January 29, 2013

Team overcomes two scares

Just when it seemed that fans could relax and soon see younger players take over, Colorado began chipping away at the Stanford women’s basketball team’s comfy 21-point lead about five minutes into the second half on Jan. 27.

The then-No.20 Buffaloes narrowed the margin to 7 points with slightly more than seven minutes to go, but the Cardinal began to get the upper hand and came away with a 69-56 victory to survive one scare.

The other scare came at about the eight-minute mark in the second half when the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, fell and stayed on the floor for a few moments.

However, she got up to shoot her foul shots before going to the bench. With her ankle taped, she returned to action, much to the relief of the 3,904 fans at Maples. Head coach Tara VanDerveer said later that she had tweaked her ankle. “Chiney’s a warrior,” she said.

“We kept it interesting for you,” associate head coach Amy Tucker quipped during the post-game Behind the Bench session.

Chiney finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds, plus one assist and three blocks in 36 minutes.

Also scoring in double figures was senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, who had 16 points plus five rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal in her 36 minutes. Junior guard Toni Kokenis was right behind her with 15 points, two rebounds, five assists and two steals, in 36 minutes. Toni’s points included three 3’s.

Joining the double-figure group was sophomore guard Amber Orrange with 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and four steals also in 36 minutes.

For the first time this season, Amber did not start. Instead, redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef returned to the starting lineup. She had 2 points plus four rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes.

Mikaela, Joslyn come up with slick inbounds play

As they did in the Utah game, Mikaela and Joslyn got the crowd to cheering when Joslyn was to inbound the ball near the basket with about two seconds on the shot clock. She tossed it in to Mikaela, who in turn passed it to Joslyn, who scored an easy bucket.

“Mikaela and Joslyn invented that out-of-bounds play,” Tara said during the Behind the Bench.

Sophomore Bonnie Samuelson got her 3-point touch back as she connected on two in a row to help Stanford stave off the Colorado rally. She finished with 6 points and a rebound in eight minutes.

The aggressive Buffaloes won the rebounding and steal battles, 39-33 and 8-7, respectively, but Stanford led in blocking, 6-3. Stanford had fewer turnovers, 13 vs. 18, and fewer fouls, 12-18. Stanford shot at a 49.1 percent clip, while Colorado averaged only 36.1 percent.

Women in Sports celebrated

Since it was Women in Sports day, the afternoon began with players from several other women’s sports overseeing skills sessions in the west concourse before the game. Just a few steps away, fans could admire three women’s basketball trophies: the 2012 Pac-12 championship, the 2012 NCAA regional championship and Tara’s Hall of Fame trophy.

Budding lacrosse players

At the half, announcer Betty Ann Boeving said that over the years, Stanford women’s teams have amassed 42 NCAA championships and 52 national championships altogether.

Then athletic director Bernard Muir presented the school’s second consecutive Capital One Cup for overall best women’s record to seniors from the golf, soccer, gymnastics, lacrosse, volleyball, track and field, softball and field hockey teams as their teammates joined them on the court.

Participants in the Stanford Teacher Education Program, or STEP, also were honored during the half.

Mary Murphy speaks to fans

The guest speaker for Behind the Bench was TV commentator Mary Murphy, who had just covered the game for the Pac-12 Network. The first question she faced was when or if DIRECTV and AT&T’s U-Verse would carry the networks. She advised the fan to be patient. “I’m confident it will happen.”

She continued, “We’re in the infancy of this network,” which just got going in the fall. “This is a crew that is committed to women’s basketball,” she said.

Mary Murphy reveals her top secret book of player notes

Commenting on the game, she said she thought it was well balanced offensively. She also praised the play of Joslyn and Amber.

Tara lists her likes

When Tara emerged from post-game media interviews to speak at the Behind the Bench, she started with “This is a great weekend for us,” referring to the Colorado and earlier Utah wins.

