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.

November 12, 2012

Team effort fuels win over Santa Clara

All 13 available players made positive contributions Nov. 11 as the Stanford women’s basketball team drove a few miles south to defeat Santa Clara University 92-57.

Junior forward Chiney Ogwumike poured in 22 points to lead the Stanford barrage. According to ESPNW, she scored her 1,000th career point midway through the first half and ended the game with 1,010 points on her resume. Her mother, Ify, was among the parents and other relatives there to cheer the team. After the game, she told me she plans to travel to Poland where her eldest daughter, Nneka, ’12, is playing professionally.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer altered her starting lineup somewhat, giving sophomore forward Erica Payne her first career start. Erica played 18 minutes and recorded 4 points along with three rebounds and one each in the assists, steals, rebounds and blocks column.

Joining her at the start were Chiney, senior forward Joslyn Tinkle and sophomore guards Jasmine Camp and Amber Orrange. Besides her 22 points, Chiney had seven rebounds, four steals and an assist in 25 minutes.

Playing a team-high 28 minutes, Joslyn finished with 19 points, four rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. Amber was right behind her with 18 points, six assists and two steals in 25 minutes. Jasmine had 4 points, three assists and a steal in 24 minutes.

Freshman forward/center Tess Picknell and junior guard Toni Kokenis were first off the bench. They were followed by redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef, sophomore forwards Bonnie Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield, and junior guard Sara James. Sara was high-scorer from the bench with 8 points, while Mikaela added 6 points to go with seven rebounds, tying Chiney. Mikaela also contributed an assist, a steal and a block.

Even freshman guards Denia Ebersole and Kiran Lakhian helped out despite playing slightly less than one minute at the end. Kiran scored 2 points, causing her teammates on the bench to jump up and cheer. Denia, playing the point, had an assist.

After making only one 3-pointer against Fresno State on Nov. 9, the team this time hit five of 12, or 41.7 percent. Sara had two. Amber, Joslyn and Bonnie each had one.

Stanford also collected 30 rebounds vs. 21 for SCU. Stanford’s steal advantage was 11-4, while teams were tied with 18 assists each. Stanford had 10 fouls and 11 turnovers, while SCU had 15 and 14, respectively.

It appeared that several hundred Stanford fans were among the 2,728 people there, but it was hard to tell for sure because Santa Clara’s colors are red and white, too, so there was a lot of red in the stands.

Before the game started, veterans in the crowd were asked to raise their hands and be honored for Veterans Day. At the half, approximately two dozen SCU women’s basketball grads were introduced at center court. Several had children with them.

SCU’s Leavey Center is a fan-friendly arena with lots of free parking (at certain times) nearby. The main drawback is that the jumbotron is on the wall at the visiting team’s end, and the scoreboard over center court provides only meager information beyond the score.

Rather than the numbers of each player in action and her points and fouls, it flashes a player’s number and point total only after she has scored. Hence it’s hard to keep track of everyone.

Leavey also is quieter than Maples because the small, sedate SCU band doesn’t play very often, and its songs aren’t all that lively. Most of the music is recorded.

Still, it was an enjoyable afternoon that saw the Cardinal pull to an early lead, gain a 47-32 advantage at the half and stay well ahead for the rest of the game. It also was gratifying to see how well certain plays were executed, how much the team hustled and defended, and how so many players excelled in one way or another.

November 11, 2012

Giants, vets, victory in home opener

The Fresno State Bulldogs gave the Stanford women’s basketball team all it could handle, but the Cardinal prevailed 72-61 to win its home and season opener Nov. 9.

Besides extending the nation’s best home winning streak to 80, the game also was an occasion to honor military veterans for Veterans Day and to honor the San Francisco Giants for its World Series championship.

The Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, was on hand, and many fans wore Giants gear. For example, the Twist Cam winner sported a Giants jersey with Posey – for catcher/slugger Buster Posey – on the back.

