After opening its pre-conference season with a 9-1 record and taking a brief break for Christmas, the Stanford women’s basketball team was ready to take on the Pac-12 Conference for the first time.
The former Pac-10 became the Pac-12 this season with the addition of the universities of Colorado and Utah. The expansion meant that instead of playing every conference opponent twice, each team would meet some teams only once. Traditional rivalries were maintained.
Stanford’s conference play began with a road trip to Southern California, where the Cardinal defeated USC 61-53 on Dec. 29 and UCLA 77-50 on Dec. 31.
2012 starts at home against the Oregon teams
The Cardinal began the 2012 with a 93-70 victory over Oregon on Jan. 5. It was an entertaining game in several ways, starting with some seemingly impossible moves by senior forward Nneka Ogwumike. She scored 32 points, snared 15 rebounds and recorded two assists, three blocks and two steals with no turnovers and only two fouls in 33 minutes.
When they weren’t marveling at Nneka, fans could applaud freshman forwards Bonnie Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield, who delivered six and five 3-pointers, respectively. Senior guard Lindy La Rocque, sophomore guard Toni Kokenis and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle each had one 3, raising the team total to 14.
The team also got a big lift from her sister, sophomore forward Chiney, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Together, the sisters accounted for 53 of the team’s 67 points.
Stanford trailed 35-31 at the half, but fans enjoyed a reprieve from the tension during halftime because of Dog Lovers Day. It was highlighted by the annual visit of the popular agility dogs.
Arriving to cheers and a standing ovation, Nneka appeared briefly before fans gathered behind the bench after the game. Head coach Tara VanDerveer lauded her, calling her “one of the greatest players to ever play at Stanford.”
Fans also heard from Susan King Borchardt, ’05, the team’s new sports performance coach. She “was one of our most tenacious defenders that we’ve ever had,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said. As a former player, Susan makes helpful observations for the coaches. “It’s almost like having another assistant coach,” Amy said.
Susan is married to Curtis Borchardt, who played basketball at Stanford before going to Spain to play professionally. They have three children, who – in January – included a 21-month-old son and 5 ½-month-old twins, a boy and a girl.
The newest conference members hosted the Cardinal the following week, when the team defeated Utah 62-43 on Jan. 12 and Colorado 80-54 on Jan. 14.
Washington teams pay visits
Returning from the Mountain Time zone, Stanford hosted Washington State on Jan. 19. The Cougars had escaped being snowed in by storms pounding the Pacific Northwest, but they couldn’t escape being snowed under by the Stanford women, who prevailed 75-41.
This game featured the home debut of the revised lineup that Tara had instituted against Utah and Colorado. Continuing their starting roles were Nneka, Chiney and Toni, while Joslyn and freshman point guard Amber Orrange joined them. This was the lineup for the rest of the season.
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 team’s dominance can be explained by defense, which didn’t allow any WSU player to score more than 7 points. All 12 available Stanford players got into the game and contributed in some way.
Washington arrived next and fell 65-47 on Jan. 21. Although Nneka and Chiney were tops in scoring with 17 and 15 points, respectively, two freshmen were a big help. Amber had 4 points to go with nine assists – with each assist leading to at least 2 points – while Taylor came off the bench to make four of her five 3-point shots for 12 points.
Freshman guard Alex Green was the guest after the game. She’s “probably our shyest freshman,” Amy said. Alex was out of action because she was rehabbing from surgery for a torn Achilles tendon.
Cal extends game to OT
With a reported attendance of 6,075, Maples was rocking as cross-bay rival Cal arrived a week later and gave the team its toughest home game all season before falling 74-71 in overtime on Jan. 28.
The score seesawed through the early part of the first half, but Stanford edged ahead and went into the locker room with a 38-29 lead. Stanford widened the gap initially, but Cal narrowed it, allowing regulation play to end 69-69.
Chiney and Toni proved to be the difference in OT, with Chiney scoring 3 of her 27 total points and Toni recording 2 of her 18 points. Chiney’s point total and her 18 rebounds were both career highs.