“This was a great game by Toni,” she said, and “Bonnie’s 3’s were huge.” So far, “different people different nights” are stepping up, but “we’re going to need everyone playing well.”

She praised the team’s unselfishness, and said, “I’m real excited about the improvement our team is making.”

She also pointed out an interesting Pac-12 fact. “We are the team that has won more road games than anyone else.”

And in fact, the team will go on the road for games against the Oregon teams Feb. 1 and 3 before returning home to host the Arizona teams.

January 27, 2013

Utah tumbles against Stanford

Junior forward Chiney Ogwumike and senior forward Joslyn Tinkle led the Stanford women’s basketball team to a 65-44 victory on Jan. 25 in front of a home crowd of 3,303.

Chiney tallied 23 points and 13 rebounds plus two assists and two blocks in 31 minutes, one of her shorter stretches of playing time in recent games.

Joslyn added 16 points, eight rebounds, one block and one steal in 32 minutes, the most time of any Cardinal. Joslyn also got the game going by scoring the first 7 points, all unanswered, by the 17:40 mark. Her game total included two 3-pointers.

Joslyn also displayed sportsmanship about halfway through the first half when Utah’s Taryn Wicijowski crumpled to the floor under the Utah basket while everyone else ran the other way. When play was finally stopped, Joslyn ran back to her and began helping her off the court until others from Utah arrived. Taryn was sidelined for the rest of the game with an apparent knee injury.

When the buzzer sounded to end the first half, Stanford held a 35-19 lead, and nine players had seen action. By the time the game ended, all available players except redshirt freshman guard Jasmine Camp had logged playing time.

Even though Chiney and Joslyn were the only Stanford players in double figures, bench players contributed a total of 13 points, an improvement from some recent games when the only scoring came from the starters.

Stanford had a slight edge in rebounds, 44-42; blocks, 4-3; turnovers, 8-12; and fouls, 11-13. The advantage for assists was better, 12-6. Utah had seven steals to Stanford’s six.

Three-point output was meager with two from Joslyn and one from junior guard Sara James. Overall, the Cardinal shot 40.3 percent while holding the Utes to 25 percent.

The evening began on a somber note when the replacement announcer requested a moment of silence in honor of John Pohlen, father of Jeanette Pohlen, ’11, whose memorial service had taken place earlier in the day. John died Dec. 23 at the age of 54.

John and Cindy, Jeanette’s mother, attended nearly all of Jeanette’s games and endeared themselves to everyone. John was one of the good-sport dads who donned a pink tutu for the annual Breast Cancer Awareness game.

During that moment of silence, the video board showed a photo of Jeanette and her smiling parents as she was honored during the 2011 Senior Day – always a bittersweet time for everyone concerned.

January 22, 2013

A good day for wearers of the red

Shortly after the San Francisco 49ers had secured a Super Bowl berth with a 28-24 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Stanford women’s basketball team secured its familiar spot atop Pac-12 standings by thwarting a USC comeback to win 75-66 before a home crowd of 3,864 on Jan. 20.

“It was a great day for the Bay Area,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said to fans at the Behind the Bench after the USC game. “We’re very excited about the 49ers and of course our game.”

“How ’bout the 49ers,” head coach Tara VanDerveer added. She said she wants her team to show the kind of grit that the Niners showed when they were down 17-0 to the Falcons.

Stanford coaches have extra ties to the Niners because head coach Jim Harbaugh was their colleague when he coached the Stanford football team until two seasons ago, when he took the 49er job.

Cardinal lead begins to ebb

The Cardinal had more or less cruised to a 33-20 lead over USC at the half and led by as much as 19 points, 43-24, at the 17:10 mark in the second quarter. Then the Women of Troy began chipping away at that lead, pulling to within 5 points at the 2:28 and 1:55 marks, but Stanford managed to prevail.

As is her wont, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike led all scorers with 29 points plus a game-high 16 rebounds. She also contributed one assist, two blocks and one steal in just under 40 minutes.

