February 28, 2014

‘Beat us twice? No way,’ Cardinal say

That’s right. There was no way the Stanford women’s basketball team would allow the Washington Huskies a second chance to defeat the No. 5 team in the country and the No. 1 team in the Pac-12.

The Huskies had pulled off an 87-82 victory in hosting the Cardinal three weeks ago in Seattle. However, Stanford turned the tables with an 83-60 win Feb. 27 at home, where 2014 had already been added to the Pac-12 list on the championship banner

Washington was a bit short-handed with only nine players in uniform, while all 15 Stanford players were available for action. The starting lineup featured senior forward Chiney Ogwumike, redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef, junior forward Bonnie Samuelson, freshman guard Lili Thompson and junior guard Amber Orrange.

Starters contribute 71 points

By the end of the game, they had tallied 71 points, led by Chiney with 32 to go with 11 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in 32 minutes. Bonnie was next with 14 points, one rebound and one assist in 23 minutes.

Lili chipped in 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes. Also finishing in double figures was Amber, who had 10 points plus five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 31 minutes. Mikaela made her biggest contribution under the boards with a game-high 14 of the team’s 50 rebounds. She also had 4 points, five assists and one steal in 28 minutes.

The team shot 47.1 percent for the game and made nine of 24, or 37.5 percent, of its 3-point shots. Bonnie led the way from behind the arc with four, while Lili had three. Amber and freshman guard Karlie Samuelson each had one.

Free-throw shooting was less than stellar with 10 of 17, or 58.8 percent.

Stanford started out strong, jumped to a 13-2 lead at the 15:52 point of the first half and never looked back. The first half ended 45-32.

Bonnie’s 3’s start second half

Bonnie got the second half off to a good start with two consecutive 3’s, plus one by Lili in the first 2 minutes. The lead swelled to as much as 30 points with under 7 minutes to go in the second half. Shortly after that, the starters were done for the night, leaving the rest of the game to their teammates.

Although the women’s basketball team was the night’s central focus, some other members of the Stanford family received accolades. During one timeout in the first half, the wrestling team took a bow. Sporting the university’s best-ever 17 wins, the team will host the Pac-12 tournament starting March 2.

Next up was women’s gymnastic coach Kristen Smyth, who had just earned her 200th win at Stanford. While she, her son and daughter were cheered at center court, several members of her team were in the bleachers, where they lined up and lifted their shirts to spell out “200 wins” one red letter at a time on their bare midriffs.

Nneka cheers from sidelines

When the roving camera focused on Chiney’s older sister, Nneka, ’12, in the family section, the crowd again erupted in cheers. Nneka was there with their parents and two younger sisters. After the game, Nneka interviewed Chiney for the Pac-12 Network, but before it was over, Chiney turned the tables and interviewed Nneka, who was seeing Chiney play in person for the first time this season after returning from playing in China.

In honor of Black History Month, three women from Stanford’s Sigma Gamma Rho sorority performed during halftime, followed by a group of youngsters from Destiny Arts Center of Oakland.

The Stanford Women’s Community Center was featured with a video and two representatives during the second half.

Senior Night is March 1, when Stanford plays Washington State to wrap up the regular season. Fans are hopeful that this won’t be the last time to see Chiney, Mikaela, guard Sara James and medically retired guard Toni Kokenis at Maples because Stanford hosts an NCAA regional tournament March 30 and April 1.

February 18, 2014

Cardinal in the pink

Soundly defeating Arizona 74-48 at home on Feb. 16, the Stanford women’s basketball team clinched a bye in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament and moved closer to finishing the season atop the conference standings.

That victory, combined with the 61-35 defeat of Arizona State at home two days earlier, helped the Cardinal rise to No. 5 from No. 6 in the weekly AP poll.

Although there was much to celebrate after the Arizona game, it should be noted that the Wildcat ranks were greatly depleted with only six players in uniform. On the Stanford side of the court, 14 of 15 players got into the game.

The only unavailable player was freshman guard Karlie Samuelson, who had a sore foot. Head coach Tara VanDerveer told fans after the game that Karlie could have played if needed, but Karlie felt it would be wiser to give her foot a chance to get better. “Karlie is having a fabulous year,” Tara said, praising the maturity of her decision.

Wildcats play with heart

Even with so few players, Arizona played with heart and went ahead or kept the game close for the first few minutes. Then the Cardinal took over and never looked back. The score was 48-19 at the half. The Wildcats actually outscored Stanford 29-26 in the second half, when bench players were getting major minutes. However, the first-half advantage was too much for Arizona to overcome.

Arizona matched up well in several statistics, such as turnovers, giving the ball up only nine times compared with Stanford’s 15, 11 of which came from Arizona steals. Arizona cashed in on the turnovers by scoring 21 points, compared with Stanford’s 10. Stanford had four steals.

The opponent also had fewer fouls, 12 to Stanford’s 19. That latter number should be tempered with the Arizona players’ realization that no one could afford to get into foul trouble. Most of Stanford’s fouls were called on bench players who don’t always get much playing time.

Stanford did much better in assists, 21-8. Junior guard Amber Orrange led the way with nine assists to go with 9 points and five rebounds in a team-high 24 minutes.