Twice during the game fans were treated to a new crowd-pleaser – T-shirts fired from the Shockwave, a T-shirt shooting robotic cannon remotely controlled by a teenage boy.
More fun came during halftime with the introduction of Stanford’s 2011 national champion women’s soccer team. Next the video board showed highlights from Stanford’s Big Game football victory over Cal to claim the Axe. Then six Cardinal football players paraded onto the court carrying the trophy.
More football memories were evoked during the second half when former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was shown in the stands. After becoming the San Francisco 49er coach in the fall, he had led his resurgent team to the NFC championship game the previous week.
Lauren Greif, special assistant and video coordinator, and Liz Rizza, intern, were the guests at the post-game gathering.
Desert proves fruitful for Cardinal
The Arizona desert was the team’s next destination. While the Cardinal took on Arizona State on Feb. 2, about 30 fans gathered at the Old Pro sports bar in downtown Palo Alto to watch their team record a 62-49 victory.
The game was much closer than the final score would indicate. The teams were tied 28-28 at the half and 40-40 slightly more than eight minutes into the second half. Then Stanford took over, thanks in large part to the Ogwumikes. Nneka poured in 22 points, while Chiney had 20, and each pulled down 16 rebounds.
Stanford had an easier time against Arizona, winning 91-51 on Feb. 4.
National audience for Nneka’s next milestone
During the half, the crowd saluted the No. 6 nationally ranked women’s lacrosse team, which was to open its season the next day. The team got in some shot practice by hurling mini-balls into the stands.
Fans also saw a new-look Tree with a brown trunk and face beneath scalloped, dark green fronds.
Feb. 12 was Pink Zone Day, and that’s where the team was as it recorded an 82-59 victory over visiting UCLA. Thus the Cardinal notched their 76th home win, their 70th consecutive conference win and their 19th consecutive win of the season.
The first half ended with Stanford on top 35-30, but the Cardinal pulled away in the second half even as UCLA upped its pressure. “This reminds me of a typical Stanford game,” TV commentator Mary Murphy told fans after the game. Stanford seems to get a feel for its opponent during the first half, makes the necessary adjustments and then, in the second half, “here they come,” she said.
After traveling to Oregon the next week, the team returned with a 78-45 win over Oregon State on Feb. 16 and an 81-46 win over Oregon on Feb. 18. Thus the team clinched its first-ever Pac-12 conference title.
Tara, Nneka, Joslyn, Chiney take to the airwaves
Tara, Nneka, Joslyn and Chiney talked about the team during a radio interview conducted at Gordon Biersch Restaurant in downtown Palo Alto on Feb. 20. KNBR’s “Inside Stanford Sports” was hosted by John Platz. Some 40 or so fans gathered at the restaurant to hear the interviews.
“We’ll keep it going. We’re starting to play our best basketball,” Tara said. She then singled out several players for praise, including the starting five and the freshmen.
Nneka was next up at the microphone. Noting that she had learned a lot from Jayne as well as the previous year’s leaders, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen, she said, “I want the younger players to be a part of that tradition.”
Playing with Chiney “is like playing with three other people rather than four. She’s like an extension of me,” Nneka said.
There’s a lot of pressure on Nneka and Chiney, Joslyn said, but it takes everyone to win. The players must “focus on having very good team chemistry.”
Teamwork was a theme for Chiney, too. “The person with the best shot is the person who’s open,” she said. “This year we’ve been focusing on every play, every possession.”
Colorado plays a risky but losing game
Colorado took a highly aggressive but risky approach when it visited Stanford on Feb. 23. It worked for a while in the first half, but Stanford dominated the second half and closed with a 68-46 victory.
Colorado’s aggressiveness resulted in 15 of Stanford’s 19 turnovers in the first half, but it also resulted in 25 Colorado fouls, leading to 27 Stanford points. By comparison, Stanford had only 14 fouls that led to 8 Colorado points.
Scoring her 13th point just before the first-half buzzer, Nneka moved past Kate Starbird, ’97, into second place on the team’s all-time scoring list. She finished the game with 23 points and a total of 2,230 for her career.
