March 15, 2013

Reflections from Seattle

Flying home from Seattle on March 11, the Stanford’s women’s basketball team packed some extra items.

The biggest and best was the Pac-12 tournament championship trophy, representing the team’s seventh consecutive conference title and automatically qualifying the team for the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Also impressive was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player trophy, which went to junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, who, among her other accomplishments, recorded the first 20-20 game in the tournament’s 12-year history. Actually, she had 23 points and 21 rebounds in the team’s quarter-final victory over Washington State on March 8.

Finally, sophomore point guard Amber Orrange brought home her own trophy as part of the all-tournament team. She turned in impressive performances in all three tournament games, highlighted by her career-high 20-point output against UCLA in the championship game on March 10.

The blue, spiraled glass trophies for the championship and Chiney were specially made for the Pac-12 by Glassybaby, a woman-owned glass studio in Seattle. Amber’s votive trophy came from there, too.

Amber takes the lead in championship game

Stanford needed every one of Amber’s 20 points because the rugged UCLA defense limited Chiney to a career-low 3 points. Chiney scored her team’s first basket, followed shortly by a free throw, and that was that. After getting two fouls in the first half, she sat out nearly 12 minutes.

She returned to action for the second half and had no more fouls, but was scoreless. However, she still had 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal for the game. It should be noted that she had absorbed much of Colorado’s physicality the night before, March 9.

Moreover, Stanford played the second game March 9, while UCLA had the earlier game, giving the Bruins a bit more time to rest. Both teams lost an hour because of the switch to Daylight-saving Time that night.

Tournament starts with win over WSU

For Stanford, the tournament began with the Washington State game, a relatively easy 79-60 win marked by 10 3-pointers from the Cardinal. Junior guard Sara James had five of them, sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson had three, and Amber had two.

That day began with a sendoff by the band, Dollies, cheerleaders, family members – including head coach Tara VanDerveer’s mother, who had flown there from Colorado -- and a few fans at the team’s Westin Hotel. In the meantime, other fans gathered at the Spectator, a downtown Seattle sports bar.

There was some speculation about whether WSU head coach June Daugherty would be at the game because she had undergone an emergency appendectomy the day before. Assistant coach Mike Daugherty, her husband, was the coach of record that night, but she was seated behind the bench and often got up to join the huddle during timeouts.

At this game and the next two games, fans who were seated in upper rows of the Stanford section were given tickets to seats in lower rows, consolidating the red cheering section.

One highlight in this game came at the 19:07 mark of the second half, when redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef stole the ball, gave it to Sara, who passed it to Chiney, who passed it behind her back to senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, who scored. 

Besides Chiney’s 21 points, double figures also came from Sara with 17 and Joslyn with 10. It was later reported that Joslyn had been fighting the flu since earlier that week. 

UCLA upsets Cal in semi-finals

In the first game of the semi-finals March 9, UCLA defeated Cal 70-58. When I arrived early in the second half, I had to look twice to realize that No. 3-seeded UCLA was up something like 42-19 over No. 2-seeded Cal. Cal had defeated UCLA twice during the season.

In the 61-47 victory over Colorado, Stanford had only one 3-pointer, scored by Sara. Chiney led with way with 25 points and 19 rebounds for another double-double. Also in double figures were Amber with 13 and Mikaela with 11.

Amber’s 20 points led the scoring against UCLA in the championship game. She was the only Cardinal to score in double figures.

She made the game-winning basket with 8.3 seconds to go. UCLA got the ball up the court, shot and missed as the buzzer sounded. It was assumed that the game was over then, but the joyous Stanford bench had to return to the sidelines while the referees checked to see if time had expired. It hadn’t.

The officials added .2 second to the clock, so UCLA had a chance to inbound the ball, but could score only if the player receiving the ball tipped it in. A basket wouldn’t count if she caught and shot. 

Tess helps seal the championship

While the referees were looking at the game monitor, Tara used that time to insert freshman forward/center Tess Picknell into the game. Her job was to stand in front of the inbounding UCLA player. 

She didn’t just stand there. The 6’5” Tess waved her arms and jumped up and down, presenting a formidable obstacle and sight-blocker for the inbounder. Tess succeeded, the final buzzer sounded, and the Stanford players hugged and screamed in celebration.

On reflection, this tournament championship was a tribute to the entire team and coaches and their ability to overcome the difficulties mentioned above. It also should be noted that the team was missing its most experienced guard, junior Toni Kokenis, who didn’t make the trip after missing several previous games with an undisclosed illness.

Next up is the NCAA tournament, with Stanford hosting first- and second-round play at Maples on March 24 and 26. The NCAA will announce the brackets at 4 p.m. March 18 in a show telecast by ESPN.

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