Thanks to making all three of her 3-pointers, Joslyn Tinkle added 15 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and one block in 36 minutes. Going back to the UCLA game, Joslyn is 7-for-7 on 3’s for the week.

Junior Sara James, making her second consecutive start at the small forward spot, had 13 points and four rebounds in 30 minutes. Sophomore guard Amber Orrange also scored 13 points plus three rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes.

Completing the scoring, the other starter, junior guard Toni Kokenis accounted for 5 points, one rebound and two assists in 34 minutes.

Although redshirt junior guard Mikaela Ruef didn’t score, she had five rebounds, two assists and one steal in 17 minutes. Her time was limited by fouls, and she wound up fouling out.

Stanford dominates the boards

Stanford won the battle of the boards, snaring 41 rebounds to USC’s 25. Likewise, Stanford had more assists, 14-9, and blocks, 3-1. The pesky USC defense forced Stanford into 14 turnovers – five of them from steals – while USC had 10 turnovers, including two caused by Cardinal steals.

Stanford fared slightly better in fouls – 16 to USC’s 17. On the other hand, USC made 13 of 18 free throws for 72.2 percent. Stanford made nine of 13 free throws for 69.2 percent.

Stanford’s 3-point picture looked better than in some past games as the Cardinal nailed six from beyond the arc – three by Joslyn and one each by Sara, Toni and Amber.

Prior to this game, Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA were all atop the Pac-12 with 4-1 records. However, Cal beat UCLA earlier in the day, so the Golden Bears and Cardinal moved to the top with 5-1 records as the first third of the conference season wrapped up.

The afternoon started well when the Peninsula Women’s Chorus sang the national anthem. The group did so well that fans were still applauding as they left center court.

Halftime entertainment featured Stanford Taiko, a student group dedicated to furthering the Japanese art of taiko drumming. The group writes its own works, in this case performed by nine students of apparently varying ethnicities moving in graceful unison.

Fans hear about Buck/Cardinal Club

During the Behind the Bench, fans heard from Heather Owen, a ’98 WBB alum who’s an assistant athletic director and who runs the Buck/Cardinal Club, which raises funds for Stanford athletics.

Heather noted that until seven years ago, each team raised its own funds. Then it was decided to pool the funds. This arrangement has worked well, Heather said, especially since it has been able to “ride the wave of the success of the football team.”

The arrangement has been especially good for the sports that don’t always draw big crowds. Now “people support Stanford athletics” instead of individual teams, Heather said.

Referring to the Fast Break Club, though, she said, “This is a tried and true group” when it comes to financial support. One fan asked about the annual auction, which has not taken place the past two years. She said it could perhaps return, depending on what volunteers decide to do. It’s a lot of work.

Even though Buck/Cardinal Club funds are pooled for all sports, individual teams can still raise funds for things like foreign travel.

Team to travel abroad

Amy noted that a foreign tour is in the offing for WBB team in September, but she’s not sure where. The last foreign tour took the team to Italy in 2009. Fans are welcome to come along if they pay their own way, Amy said.

Speaking again of the USC game, Amy called it “a game of spurts. It’s a good message to our team that teams don’t give up.”

Looking ahead to the Utah game on Jan. 25, Tara said the visitors are “an unbelievably great 0-5 (now 1-5) team.”

“It has never been easy. We get teams’ absolute A games,” she said.

When the team was in Colorado earlier this month, Tara visited with her 85-year-old mother, who lives there. Her mom goes to Pac-12 games and wants to go to the women’s tournament in Seattle with some friends. “I’m real excited that she’s coming,” Tara said. “There are going to be some great games.”

January 20, 2013

Team gets back to winning ways

After the Stanford women’s basketball team’s home loss to Cal on Jan. 13, head coach Tara VanDerveer said she wanted her players to be more aggressive.

