April 23, 2013

Thanks for the memories, Part 1 of 3

Last year, coaches and fans didn’t have super-high expectations when they looked at the upcoming Stanford women’s basketball season. After the graduation of record-setting forward Nneka Ogwumike, there were some questions about how to fill the void.

Therefore, could anyone have guessed that the team would finish with a 33-3 record and yet another Pac-12 conference championship? Here’s how it all unfolded.

The team officially began its season Sept. 15 with the first meeting and limited practices until Oct. 1. After that, the team could practice 30 days until the official start of the season on Nov. 9.

Fans got their first preview during the team’s first-ever Friday Frenzy on Oct. 19. This free event involved both the women’s and men’s teams.

It began with a red-white scrimmage by the women, followed by a 3-point shooting contest that came down to a showdown between sophomore forwards Taylor Greenfield and Bonnie Samuelson, who emerged the winner by firing off nine 3’s in a row. Other contests involving both men and women followed before the women were done for the day.

In previous years, fans who made the trek to Kezar in San Francisco during the summer could expect to see the incoming freshmen and perhaps some returning players in the city recreation department’s Pro-Am games. However, no Stanford woman elected to play, so Friday Frenzy was indeed the first chance to see the class of 2016 – forwards Tess Picknell and Aly Beebe and guards Kiran Lakhian and Denia Ebersole.

Aly missed action in that event and the entire season as she recuperated from knee surgery. Redshirt freshman guard Alex Green and redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef, both of whom had missed most of the previous season with injuries, were dressed but didn’t play. The same was true of junior guard Toni Kokenis.

Easy exhibition wins

Corban University, a Division II Christian school in Salem, Ore., got the first taste of Cardinal prowess when Stanford won 117-33 on Nov. 1 in Maples Pavilion.

The Cardinal captains were Mikaela, senior forward Joslyn Tinkle and junior forward Chiney Ogwumike. Returning to the starting lineup from the 2011-12 season were Joslyn, Chiney and sophomore guard Amber Orrange. They were joined by Taylor and junior guard Sara James. Toni, the other returning starter, was in uniform and took part in warmups but sat at the end of the bench throughout the game.

With about 15 minutes to go in the first half, head coach Tara VanDerveer began liberally subbing, giving everyone a chance to contribute, including redshirt freshman Jasmine Camp, who – like Mikaela and Alex – had missed much of the past season with an injury.

Vanguard was the next Division II team to visit Maples and emerge with a lopsided loss – 82-47. The starters were Joslyn, Chiney, Amber, Bonnie and Jasmine. Once again, Tara subbed freely, but once again, Toni was in uniform but stayed at the end of the bench.

Now the games count

The season officially began Nov. 9 when Fresno State came calling and left with a 72-61 loss. Besides extending the nation’s best home winning streak to 80, the game was an occasion to honor military veterans on Veterans Day and to salute the San Francisco Giants for its World Series championship.

The starters this time were Joslyn, Chiney, Taylor, Sara and Amber. Among those coming off the bench was Toni, who was seeing her first action of the season. Chiney led the way with 23 points and 17 rebounds, the first of her many double-doubles.

During a Behind the Bench session after the game, fans had a chance to learn more about 6’5” Tess and to hear Joslyn’s goals for the season. Tess, who hails from Medford, Ore., said “Stanford’s always been my dream school.”

Joslyn, who divided her summer between practicing at home in Missoula, Mont., and working at Tara’s summer hoops camp, said she was working on rebounding and being more aggressive in an effort to fill some of the void left by Nneka’s graduation.

First road trip is short

The team’s first road trip took it close to home as it visited Santa Clara University and left with a 92-57 win on Nov. 11.

Once again, there was a slight change to the lineup as sophomore forward Erica Payne got her first career start. She joined Chiney, Joslyn, Jasmine and Amber. During the course of the game, all 13 available players saw action.

Chiney led her team with 22 points and scored her 1,000th career point midway through the first half. She played 25 minutes and ended with 1,010 points on her resume.

Making history in Hawaii

The Stanford women shocked the basketball world by defeating Baylor 71-69 on Nov. 16 during the Jack in the Box Wahine Classic at the University of Hawaii. Thus the Cardinal ended the defending national champion’s 42-game winning streak and avenged a 59-47 loss to the Lady Bears in the semi-final game of the 2012 Final Four in Denver.

Mikaela got the first start of her career and was assigned to guard 6’8” Brittney Griner, holding her to a relatively low 22 points and six rebounds. Joining Mikaela in the starting lineup were Joslyn, Chiney, Toni and Amber. Chiney led the team with 18 points, followed by Taylor with 16, thanks in part to four 3-pointers.

This victory would vault Stanford to No. 1 in the national polls for the next six weeks.