During another timeout, Lou and the Tree tossed T-shirts and mini-balls into the crowd.
During halftime, the video board showed World Series highlights, starting with the final out of the fourth game in St. Louis and ending with the Oct. 31 celebration in San Francisco.

Lou and the Tree followed this up by dancing together at center court, where the Tree shed her costume and did the worm.

Before all this fun, veterans in the crowd were asked to come to the court at halftime to accept the fans’ applause. Another veteran in attendance was retired Navy Cmdr. Zoe Dunning, who served as honorary captain for the Cardinal.

According to her website, Zoe, a graduate of Annapolis and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, came out as a lesbian while studying at Stanford and serving in the Navy Reserves to protest Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She won her discharge hearing, served as the only openly gay U.S. service member for 13 years and retired with 22 years’ service. At his invitation, she stood next to President Barack Obama when he signed the repeal of DODT in 2010.

As announcer Betty Ann Boeving read off Zoe’s accomplishments before the tipoff, the crowd’s cheers grew louder and louder.

Stanford’s starting forwards were senior Joslyn Tinkle, junior Chiney Ogwumike and sophomore Taylor Greenfield. At the guard spots were junior Sara James and sophomore Amber Orrange.

Coming off the bench during the game were sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson, redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef, redshirt freshman guard Jasmine Camp and junior guard Toni Kokenis, a 2011-12 starter who was seeing her first action of this season.

The game stayed close during the first half, which ended 34-29 in Stanford’s favor. It was tied 42-42 with 15:02 to go in the second half when the Cardinal went on a 14-2 run. One highlight of that run was a steal and score by Toni. Still, Fresno State refused to give up, but Stanford stayed ahead and won.

Playing a huge role in the win were Chiney’s 23 points and 17 rebounds in 40 minutes, along with Joslyn’s 20 points and eight rebounds in 39 minutes. Amber was the only other Cardinal in double figures, scoring 14 along with a team-leading five assists in 36 minutes. She also had five of the team’s 12 turnovers. Fresno State had 14.

Unusual for Stanford, the team was outrebounded 44-41. But Stanford had nine blocks, including four by Chiney and three by Joslyn, compared with the Bulldogs’ one. Steals were even at six each.

After making 27 3-point shots in the two exhibition wins, Stanford was limited to just one – by Taylor.

After the game, fans had a chance to gather for a Behind the Bench session. As Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, was making some introductory comments, freshman guard Denia Ebersole walked across the court and greeted a group of friends with signs supporting her.

Taking note of Denia’s fan club, Eileen said she had attended head coach Tara VanDerveer’s hoops camp in high school. She is among the 36 Stanford players who were former campers, Eileen said.

When associate head coach Amy Tucker arrived with Joslyn and freshman center/forward Tess Picknell, fan Lily Wong gave Amy a T-shirt and plaque to commemorate her induction into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame during the summer.

In keeping with a tradition for freshmen, Tess talked a little about herself. Hailing from Medford, Ore., she said she has an older sister who attends the University of Oregon. Her father was at the game. Her mother teaches at the Southern Oregon University in nearby Ashland. Three dogs complete her family.

Asked what she has been learning as a Cardinal, she said she’s working on defensive techniques and learning new ways to play offense, thanks to Amy.

She started playing basketball in second grade. As for college, “Stanford’s always been my dream school.” She told Stanford of her interest, but when Amy came to a game, her team lost. Tess feared that was that, but then she got a call telling her to try harder. When she learned she had been accepted at Stanford, she stopped considering any other school.

“Tess was quite the enforcer,” Amy said.

When Joslyn got the microphone, she said she had spent most of the summer at home in Missoula, Mont., “good old Big Sky County.” She worked out at the University of Montana, where her father is the men’s basketball coach. He also gave her some tips. She took some breaks to return to Stanford to help at hoops camp.

During that time she also tried to focus on filling the shoes of Chiney’s older sister, Nneka, who graduated in June after a stellar college career. She’s working on rebounding and being more aggressive, Joslyn said, adding, “I know my team relies on me a lot more this year.”

“Joslyn gave us great energy (and) got us going inside,” Amy said.