Five days later, on Jan. 18, they responded, giving UCLA a 75-49 shellacking at Maples Pavilion. Although the Bruins led during the early going, Stanford pulled ahead and never looked back. Connecting on 52.9 percent of its shots, Stanford held the visitors to a season low for points scored and shooting percentage, 31.4.

Tara tweaked the starting lineup, inserting junior guard Sara James into the small forward spot in place of redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef. Sara played 17 minutes and contributed 7 points, three rebounds and one assist while showing a lot of hustle.

Mikaela came off the bench to play for 28 minutes, recording 3 points, five rebounds, three assists and one block.

As usual, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike led all scorers with 25 points plus 13 rebounds for her 12th double-double of the season. During her team-high 37 minutes, she added two assists, one block and one steal to the stat sheet. Unlike the smothering defenses she faced in recent games, she often seemed to draw only single coverage, which she easily outmaneuvered. A few other times, her teammates found her alone under the basket for an easy score.

Sophomore point guard Amber Orrange stepped up on both ends of the court, recording 15 points, one rebound, one assist and five steals in 24 minutes.

Senior forward Joslyn Tinkle delighted the crowd of 3,606 by making a 3-pointer early in the game, then making three in succession during its final minutes. Playing 30 minutes, she finished with a total of 16 points plus six rebounds, one assist and one steal.

Bench celebrates Jos' 4th 3-pointer

Ten players saw at least three minutes of action, and seven of them scored. After a relative dearth of 3-pointers in recent games, the team scored on six of seven attempts for an 85.7 percent average. Besides Joslyn with four, sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson and junior guard Toni Kokenis had one each.

Stanford won the rebounding battle, 36-25. It also had more assists, 17-6, and fewer turnovers, 17-19. The two teams were even on fouls, 19 each, as the officiating was called more closely than in some recent games.

Toni was the game’s featured player, appearing on the tickets and in videos throughout the game. Two of them made reference to her playing in the band. In a video seen on the Fast Break Club site before the game, she asked fans to wear tie-dye in honor of one of her hobbies. A number of fans responded, including some youngsters in the family section, where they danced with the Tree near the end of the game.

Toni and one of her young fans

As the team warmed up before the game, redshirt freshman guard Alex Green was in uniform for the first time. She had been sidelined by an Achilles injury since early last season. She sat at the end of the bench during the game and didn’t play, but it was good to see her progress. When the team lined up for introduction of the starters, sophomore forward Erica Payne gave her a quick hug.

Halftime featured the Stanford Bloomers, two six-woman teams ranging in age from 53 to 81. They played by 1949 rules that allowed only six players – three forwards and three opposing guards -- on each side of the court. Each player could dribble only twice in a possession, and guards couldn’t shoot. The players in red were all Stanford grads.

The Stanford Bloomers in action

They were followed by introduction of the women’s water polo team, which has won two consecutive national championships and is hoping for a third this season. As the players left, they tossed mini-balls into the stands.

The victory over UCLA returned Stanford to the top of the Pac-12, tied with UCLA, USC and Cal with 4-1 records. The pecking order was due to change over the weekend with UCLA visiting Cal and USC visiting Stanford on Jan. 20.

January 16, 2013

Second streak comes to an end

Slightly more than two weeks after UConn had ended the Stanford women’s basketball team’s record 90-game home winning streak, Cal came to Maples Pavilion and ended the Cardinal’s 81-game conference winning streak by a score of 67-55 on Jan. 13.

The game started well as Stanford amassed an 8-point lead at the 14:38 mark, but the Bears began chipping away and built up a 39-31 advantage at the half. It appeared that the Cardinal might rally about five minutes into the second half, but it wasn’t to be.

Playing 39 minutes, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike led Stanford’s scoring with 18 points plus a team-high nine rebounds. Junior guard Toni Kokenis was the only other Cardinal in double figures, tallying 12 points plus six rebounds, one assist and one steal in her 37 minutes.

