November 27, 2012

Tara foresees ‘something special’

With the Stanford women’s basketball team ranking No. 1 in both national polls, boasting a 6-0 season record and extending its home winning streak to 81 games, “this can be something special,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said after the team had just defeated Long Beach State 77-41 on Nov. 25.

Looking ahead, the coaches and team are trying some new things “that hopefully will work well in three months,” Tara said during the post-game Behind the Bench session.

What the team has been doing so far is working pretty well, especially in light of its 71-69 upset of Baylor in Hawaii on Nov. 16. The Cardinal victory snapped the defending national champion’s winning streak at 42 games and revenged Stanford’s loss to Baylor in the semi-final game of the Final Four in Denver last season.

The Nov. 16 victory also catapulted Stanford from No. 4 to No. 1 in the polls for the first time since 2005 and knocked Baylor down from No. 1 to No. 3 behind UConn.

“The coaching staff is brilliant,” said Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations. Opening the session, she was referring to the strategy that led to the victory over Baylor and the way that the Cardinal handled its star, 6’8” Brittney Griner.

11 players get into game

The Long Beach State game saw 11 players in action and significant contributions from both the starters and the bench. Senior forward Joslyn Tinkle led the team in scoring with 18 points in 31 minutes. She also had seven rebounds, a block and a steal.

Right behind her was junior forward Chiney Ogwumike with 16 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and one steal in 26 minutes.

A third starter with stellar stats was sophomore point guard Amber Orrange, who flirted with a triple-double by recording 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds (all defensive) in 26 minutes.

“I thought Amber did a great job,” Tara said. “She really set the tone for the game. …She’s always in the gym working on her shot.”

Making her first career start at Maples after joining the starting lineup for the three games in Hawaii, redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef had six rebounds to go with four points and three assists in 20 minutes. Moreover, “she had a great game (against) Baylor,” Tara said. She had a game-high 12 rebounds in that contest.

Returning to the starting lineup at Maples after starting for the games in Hawaii and for much of last season, junior guard Toni Kokenis had 2 points in 11 minutes.

Coming off the bench, sophomore forward Taylor Greenfield had 11 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal in 24 minutes.

Besides all the other positives that emerged from the game, the team also hit on 10 of 24 3-pointers for a 41.7 percent average. Taylor had three 3’s, while Joslyn and sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson had two each. Amber, junior guard Sara James and redshirt freshman guard Jasmine Camp each had one.

Quieter afternoon as holiday break ends

Even though it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the crowd numbered more than 3,500. However, the atmosphere was a bit quieter than usual with no band, as well as no Tree, Dollies or cheerleaders.

Also absent was longtime announcer Betty Ann Boeving. Her replacement was a man who was too loud and who annoyingly prolonged syllables when announcing Stanford players’ names. To his credit, however, he was more matter-of-fact during the game itself.

One fun addition to timeouts came with the Nerd City Camera seen on the video board during the second half. As the camera focused on faces in the crowd, they were seen in a frame that adorned them with black-framed glasses and a red bow tie – a crowd pleaser.

Even in Hawaii, “Everybody knows about Nerd City,” Eileen said after the game. The Nerd City moniker for Stanford and its athletes gained national attention after a YouTube video made by Chiney, her sister Nneka, ’12, several teammates and a number of athletes from other sports went viral.

Because the Baylor game wasn’t televised, several fans asked how they could get a video. Eileen said it’s not available to date because the University of Hawaii, the tournament host, holds the rights. She also said that ESPN had passed on the game.

Next Thanksgiving will find the team in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, followed by a return trip to Hawaii in 2014, Eileen said.

Eileen then yielded the microphone to associate head coach Amy Tucker, who was joined by Chiney. “Chiney has really elevated her game,” Amy said.

Chiney thankful for fans

“We have something really special here at Maples,” Chiney said, thanking the fans for their support.

The three games in Hawaii resulted in “a great team time,” she said. When it came her turn to give her teammates a pep talk before the Baylor game, she told them, “Fear no one.”

After playing with Nneka for her first two years at Stanford, Chiney’s role is different this year. “Part of it is self-discovery,” she said. “I’m trying to evolve into myself.”

“Making everyone aggressive is our No. 1 goal,” she added. “Hustle makes up for talent.”

A fan asked how she would describe herself in one word. After pondering, she said, “Introverted.” That drew a laugh. The ebullient, outgoing Chiney then added “competitive” among other qualities to her self-description.

Even though she had just finished playing a game, she said she was going to the gym to work on her shot. Before leaving, though, she crossed the court to pose for pictures and sign autographs for a group of youngsters, mostly girls.

Tara praises players

Tara completed the session with her comments, starting with “some people have really improved.” She cited Amber and Mikaela and noted that 6’5” freshman forward/center Tess Picknell “is making great strides every day in practice. She’ll play more as she gets more experience.” Tess played nine minutes in that day’s game and had three rebounds and a block. She took no shots.

As a team, “we are working on our conditioning,” Tara said, but the routine involves less running to avoid the foot problems experienced by some players last season.

Looking ahead, Tara said the Dec. 2 game at Gonzaga is sold out. Joslyn has been looking forward to that game because her younger sister, Elle, is a 6’2” freshman guard on the team.

Before flying to Spokane, though, the Stanford contingent will travel up Interstate 80 to take on UC Davis at 7 p.m. Nov. 30.

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