After tossing victory balls after the game, the players donned T-shirts commemorating their Pac-12 season championship. A Pac-12 official presented the championship trophy to Tara, who passed it on to the happy players. After posing for a team picture in front of a Pac-12 championship banner, the players left the floor with Nneka carrying the trophy.
Grace-ful note to Senior Day
Grace’s basket was a fitting way to cap off the win, the team’s 78th straight at home and Tara’s 700th at Stanford.
Amber had scored on Stanford’s first possession, while a stifling Cardinal defense forced Utah into shot-clock violations on its first two possessions. Utah was down 9-0 before scoring its first basket with 15:30 to go in the first half.
The T-shirt-shooting Shockwave robot returned during two timeouts, while Bloomer basketball at halftime featured older players following rules from the ’50s and ’60s. The video board showed Stanford’s 1896 team, which won the first-ever women’s collegiate basketball game 2-1 over Cal on April 4, 1896.
Also during halftime, the No. 1 nationally ranked men’s volleyball team tossed victory balls into the stands.
Nevertheless, the afternoon belonged to the Class of 2012. Grace, Lindy, Nneka and forward/center Sarah Boothe were honored in a post-game ceremony in Maples and afterward at a Fast Break Club gathering in Dallmar Court.
The post-game ceremony started with a video saluting each player and ending with a list of the class’s accomplishments to date. Then each of the four walked to center court accompanied by parents and other family members.
Each one, as well as parents and a teammate, had a chance to speak at the Dallmar gathering, starting with Sarah. Toni said Sarah is “like everyone’s big sister. … She’s always there for you. We call her Mama Boothe.”
Introducing Lindy, Tara referred to her signature play. It came at home against Cal her freshman year when she dove onto the floor for a loose ball, flipped it to a streaking Jillian Harmon, ’09, who scored an uncontested layup.
Joslyn said her teammates call Lindy “Coach La Rocque. She will be very missed.” Tara affirmed Lindy’s basketball knowledge. “We do talk about coaching stuff,” she said.
When Tara spoke of Grace, she noted “how important she is to our team.” Sophomore guard Sara James said Grace “makes me want to work even harder.”
Next came Nneka’s turn. “I just enjoy coaching Nneka every day,” Tara said. Nneka said she planned to graduate at the end of the term in hopes of going on to the WNBA. (She was the No. 1 draft pick by the Los Angeles Sparks in April.) “She has taught me so many, many lessons,” Chiney said. “She’s a mother to all of us.”
Two more games close the regular season
Even though the seniors had already had their special day, they and their teammates still had one more home game, taking on Seattle University and winning 76-52 on Feb. 29. It was a nonconference game with a team that’s transitioning into Division I.
The Redhawks gave Stanford a more competitive game than the score might suggest because of their solid defense and quickness. In the end, though, they were no match for the likes of Nneka with 19 points, Chiney with 18, Joslyn with 14 and Amber with 10. Bonnie came off the bench to add 12 points thanks to four 3-pointers – three of them consecutive.
Thus the team extended its home winning streak to 79 games. That means the class of 2012 is the second consecutive group of seniors to toss out victory balls after every one of their home games.
Nneka received a standing ovation when she went to the bench for the final time with 5:02 left. Grace was cheered when she entered the game with 2:23 to go.
After the game, the crowd was treated to a video with highlights from the season, ending with “Thank You Seniors.” With that, announcer Betty Ann Boeving signed off from her 13th season at the microphone.
Seattle coach Joan Bonvicini spoke to the Fast Break Club after the game and said of the Ogwumikes, “They’re the real deal.” Prophetically, she also said the team had a good chance to go to its fifth consecutive Final Four.
Winding up the regular season March 4, the team traveled across the bay to take on Cal. Also making the trek was a booster bus with 39 fans as well as many more who made their way to the UC Berkeley campus on their own.
Unlike the Cal-Stanford matchup earlier in the season, this one was much easier for Stanford, which won 86-61.
Next up: tournament time