The only other players to score were sophomore guard Amber Orrange with 9 points, junior guard Sara James with 6, senior forward Joslyn Tinkle with 4, and redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef and sophomore forwards Taylor Greenfield and Erica Payne with 2 each.

Cal won the rebound battle 43-39, had eight assists to Stanford’s five and only six turnovers to Stanford’s 16. Stanford was saddled with 24 fouls while Cal had 18.

Even though Stanford hit a higher percentage of its free throws – 78.9 percent to 74.2, Cal’s greater number of made free throws – 23 to Stanford’s 15 – accounted for 8 points in its 12-point win.

The game attracted a crowd of 5,931. A sizable contingent of Cal fans turned out, including pep band, cheerleaders and mascot Oskie, wearing a stocking cap to ward off the cold weather outside. Stanford’s crowd was boosted by the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree.

WBB alums join the crowd

Also in the stands were several WBB alums, including Lindy La Rocque, ’12; Jayne Appel, ’10; Brooke Smith and Markisha Coleman, ’07; and Krista Rappahahn Birnie, ’06. At various times in the game, the video board showed them in the stands.

At the half, the video board celebrated the football team’s recent Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin Then six football players walked onto the court carrying The Axe to celebrate the team’s defeat of Cal in the Big Game, the Pac-12 championship trophy and finally the Rose Bowl trophy. All three had been displayed in the lobby for photographs before the game.

Speaking for the football team, defensive end Ben Gardner looked ahead to the next season, saying, “We’ve got a great team coming back.” He also thanked the fans for their support and had some hopeful words for the women’s basketball team. “We expect them to come out in the second half and beat Cal,” he said. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

“That was painful,” one woman said about the game as fans gathered for a post-game Behind the Bench session.

Jayne talks about her experience in China

However, the session began on a more pleasant note as Jayne spoke about her recent experience playing professional ball in China. She “experienced a whole new culture,” she said, adding that she missed American food and English. Her coach spoke only Chinese, so she had to have an interpreter, a 20-year-old man whose translations didn’t always come across too clearly.

Looking fit and trim, Jayne said she has one year left on her contract with the San Antonio Silver Stars, which drafted her in the first round of 2010. She hopes to return to China to play in the offseason.

The game’s speed was the biggest adjustment she faced in going from college to the pros. In addition, “Everyone knows every trick in the book,” she said.

Asked to comment about that day’s game, Jayne said she was here for the last loss to Cal in 2009. After a loss, she always wanted to get back on the court. “It’s a good thing it’s not March,” she said, adding, “I’m planning my trip to New Orleans already.” New Orleans will host the Final Four.

Plans for fans’ Oregon trip

Dave Cortesi, Fast Break Club travel chair, gave some details about the team’s Oregon trip, which usually attracts a large fan following. Some Stanford alums in the Eugene area will host a get-together before the Feb. 1 game at Oregon, and an alum who has a house in Corvallis will host a brunch before the Feb. 3 game at Oregon State. Fans who want to sit with other Stanford boosters at the games can arrange for tickets by e-mailing travel@stanfordfbc.org.

While waiting for one of the coaches, Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, talked about the team’s recent trip to Utah and Colorado. The dining room of the team’s hotel in Boulder overlooked an ice skating rink. That’s where the team got a chance to see another talent of head coach Tara VanDerveer, who, along with strength and conditioning coach Kurtis Rayfield, donned skates and took a few turns around the ice, much to the players’ delight.

Eileen also announced that the annual spring banquet will move to a new venue, the Alumni Center, on April 11. Finally, she noted that the Pac-12 tournament will move to Seattle this year and the following two years, hosted by the Seattle Storm.

Amy assesses game, cites need for rebounding, screening

She was joined by associate head coach Amy Tucker, who began her remarks about the game by saying, “It doesn’t happen very often, and it certainly doesn’t feel good. We’ll work on it.”

