April 5, 2013

The season ends in Spokane

The Stanford women’s basketball team’s hopes for a record sixth consecutive trip to the Final Four ended March 30 when Georgia defeated the Cardinal 61-59 in the NCAA regional at the Spokane Arena.

Even though this Sweet 16 game didn’t turn out as hoped, head coach Tara VanDerveer and junior forward Chiney Ogwumike put things into perspective during the post-game news conference when they pointed out that Stanford ended the season with a 33-3 record.

What they couldn’t point out at the time was that Stanford’s only other losses came at the hands of two of the teams headed for the Final Four – Cal and UConn. Cal earned its trip to New Orleans by defeating Louisiana State 73-63 in the March 30 nightcap, then topping Georgia 65-62 in overtime April 1.

Chiney did all she could for Stanford, recording 26 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, one block and two steals in 40 minutes. Also playing the full 40 minutes, sophomore point guard Amber Orrange was the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus eight rebounds, one assist and one steal.

Early minutes look good

The game started in a promising fashion with Chiney scoring the first basket and the Cardinal jumping out to a 9-0 lead at the 15:26 mark. The Bulldogs didn’t get on the scoreboard until nearly six minutes had elapsed.

Just over a minute later, however, Stanford lost a key backup when sophomore Taylor Greenfield went to the floor in pain. She had been hit in the left hand by a kicked ball that jammed three fingers. A subsequent X-ray showed no broken bones, but she had to sit out for the rest of the game.

Stanford was already missing a key player, junior guard Toni Kokenis, who hadn’t played for several weeks because of an undisclosed medical condition. She was at the game, but could only cheer for her teammates.

The first half ended with Stanford up 34-27. The team maintained a lead until the 6:31 mark in the second half, when Georgia went up 46-44. The score seesawed thereafter.

Hopes dim in final seconds

With slightly more than a minute to go and Stanford behind 56-55, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. A free throw by redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef and a 3-pointer by senior forward Joslyn Tinkle raised Stanford’s point total to 59, but Georgia had managed 5 points to give it the winning edge.

It was only fitting that the last score would come from Joslyn, who was playing her last game as a Cardinal. Everyone else is expected to return next season.

While Chiney and Amber combined for 43 points, the rest of the team managed only 16. Only 2 of those points came from the bench.

Nevertheless, Stanford out-rebounded Georgia 46-42. Both had eight assists, but Stanford had 10 turnovers to Georgia’s seven and three steals to Georgia’s five. Another telling stat – Stanford had 15 fouls leading to 11 Georgia points, while Georgia had only eight fouls leading to 4 Stanford points.

Upon returning home, I watched a recording of the game. The outcome wasn’t any different, of course, but I had to admire Stanford’s resiliency and its unstinting effort. If just one or two plays had gone the other way, it would have been Stanford in the Elite Eight game against Cal. Then, who knows?

Team surpassed early expectations

In the post-game press conference, Tara said something to the effect that if someone had said at the beginning of the season that Stanford would have a 33-3 record, she would have said, “How?”

She couldn’t have predicted how much the team would improve over the season. The credit goes to the players’ hard work as well as to Tara and her staff for helping them improve.

Chiney also deserves a ton of credit for her outstanding play, which has led to her being named an All-American, among other honors.

Fans will have one last chance to see this team together at the spring banquet April 11.

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