April 29, 2012
Thanks for the memories, Part 1 of 3
Over a period of more than nine months, starting with Pro-Am play at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, fans of Stanford women’s basketball were treated to an array of games and events that made the 2011-12 season a memorable one.
Overall, the team compiled a record of 35-2 and won its 12th consecutive -- and 21st overall -- Pac-12 regular season title by going 18-0 in conference play.
This was its third straight undefeated conference season. Including the three Pac-12 tournament wins that clinched the program's sixth straight tournament crown and its ninth overall, Stanford extended its conference winning streak to a record 78 games.
The team also went 16-0 at Maples Pavilion, thus extending its program record to 79 straight home wins – the longest ongoing home winning streak in the nation. That means that none of this year’s seniors – forwards Nneka Ogwumike and Sarah Boothe and guards Lindy La Rocque and Grace Mashore – and none of last year’s seniors had ever lost at Maples.
For just the second time in program history, Stanford boasted two WBCA Coaches' All-Americans, as Nneka and her sister, sophomore forward Chiney, were named to the 10-player team. Sophomore guard Toni Kokenis was named to the All-Pac-12 Team, while forward Taylor Greenfield and guard Amber Orrange were named Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honorable mention.
Kezar offers summer preview of freshmen
Fans got their very first taste of what was to come as five of the six incoming freshmen plus junior forward Joslyn Tinkle played together in SF Bay Area Pro-Am competition during the summer. They were joined by a Stanford alum, guard Markisha Coleman, ’07. Freshman guard Alex Green, recovering from a torn ACL in November 2010, couldn’t play but attended the games.
In all, the Stanford women had a 3-2 record at Kezar, with both losses in overtime. Except for the second loss, which she missed, Joslyn was the team’s high scorer with point totals ranging from 28 to 38. She also snared numerous rebounds, blocked shots and served as floor leader for her freshman teammates. They were guards Jasmine Camp and Amber plus forwards Bonnie Samuelson, Erica Payne and Taylor.
Fans meet the team at open practice
Fans had a chance to see most of the team in action at an open practice Oct. 21 in Maples Pavilion. Amber missed the event because she had a cold, and junior Mikaela Ruef mostly stayed on the sidelines because of a sore foot. She wasn’t idle, though. The team’s new sports performance coach, Susan King Borchardt, ’05, worked with her on conditioning.
After the practice, 132 fans packed neighboring Jimmy V’s for dinner and a chance to hear Tara introduce each player. She also introduced her staff, including her new assistant coach, Trina Patterson. Trina replaced Bobbie Kelsey, who left to become head coach at the University of Wisconsin.
“This is a very different team from the past,” Tara said. “It’s going to grow on you.” Those words proved prophetic as the season wore on.
Team notches two wins in exhibition play
The freshmen and their teammates got their first taste of competition when they defeated UC San Diego 106-56 in an exhibition game Nov. 2. The starting lineup featured Nneka, Chiney, Lindy, and sophomore guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis, who was at the point.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, all 14 healthy players had seen action. Mikaela was in uniform but didn’t play because of her foot. Leading the scoring were Chiney with 19, Nneka with 17 and Joslyn with 16. Bonnie led the freshmen with 15 points, thanks to shooting five for seven on 3-pointers.
The next exhibition came at home on Nov. 5, when Vanguard fell 100-54. The starters were Nneka, Lindy, Chiney, Taylor and Amber at the point. By the end of the game, 13 players had seen action. Mikaela was held out again, as was Toni, who had taken a tumble in the UC San Diego game. Both were in uniform, though.
The afternoon was notable for a barrage of 14 3-pointers, thanks to five each by Bonnie and Lindy plus two each by Taylor and Sara.
Games that count start in Texas
After those two exhibitions, the team set off on its first road trip, journeying to the University of Texas for a 72-59 victory on Nov. 11. Nneka missed that game because of an unspecified upper body injury.
Two days later, the team was home to face Gonzaga. Thanks to a 76-61 win, the freshmen took part in a post-game tradition for the first time by joining their teammates in tossing victory balls into the stands. The Zags had proved to be a tough opponent, leading 32-31 at the half, but Nneka and Chiney took over in the second half, scoring all of the team’s 17 points by the 13:36 mark.
During halftime, fans honored the 1991-92 team, which was the last Stanford WBB team to win the national championship. Several support staff members and players were there. Another player, Kate Paye, now an assistant coach, was in the locker room, while another, Bobbie, sent her best wishes from Wisconsin via video.
Tara was honored after the game, when athletic director Bob Bowlsby gave her a trophy and photomontage in honor of her induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In a post-game gathering behind the bench, associate head coach Amy Tucker introduced Taylor to the fans. Taylor hails from Huxley, Iowa, population 2,000, but it’s only about 9 miles from Ames, home of Iowa State, her parents’ alma mater.
One of her biggest adjustments to playing at Stanford, she said, is that she’s in a forward spot, whereas she was the point guard on her high school team.
All 15 players see action against Old Dominion
When Old Dominion came calling on Nov. 17, Stanford logged a 97-48 victory. As had been the case in the Gonzaga game, all 15 Cardinal players were healthy and available for action. This time, all of them got into the game and contributed in some way, if only for hustle and defense. In retrospect, it was the only game all season that featured everyone.