Stanford followed up its Baylor victory by defeating host Hawaii 69-42 on Nov. 17, when all 13 available players got in on the action. The Cardinal wrapped up the tournament with a 92-68 win over Tennessee-Martin on Nov. 18.

Following that game, Chiney was named the tournament’s most valuable player, and Joslyn was named to the all-tournament team. Moreover, Chiney was named ESPNW player of the week for the first time. She had recorded 18 points and eight rebounds against Baylor, 15-17 against Hawaii and 25-10 against Tennessee-Martin.

Back to Maples

Back home, Tara said she could “this could be something special” after her team defeated Long Beach State 77-41 on Nov. 25, boosting its season record to 6-0 and its home winning streak to 81 games.

Tara stayed with the same starting lineup that had been so successful in Hawaii. Joslyn led the team in scoring with 18 points plus seven rebounds, followed by Chiney with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Amber flirted with a triple-double by recording 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds (all defensive).

The post-game session featured Chiney, who said that before the Baylor game, she told her teammates, “Fear no one.”

On the road again

The next road trip was relatively short, just up Interstate 80 to UC Davis on Nov. 30. It was another easy win for the Cardinal, ending 87-38. Even if Chiney hadn’t scored a career-tying 27 points, the team still would have won.

At the half, the score was 46-19, and Chiney had equaled the Aggies’ output with 19 points of her own, plus 11 rebounds. She finished the game with 13 rebounds.

Once again, Tara used all 13 available players. With about 7 minutes to go in the game, the starters were done for the night. The only player who didn’t show up in any statistic was Bonnie, who played only 3 minutes in the first half before heading to the locker room with what appeared to be an ankle injury. She returned to the gym early in the second half but didn’t play.

Right before the game ended, word spread among Stanford fans that their football team had defeated UCLA 27-24, thus winning the Pac-12 championship and securing a berth in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Visiting Gonzaga in Spokane on Dec. 2, the Cardinal notched a 69-41 victory, led again by Chiney with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Taylor came off the bench to go 6-for-8 in 3-pointers, giving her 18 points, both career highs.

The game was special for Joslyn because her younger sister, Elle, plays for the Zags. Elle had 2 points and three rebounds, while Joslyn had 16 points and eight rebounds. On hand to cheer for both were their parents and younger brother, who wore T-shirts reading Stan-zaga or Gonz-ford.

At home on the Farm

The Cardinal returned home to defeat University of the Pacific 78-43 on Dec. 15.

Chiney played a major role in the victory with yet another double-double – a career-high 31 points plus 13 rebounds despite being double-teamed most of the time. Mikaela added career-highs of 13 rebounds and five assists.

Taylor was injured as she was fouled under the Stanford basket with 14:19 to go in the second half. She was helped to the locker room and didn’t return.

Another somber moment came at the beginning of the game when announcer Betty Ann Boeving asked the crowd to stand for a moment of silence to honor the 20 children and six adults who were shot to death by a lone gunman (who then killed himself) at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

On the lighter side, it was Dog Lovers Day with dog videos, film clips of movie dogs and photos of dogs belonging to fans, coaches and players. Bonnie was shown with her dog, which sported nerd glasses, complete with tape across the bridge. Agility dogs provided the halftime entertainment.

Success in the South

Stanford eked out a 53-49 win at South Carolina on Dec. 19 in a tight game. A basket by Mikaela tied the score with 53 seconds to go, and Toni clinched the win by making six free throws after that.

Chiney had 21 points and 15 rebounds, followed by Toni with 15 points. Taylor, who had been injured in the University of the Pacific game, played for 11 minutes but didn’t score.

The victory gave the Cardinal a 10-0 record to match its best start in school history.

The team upped that record to 11-0 on Dec. 22 by defeating Tennessee 73-60 – only the second time that Stanford had won at Tennessee.

The entire Ogwumike family, including Nneka, who was there to surprise Chiney, were part of the crowd of 13,016 and saw her score 21 points and snare a career-high 19 rebounds. Nneka was taking a holiday break from playing in Poland.

UConn gets revenge

Two seasons ago, on Dec. 30, 2010, UConn visited Maples with a record 90-game winning streak that Stanford snapped by a score of 71-59.

The tables were turned on Dec. 29, 2012, when the Huskies again came calling, but this time the Huskies snapped the Cardinal’s record home winning streak at 82 in a 61-35 blowout.

A much closer game had been expected because Stanford was still ranked No. 1 in national polls, while UConn was No. 2. UConn would go on to win the NCAA national championship.

While the Huskies shot only 37.5 percent, Stanford was even worse at 19.3 percent in the face of UConn’s smothering defense.

Chiney did her part, scoring 18 points and 13 rebounds, but only four other Cardinal players got into the scoring column.

Next: Conference play begins

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