March 12, 2012

Three days, three wins in LA

The Stanford women’s basketball team left Los Angeles on March 10 as the Pac-12 tournament champions after winning three games in three days. Thus the team extended its winning streak to 28 games, a school record. It also extended its conference winning streak to 78 games and its overall season record to 32-1.

In addition, senior forward Nneka Ogwumike received a trophy as the tournament’s most outstanding player, and both she and sister Chiney, a sophomore forward, were named to the all-tournament team.

Here are some highlights from the tournament:

March 8 – Stanford 76, Washington 57

A handful of fans and family members began their day by joining the band, Dollies, cheerleaders and Tree in a sendoff at the Downtown Marriott Hotel. Nneka was the first player to get there, accompanied by freshman guard Amber Orrange.

As we waited for more players to arrive, a hotel guest watching the festivities said she’s from Colorado, but she hopes to see Stanford in Denver for the Final Four.

When the band began playing “All Right Now,” the team’s freshmen watched the returning players to learn the moves to the song. Then the players, coaches and staff trooped to the waiting bus to go to the Galen Center at USC.

The noon game drew a sparse crowd, maybe 300 or 400 by my guesstimation, with most of the fans wearing Stanford red. The fans included Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; classmate and former team manager Kerry Blake; and Jeanette’s mother.

In a departure from custom, the band sang rather than played the anthem for the team’s entry. Junior forward Mikaela Ruef and freshman guard Alex Green, who have had injuries, weren’t with the team. However, freshman guard Jasmine Camp, who is rehabbing from surgery, was there. Mikaela tweeted that she had undergone surgery the previous day.

Freshman forward Taylor Greenfield and senior forward Sarah Boothe, who had both missed some games with injuries, got some playing time. Taylor contributed two rebounds while Sarah had a rebound, an assist and a block.

Going into the second half, when Stanford led 37-24, the cheerleaders got a group of school kids chanting, “Let’s go, Stanford.” Later one of the boys got to play tambourine with the band during a timeout.

Nneka led the scoring with 18 points, plus seven rebounds, four assists and a block. Chiney was right behind with 16 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and a block. No one played more than 28 minutes (guard Toni Kokenis), and everyone got into the game.

The team had five 3-pointers, courtesy of freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson with three and senior guard Lindy La Rocque with two.

The next game featured Arizona State versus Arizona, with the winner of that game advancing to play Stanford the next day. Therefore, the Stanford coaches sat at tables behind one of the benches to scout the next day’s opponent. About four minutes into the game, Stanford players began to trickle in, sitting with family members or friends until shortly before the half, when they all sat together in a corner section. They left at the half, but the coaches stayed.

March 9 – Stanford 52, Arizona State 43

This day began much the same as the previous day with family members and a few fans on hand for the sendoff from the hotel.

As some of the Stanford players visited with parents in the lobby, the Cal team arrived from a practice. Meantime, the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree were performing just outside. “The band’s waiting,” Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, told the players, who then went outside.

Nneka danced as the band played, senior Grace Mashore’s father took pictures, and some hotel guests watched. Just after the Stanford entourage left, the ASU band lined up to give its team a sendoff.

At the noon game in the Staples Center, another group of school kids arrived waving red and white pompons and wearing red headbands that were being handed out at a Verizon Wireless booth in the concourse.

During halftime, when Stanford led ASU 29-15, Stanford fan Bob Dodge won a dance contest while he wore one of those headbands, red beads from a Final Four and a black T-shirt reading, “Where there’s a Wiggins, there’s a way,” a memento from of the 2008 NCAA tournament run to the Final Four led by Candice Wiggins,’08.

ASU began closing the gap in the second half, getting it to within 6 points with a minute left, but Nneka made six of six free throws and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle added two more FTs and snared the final rebound to give the team its 52-43 win. As the team left the floor, Joslyn turned to the Stanford fans, wiped her brow and mouthed, “Whew.”

She echoed the sentiments of the fans, who had just witnessed one of the team’s least impressive efforts of the season. Stanford shot only 29.4 percent for the game (ASU shot 29.8 percent) and missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts.

Luckily, Stanford was more successful with free throws, making 22 of 27, while ASU, made six of eight. Once again Nneka led the team in scoring with 24 points, which included 10 for 10 tries at the charity stripe. She also had 12 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and three steals in 39 minutes

Chiney had 12 points and 13 rebounds to go with one steal in 38 minutes. Toni, who played all 40 minutes, had six points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Because the game stayed so close, only eight players got onto the floor.

Later in the afternoon, about 20 fans and some family members gathered at Big Wang’s sports bar for a post-game social.

March 10 – Stanford 77, Cal 62

Once again the band, Dollies, Tree and cheerleaders assembled for the sendoff, this time to the championship game, at Staples. This sendoff attracted a larger group of family and fans, perhaps because it was a Saturday. Joined by both of her parents, Jeanette was there again, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Forever S.” Kerry was there, too.

As the team arrived in the lobby, Bonnie and her two younger sisters posed for pictures taken by their dad as their mom looked on.

Once outside, the team was more animated than usual. During one song, Nneka danced, Chiney played the bass drum, and Joslyn led the band. Toni, who joined the band for home football games, was in the back row playing a mellophone while sophomore guard Sara James pretended to play a trumpet.

Those players then rejoined their teammates for a chorus line and some back-and-forthing with the band.

The crowd was somewhat larger but still sparse for the 11:30 a.m. game. Once again, fans in red seemed to be in the majority.

Like the Washington and ASU games, this was a physical contest, resulting in 16 fouls for Cal and 19 for Stanford. However, Stanford was better able to cash in, making 14 of 16 free throws, or 87.5 percent, while Cal made 15 of 25, or 60 percent.

As she did in the other two games, Nneka led her team with 29 points. What makes that total especially memorable is that she made her first 3-pointers of the season. In fact, she made three of four, setting the crowd aroar. Nneka also had 12 rebounds, one assist, two blocks and three steals in 36 minutes.

Chiney had 17 points and 13 rebounds for her third double-double of the tournament. She also had an assist and a block 34 minutes.

Amber made significant contributions with 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Completing the scoring, Joslyn and Toni had 9 points each, including one 3-pointer each. Everyone got into the game, but only the five starters scored.

After the game, there were smiles and hugs all around as the team celebrated its championship by donning the traditional T-shirts and hats. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott presented the tournament trophy to head coach Tara VanDerveer, who held it up before giving it to Nneka to show the team.

The net-cutting was next. Tara climbed the ladder last, snipped off the last strands and held the net aloft in a pose that has become happily familiar to Stanford fans. Descending the ladder, she handed the net to Nneka, who draped it around her neck.

To conclude the ceremony, Nneka received her trophy as most outstanding player, and she and Chiney were named to the all-tournament team.

Next up: the NCAA tournament.

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