She cited Stanford’s lack of aggressiveness in the first half and noted that “the game was very physical.” “This was a tough wake-up call,” she said, but several issues are correctable. “We have to rebound better with our bigs,” and do “a better job of screening for shooters,” she said.

“Chiney has been playing great, but we need more help. Our veterans really have to step up. Our offense is in a state of flux right now.” On the bright side, “I thought the crowd was great.”

Asked about the two players who are injured and haven’t played, she said that freshman forward Aly Beebe is working hard on rehabbing from an ACL injury and is expected to be ready next fall. As for redshirt freshman guard Alex Green, there’s “no timetable right now for her return.” Alex missed most of last season with an Achilles tendon injury.

Looking ahead to the Jan. 18 game against UCLA, she said “UCLA is very good, very talented. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Tara calls for smarter, more aggressive play

Tara’s first comment about the game was “a tough day today. We have to play a lot harder.”

“One of our goals is aggressiveness. We have to play smarter. This is what it’s going to be like” without Nneka Ogwumike, ’12, and “big bodies like Jayne, Kayla (Pedersen, ’11) and Jeanette (Pohlen, ’11),” she said.

Hoarse and low-key, Tara agreed with Amy’s assessment that “it was physical out there.” “We didn’t defend hard enough” and passed up shots. “We have a lot of work to do to become a championship team. … Our pace is not what it needs to be.”

She wants to bring out what individual players do well. “We have to compete at a higher level. We have to be more aggressive. You can’t depend on Chiney all the time.”

“It’s going to be exciting to see what they do between now and March,” she concluded.

An aside

In keeping with tradition, one player at each home game has a chance to thank her scholarship sponsors and invite one of her professors to sit near the bench. At this game that player was Joslyn, whose scholarship sponsors are Helen and Peter Bing, both ’55.

Noted for their numerous philanthropic ventures at Stanford, the Bings donated $50 million toward creation of Stanford’s newest building, the Bing Concert Hall, which officially opened with a concert Jan. 11.

I had a chance to peek into this handsome new facility during an open house and concert Jan. 12. It’s a noteworthy addition not only to the campus but also to the Bay Area music scene.

January 10, 2013

Round 1 in Battle of the Bay goes to Stanford

It wasn’t easy by any means, but the Stanford women’s basketball team, ranked #5 in the latest AP poll, pulled out a 62-53 win in a seesaw Battle of the Bay against #7 Cal on Jan. 8 at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.

Both teams had returned to the Bay Area just two days earlier after defeating Pac-12 opponents Utah and Colorado, so one might assume that neither was at its freshest.

Moreover, Stanford’s holiday break had ended and winter quarter classes had started the previous day. On the other hand, Cal’s spring semester classes don’t start until Jan. 22. Still, it was Stanford that emerged victorious in a hard-fought game.

The Stanford band, Tree and Dollies were all on hand to lend their support, along with a respectable contingent of red-wearing fans in the crowd of 4,849. The largest group of Cardinal fans sat in the rows behind the Stanford bench, but others could be seen throughout the large venue, which wasn’t filled.

As the Cal players warmed up before the game, several hugged their former teammate, Lauren Greif, who’s now a special assistant and video coordinator for Stanford.

As is usual for Cal, its band marched into the arena playing the Cal fight song. This happened just as the Stanford band was playing its fanfare for the Stanford players as they ran onto the court, making for a super loud Battle of the Bands. (The bands were more polite after the game as they took turns serenading fans outside Haas.)

Lots of hype introduces Cal players

After the Stanford starters had been introduced, the arena went dark and spotlights panned the crowd as an over-the-top video was shown. Finally the Cal starters were introduced, running through a passageway formed by their teammates as well as the Cal women’s dance team.

Cal fans had lots to cheer about through the first half as the score stayed close. It was 29-29 in the final seconds when Stanford had the ball and presumably a chance to score, but Cal stole it and made a fast-break basket to go ahead 31-29 at the buzzer.