Now, Joslyn said, she is “trying to slow this year down as much as possible,” since it’s her last at Stanford.

She’s looking forward to the Dec.2 game at Gonzaga, where her sister is a freshman on the basketball team. Her parents are already making “Stan/zaga” shirts, she said.

In the meantime, she’s looking forward to revenge and redemption against Baylor, which defeated Stanford in the semi-final round of the Final Four in Denver and went on to win the national championship. Stanford and Baylor will face off Nov. 16 during a four-team tournament in Hawaii.

After meeting with the media, Tara came out to talk with the fans. “We are obviously a work in progress,” she said, but she cited the contributions made by several players.

“We didn’t shoot well tonight,” she said, alluding to the 49.2 percent rate. And even though Bonnie didn’t score after her 3’s led the team in scoring in both exhibitions, she “did a nice job defensively,” Tara said.

“This is a young team. It’s going to take awhile to gel,” Tara concluded.

November 3, 2012

Victory over Vanguard ends exhibition season

The Stanford women’s basketball team completed its exhibition weekend with a sweep – defeating Corban 117-33 on Nov. 1 and following up with an 82-47 defeat of Vanguard on Nov. 3. Both games were at home in Maples Pavilion.

Unlike Corban, which hadn’t faced the Cardinal before, Vanguard was making a return visit to the Farm. Both teams play at the Division II level, but meeting an elite squad like Stanford’s is a good experience for them.

It’s also a good way for the Stanford players to get a little more playing time and to learn while the coaches continue to evaluate plays and players.

Once again Stanford’s victory included a barrage of 3’s. Sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson started it right away when she delivered the team’s first score with a 3-pointer and went on to lead the team with five of its 13 for the night. Sophomore forward Taylor Greenfield and junior guard Sara James added four each.

The starting lineup featured three returning starters – senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike and sophomore guard Amber Orrange – along with Bonnie and redshirt freshman guard Jasmine Camp. As was true against Corban, the other returning starter, junior guard Toni Kokenis, was in uniform and warmed up with the team but sat at the end of the bench all afternoon.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer substituted freely, starting with Sara for Jasmine. Then came Taylor and redshirt junior guard Mikaela Ruef for Bonnie and Sara. Others who played during the first half were freshman forward/center Tess Picknell and sophomore forward Erica Payne. Freshman guards Kiran Lakhian and Denia Ebersole got in during the second half.

Outsized and out-defended, the opponent didn’t score until the clock hit 13:26, when a Vanguard player hit a 3 to make the score 13-3. The second Vanguard score, also a 3, came at the 9:45 mark to make the score 25-6. By the time the clock hit 8:22, Amber had made her third shot in a row. The half ended 44-21.

Whereas much of the offense seemed to come from the perimeter during the first half, it appeared that more plays were designed to go inside to Chiney and Joslyn or the other bigs during the second.

Several times during the second half, the lineup included just one guard and four forwards. For example, the second-half starters were Amber at the point plus Joslyn, Chiney, Bonnie and Taylor. Late in the second half, there was an all-forward lineup with Taylor presumably at the point.

Bonnie was the game’s high scorer with 18, followed by Taylor with 16, Sara with 14 and Chiney with 11.

The team pulled down a total of 55 rebounds, led by Joslyn with 10, and Chiney, Mikaela and Tess with eight each. Chiney was credited with five of the team’s 12 blocks. Amber contributed seven of its 17 assists, followed by Mikaela with four.

Vanguard did better in the turnover department, registering just 11 compared with Stanford’s 14. Fouls were fairly even – 14 for Vanguard, 15 for Stanford.

For the game, Stanford shot 42.6 percent overall, 37.1 percent for 3’s and 68.8 percent for free throws.

Except for Kiran and Denia, who entered late in the game, everyone else played between 15 and 23 minutes.

With two exhibition wins under their belts, the Cardinal will start the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, when Fresno State comes to Maples. Then it’s just a short jaunt down the road for a visit to Santa Clara at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11.

