less than the Cardinal’s usual standard. Stanford also had 14 fouls compared with Oregon’s seven. Hence Oregon made 14 of its points on free throws while Stanford managed only 3.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer went with the same starting lineup that she has used recently -- Nneka, Chiney, Taylor, Toni and Lindy. And even though the starters played more than one might expect in this game, all 12 available players saw action.

Besides the relatively low advantage in rebounding, another concern is that the two starting guards combined for only 6 points while those coming off the bench had none. Toni has usually been one of the top scorers along with Nneka and Chiney.

On the other hand, Toni led the team with eight assists with only one turnover and added a block and a steal, while Lindy had three assists and one turnover. Freshman guard Amber Orrange had five assists, three rebounds and one turnover off the bench. As a team, the Cardinal had 24 assists to Oregon’s eight, and only seven turnovers to Oregon’s 11. It also led 6-1 in blocks and 7-3 in steals

Moreover, the team extended its home winning streak to 70 and its conference winning streak to 60. Nneka is only three rebounds and 33 points away from joining the Cardinal’s prestigious 1,000/2,000 club. It won’t take her long to get there.