The score continued to seesaw through about half of the second half until the Cardinal began to pull ahead for good. For the game, the score was tied 13 times and the lead changed eight times. Cal’s largest lead for the game was 6 points at 8:39 in the first half, while Stanford’s biggest advantage was 12 points with 1:09 to go in the second half.

For the game, Stanford shot 51 percent while holding Cal to 30.2 percent.

Chiney leads the way with 26 points

Much credit for Stanford’s victory has to go to junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, who played just under 40 minutes and scored a game-leading 26 points. She also tallied six rebounds, three steals, three blocks and one assist.

Sophomore guard Amber Orrange contributed 15 points and had a team-high eight rebounds to go with three assists in her 40 minutes.

The other three starters also scored. Senior forward Joslyn Tinkle had 8 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal. Junior guard Toni Kokenis was right behind her with 7 points, two assists and one steal, while redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef had 5 points, five rebounds and one block.

Mikaela’s playing time was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble – she wound up with four. However, it was gratifying to see her to drive to the basket and score, thus contributing offensively. Strong defensive play and rebounding have been her hallmarks throughout this season.

During the game, the video board featured a trivia question: Who was Cal’s high scorer in its 57-54 defeat of Stanford on Jan. 18, 2009, at Cal? The answer was Alexis Gray-Lawson, who went off for 37 points.

What the trivia question didn’t ask was when was the last time Stanford lost a conference game. The answer would have been that same date. Since then, Stanford has reeled off 81 conference wins, including this most recent one against Cal.

Little room for complacency

Although this win upped Stanford’s overall season record to 14-1 and its Pac-12 record to 3-0, there is little room for complacency. Cal out-rebounded Stanford 45-31 and had 22 second-chance points to Stanford’s 8.

Also of concern is that Stanford got only 1 point off the bench, a free throw by sophomore forward Taylor Greenfield. Fans might have breathed easier if Stanford had made some 3-pointers, but all eight of its attempts missed the mark. However, Cal didn’t fare much better, making only two of its 21 attempts from beyond the arc.

On the bright side, Toni was back in the starting lineup and played 38 minutes after missing the entire Utah game and much of the Colorado game because she wasn’t feeling well, according to head coach Tara VanDerveer.

It also was encouraging to see redshirt freshman guard Alex Green traveling with the team. It has been unofficially reported that she might be cleared to play this month after recovering from an Achilles injury sustained early last season.

Stanford also did a fairly good job of taking care of the ball, committing only nine turnovers, including three steals by Cal. The Bears had 13 turnovers, six of them steals by Stanford. The Cardinal had 11 assists to the Bears’ eight. Blocks also were in Stanford’s favor, 7-2.

Both Cal and Stanford have a chance to rest and reassess before meeting again on Jan. 13 at Maples for the second round of the Battle of the Bay. If the teams meet for a third round, it would be in March at the Pac-12 tournament in Seattle. Since both are strong contenders, that wouldn’t be out of the question.

January 1, 2013

It was fun while it lasted

Two seasons ago, on Dec. 30, 2010, UConn came calling at Maples Pavilion with a record 90-game winning streak that the Stanford women’s basketball team snapped by a score of 71-59.

The tables were turned on Dec. 29, 2012, when UConn again came calling, but this time the Huskies snapped the Cardinal’s record home winning streak at 82. It was the Cardinal’s first home loss since Florida State prevailed 68-61 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 19, 2007.

Most pundits and fans had expected this most recent game between No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 UConn to be close, but it wasn’t. It was a 61-35 blowout that had some of the 7,329 fans leaving with about 12 minutes to go.

While the Huskies shot at only a 37.5 percent clip, the Cardinal were even worse, achieving only a dismal 19.3 percent. Shot after Stanford shot clanged off the rim while UConn applied a smothering defense.

Chiney leads the way

Junior forward Chiney Ogwumike led Stanford with 18 points, making only six of her 22 shots, but she connected on six of seven free throws. She also had a team-leading 13 rebounds plus one assist and one steal.