November 2, 2012

Team coasts into action with 117-33 victory

Corban University proved to be no match for the Stanford women’s basketball team in its season-opening exhibition game Nov. 1 at Maples Pavilion.

Corban, a Christian college in Salem, Ore., plays in Division II and was making its first foray (at least in my memory) into Maples. Its plucky players won’t soon forget the likes of the Cardinal, which outplayed them in every aspect of the 117-33 game.

Unlike some recent exhibition games, this one had a few more features to add to the festive feeling as the band, Dollies and Tree were all on hand. This year’s girly Tree boasts a bow on top and lipstick on her mouth – one of the more stylish Tree looks.

As part of the pre-game routine, the captains from both squads met with the referees at center court. Representing Stanford were three forwards: senior Joslyn Tinkle, redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef and junior Chiney Ogwumike.

Returning to the starting lineup were Joslyn, Chiney and sophomore point guard Amber Orrange. They were joined by sophomore forward Taylor Greenfield and junior guard Sara James. Junior guard Toni Kokenis, the other returning starter, was in uniform and took part in warmups but sat at the end of the bench throughout the game.

Announcer Betty Ann Boeving was back at the microphone, and sophomore Natasha von Kaeppler has returned to her managerial duties. The coaching staff remains the same with head coach Tara VanDerveer joined by associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Kate Paye and Trina Patterson.

Likewise the support staff remains the same except for strength and conditioning coach Susan Borchardt, who is on a year’s leave of absence to join her husband, who’s playing pro basketball in Europe. She is being replaced by Kurtis Rayfield, who was her intern last year.

The game got off to a good start as Chiney won the tipoff, batting the ball to Amber. After a couple of trips up and down the floor, Joslyn started Stanford’s scoring barrage after getting a ball that Amber had stolen. Corban recorded its first basket at the 16:41 mark, making the score 8-2.

Tara began subbing with about 15 minutes to go in the half as redshirt freshman guard Jasmine Camp came in for Amber. In succession, sophomore forwards Bonnie Samuelson and Erica Payne came in, followed by Mikaela and freshman forward/center Tess Picknell.

Freshman forward Kiran Lakhian and freshman point guard Denia Ebersole entered the game with about a half-minute left, but saw more action in the second half.

Bonnie led the team in scoring with 27 points amassed in just 17 minutes. Most of those points came from making seven of her 12 3-point attempts. Sara was close behind with 24 points in 26 minutes – the most time on the team. Her total included four of nine 3-pointers made.

Also scoring in double figures were Joslyn with 15, Taylor and Chiney with 12 each and Amber with 10. Jasmine was the only player who didn’t score, but she contributed four assists.

Altogether, the team was 14 for 25, or 56 percent on 3-pointers. Besides Bonnie’s seven and Sara’s four, the total included two from Taylor and one from Kiran, the first of her college career. It also upped Stanford’s score to 100.

Overall the team shot 62 percent. It made 68.2 percent – 15 of 22 – of its free throws.

When it came to rebounds, Tess pulled down eight, followed by Chiney and Bonnie with seven each, Erica with six, Taylor with five, Joslyn with four, Amber and Sara with three each, and Denia and Kiran with one each for a total of 53.

Tess blocked two shots, while Chiney and Kiran each blocked one.

The team had 31 assists, led by Amber’s seven and Erica’s six. The team also had 14 turnovers and eight fouls.

The first half ended with the score at 68-10. It was becoming so lopsided that Stanford fans began clapping every time Corban scored. Corban amassed most of its points, 21 of 33, from seven 3’s, primarily because it couldn’t get past the defense by Stanford’s taller players.

Another reason might have been that Amber proved so adept at stealing the ball, swiping it eight times, often resulting in fast-break points.

Yes, it was only an exhibition, but it proved to be an enjoyable preview for the fans as well as a good way for the players to ease into action and to learn where they must improve individually and collectively. The coaches also had a chance to size up the players even though the competition wasn’t nearly as stiff as what lies ahead.