Before the game started, Tara was given a plaque honoring her as the national Women’s Coach of the Year. Then Old Dominion got off on the wrong foot by being assessed with a technical foul for failing to submit its starting lineup on time. When Toni made both free throws, the score was 2-0 before the tipoff.
UConn hands Cardinal its only regular season loss
The team was back on the road again, facing UConn on Nov. 21. The game resulted in what was to be Stanford’s only regular season loss as UConn prevailed 68-58. Alex didn’t make the trip because she had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during practice the previous week. The injury, which required surgery, kept her out for the rest of the season.
Several dozen fans who couldn’t make the trip gathered for a viewing party at a new (to them) venue, an upstairs room at the Old Pro in downtown Palo Alto.
The team remained in the Eastern Time zone, traveling to Ohio to prepare for its game against Xavier in Cincinnati.
Thus the Stanford contingent was able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Mikaela’s mother at the Ruef family home in Beavercreek, Ohio, a Dayton suburb about 52 miles north of Cincinnati. Fortified with turkey and all the fixings, the team went on to defeat Xavier 80-64 the next day, Nov. 25.
One quick trip home, then on the road to Fresno
Back at Maples, UC Davis fell 93-44 on Nov. 30. Cardinal scoring was led by one member of each class, starting with Nneka, 20; Joslyn, a career-high 19; Chiney, 18; and Bonnie, 15 – thanks to five of the team’s 11 3-pointers.
With Lindy sidelined by what was reported to be a sore foot, Jasmine took her place in the starting lineup along with Nneka, Chiney, Taylor and Toni.
The next road trip was literally down the road as the team took a bus and a number of fans drove to Fresno State for a 93-59 win on Dec. 4. With a starting lineup that featured Nneka, Chiney, Taylor, Toni and Jasmine, the team led from the very first and never looked back.
Initially the game looked like “The Nneka and Chiney Show” with the sisters dominating the boards and scoring. Playing a team-leading 27 minutes, Chiney had 13 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Nneka played only 18 minutes, but she had a team-high 21 points plus 12 rebounds. Stanford’s superior height allowed it to virtually own the boards, outrebounding the Bulldogs 67-28.
With finals behind them, team takes on Princeton
After a break for studying and finals, the team was back in action at home on Dec. 17, defeating Princeton 85-66. This time the starting lineup featured the Ogwumikes plus Taylor, Jasmine and Lindy.
The visitors kept the game close during the first half, trailing only 39-32 at the break. In the second half, Stanford turned up the offensive and defensive heat to lead by as much as 27 with 2:23 to go.
Afterward, fans heard from one of the Princeton coaches, Milena Flores, a Stanford basketball grad, class of 2000. With this game behind her, “I’m looking forward to cheering for Stanford all the rest of the way,” she said.
Fans also heard from Jasmine, who hails from Atlanta. Playing basketball since she was 4, she had thought she would wind up closer to home, but Stanford “is truly worth the trip. I have a great time here. It’s such a family. I love it,” she said.
Excitement, poignancy in victory over Lady Vols
Three days later, Maples was packed to the rafters and the atmosphere was electric for the Tennessee game. It stayed that way as Stanford won 97-80 led by the exuberance, exhilaration and sheer joy generated by Nneka. The team captain not only scored a career-high 42 points but also hauled in 17 rebounds, dished out three assists and had two steals in her 39 minutes on the floor.
Despite all this excitement, the evening had its poignant moments as the crowd honored the Lady Vols’ legendary head coach, Pat Summitt. Before the season started, she announced that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Later, after the season ended, she stepped down and became head coach emeritus.
To honor her, Stanford fans were given red rally towels emblazoned with an “S” and reading, “We back Pat.” After warmly applauding the Lady Vols when they came on the court, fans greeted Pat’s entrance with a prolonged standing ovation.
Shortly before the game started, fans got their first look at Episode 3 of “The Real Ladies of Maples,” shot mostly by Chiney and focusing on the team’s Thanksgiving dinner at Mikaela’s home.
Mikaela was still on the sidelines because of her foot. She and Alex were joined by Jasmine, who was on crutches because of a foot injury. None of them played for the rest of the season.
Win over Bakersfield ends nonconference play
Stanford wrapped up its nonconference season Dec. 22 with a home 90-48 win over Cal State Bakersfield. Because of injuries, the Roadrunners had only seven players in uniform, and no starter was over 6 feet. Moreover, the team was transitioning to Division I, so meeting an elite team like Stanford presented a formidable challenge.
For their part, Stanford’s starters – the Ogwumikes, Joslyn, Lindy and Toni – got to spend most of the game on the sidelines, sipping Gatorade and cheering teammates who don’t get as much time in the spotlight.
After the game, Nneka paid a visit to fans in Kissick Auditorium, where she received a standing ovation to honor her performance against Tennessee. She was typically modest about her accomplishment. Asked if she realizes the legacy she’s leaving, she said, “I feel like I’m still part of a legacy,” and cited such great predecessors as Jayne Appel, ’10, and Candice Wiggins, ’08. “I’m a part of this program. I just do what I can do to help.”
One way she helps is to mentor the freshmen. “She’s our unpaid assistant,” Amy said, noting that Nneka often explains the coaches’ comments to her new teammates.
Next up: The first Pac-12 season begins.