The only other Stanford starters to score were junior guard Toni Kokenis with 6 points and senior forward Joslyn Tinkle with 2. Off the bench, sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson had 8 points, and sophomore forward Erica Payne had 1. Four of five UConn’s starters were in double figures.

Things looked promising when Stanford won the tipoff and Joslyn scored, giving Stanford its first – and what turned out to be its only – lead of the game. The score was tied a 5-5 at the 15:33 mark, but Connecticut prevailed from then on. The score was 31-13 in UConn’s favor at the half.

Cardinal fans had a glimmer of hope for a comeback when Bonnie shot back-to-back 3’s to make the score 44-29 at the 11:33 mark in the second half, but it wasn’t to be. She was the only Cardinal to score from beyond the arc. Shortly before that, she had made both free throws after UConn head coach Geno Auriemma was called for a technical foul.

The only game statistics in Stanford’s favor were rebounding, 44-40, and fouls, 13 for Stanford and 15 for UConn in a very physical game.

A look back at some Final Four halftime scores

To compare the 31-13 tally in this game, my unofficial research of halftime scores in recent Final Four games shows that eventually victorious Baylor led Stanford 25-23 during the semi-final game in Denver in 2012.

Stanford led Texas A&M 27-23 before losing by a heartbreaking 63-62 in the 2011 semi-final game in Indianapolis.

Stanford also led UConn 20-12 in the championship game in San Antonio in 2010. The year before that, UConn was on top 37-24 in the semi-final game in St. Louis. Stanford lost both of those two games.

The recent home loss to UConn reportedly marked the first time in 28 years that Stanford had scored fewer than 40 points in a game. Head coach Tara VanDerveer called the results disappointing.

Exciting start to the afternoon

The afternoon had started off with lots of excitement as the doors to Maples opened 30 minutes early to accommodate the expected sellout crowd. The giveaway table in the northwest concourse had a supply of “Fear the Tree” signs in addition to poster board and crayons for making signs. Some fans made signs wishing Joslyn a happy birthday – her 22nd.

Fans also received red rally towels emblazoned with a large white Stanford ‘S’ logo plus “WOMEN’S BASKETBALL vs. UConn/ Dec. 29, 2012/ Maples Pavilion/ #GoStanford”.

Players’ families filled their section of the stands, and several alumnae were on hand. They included Chiney’s older sister, Nneka, and Lindy La Rocque, who both graduated last year, along with Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10, and Markisha Coleman, ’07. Lindy’s mother, Beverly, and older sister, Ally, sat courtside on the north.

Ros interviews Nneka

Fans clapped and cheered as Nneka and Ros strolled along the sidelines and posed for pictures before the game. Then Ros, who works as a sports broadcaster, interviewed Nneka while fans watched on the video board.

In response to Ros’s question about the toughest part of her transition from college to the WNBA, Nneka quipped, “Not being here, first.” Last spring the Los Angeles Sparks selected Nneka No. 1 in the WNBA draft. She went on to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

Wearing a Cardinal T-shirt, Nneka said, “Chiney is doing a really great job.” Her advice to Chiney would be to “appreciate every moment.” Their father, Peter, also was at the game. Playing in Poland during the WNBA’s off season, Nneka had visited with her family in Texas over Christmas.

When I chatted with Bonnie’s father, Jon, and Toni’s mother, Marie, both expressed their sorrow at the recent death of John Pohlen, father of Jeanette Pohlen, ’11. They said that after their daughters had committed to Stanford, John went out of his way to welcome them to the Stanford family. Marie said that John called her a freshman mom.

Now that the nonconference season is over, Stanford will take its 11-1 record on the road to begin Pac-12 play. It visits Colorado at 7 p.m. Jan. 4, Utah at 1 p.m. Jan. 6 and Cal at 7 p.m. Jan. 8.