Treys make the day

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Stanford was 3-pointers. Junior forward Bonnie Samuelson lived up to her nickname, “Lights Out,” by going 5-for-8 from the beyond the arc. She also scored just inside the arc for a team-high 17 points and added a block in just 16 minutes.

Altogether, the team made 13 of 24 treys for 54.2 percent. Besides Bonnie’s five, Amber added three, while junior forward Taylor Greenfield and freshman guard Lili Thompson had two each. Freshman forward Kailee Johnson completed the barrage with one.

Playing a season-low 22 minutes, senior forward Chiney Ogwumike scored 15 points to go with nine rebounds and one assist.

Lili had 9 points, three rebounds, four assists and one steal in 18 minutes, while Taylor had 6 points, one rebound and one assist in 13 minutes. Completing the starting lineup, redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 2 points, three rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes.

With about 10 minutes to go in the game, all of the starters were on the bench and the score was 65-31. For a time, all four available freshmen – Lili, Kailee, guard Briana Roberson and forward Erica “Bird” McCall – were on the floor together.

Team marks Breast Cancer Awareness Day

Because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Day, pink was evident throughout Maples. Stanford’s white uniforms were trimmed in pink, and the socks were pink. During several breaks, pink T-shirts were tossed into the stands courtesy of the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, a game sponsor.

In keeping with a tradition begun in 2010, when then-senior Jayne Appel’s dad wore a pink tutu, it was Mikaela’s father’s turn to don the pink netting. It had been passed from Jayne’s dad to Jeanette Pohlen’s in 2011 and to Lindy La Rocque’s in 2012.

Sara James’s dad wore it last year when she was a junior because the fathers of that year’s two seniors – Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela – lived too far away to get to every game. However, Mikaela came back after redshirting, and her dad has attended many home games, so the honor was his. Next year the tutu presumably will go to the father of one of this year’s juniors.

During one break, the video board featured several Stanford players who said they were playing for relatives who have had cancer. After that, cancer survivors and their caretakers were asked to stand – a substantial number.

Thanks to a Dollies reunion that weekend, fans were treated to the regular five Dollies plus two sets of four Dollies from past years. All of them danced with the precision fans have come to expect from those women.

Lili introduces herself

After the game, fans were invited to a Behind the Bench. After Eileen Roche, the team’s director of basketball operations, made some brief comments, associate head coach Amy Tucker arrived with Sara, Mikaela and Lili. The two seniors were there to thank the fans for their support, while Lili was there for the traditional freshman introduction.

Lili, the youngest of three girls and three boys, introduced her parents, brother, sister and toddler niece. As a Texan, she had known Amber, Chiney and redshirt sophomore Alex Green before coming to Stanford. Her parents have since moved to San Jose. She also attended Tara’s hoops camp one summer.

One of the key differences between playing in high school and playing in college is the great closeness she has experienced on this Stanford team, she said.

Although she doesn’t have to declare a major until her junior year, she said she’s leaning toward science, technology and society. Asked about her once-stated aim to become president of the U.S., she responded, “Aim high. That’s what I say.”

The professional player she admires most is Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. She started playing basketball when she was 3 years old. At the time, her dad coached a team of 4-year-olds, so she got to play despite her age.

She chose Stanford because it offered the best combination of the two things she wanted most in a college – outstanding academics and athletics.

“Recruiting isn’t a science,” said Amy, who coordinates the team’s recruiting. “Lili has been a really pleasant surprise.”

Tara praises her team

Amy handed the microphone over to Tara, who started by saying, “We had some really excellent play from different people.” The game was “an opportunity for different people to get experience.”

Among the bench players she singled out was freshman guard Briana Roberson, who “did well,” recording 4 points, two rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes. Fans were impressed with her hustle on the court.

As for the starters, “Amber had a great weekend,” Tara said, referring to both games against the Arizona schools.

Tara commented that post players coming off the bench are learning that things aren’t as easy as Chiney and Mikaela make them look.

“I take Chiney out when the game is in hand,” she said. She doesn’t want to risk injuries because health is most important to her. “I’m not big into statistical stuff,” she said.

Likewise, even though Bonnie was doing so well, Tara took her out because the game was in hand and she didn’t want her to get hurt.

After the loss at Washington the previous weekend, the team worked on defense and on attacking the zone.

“We want more contributions from more people,” Tara said. Still, “It’s really hard to get 15 people game time.” Every day she and her staff talk about what combinations of players work best. She expects that the usual rotation will be eight or nine players.

The team travels to Southern California next weekend before returning to Maples to wrap up the regular season against the Washington schools the following weekend. Then it’s on to Seattle and the Pac-12 tournament.

February 16, 2014

Back on the winning track

After a disappointing 87-82 loss at Washington the previous weekend, the Stanford women’s basketball team returned home to rout Arizona State 61-35 on Feb. 14.

The loss to unranked Washington dropped the Cardinal to No. 6 from No. 3 in AP’s national rankings. It also caused the team to look at what went wrong. Part of the problem was attributed to lack of defensive intensity.

Therefore, the team ratcheted up its defense against No. 15 ASU, holding the opponent to a mere 1 point from a free throw until 11:51 in the first half. That’s when the first Sun Devil shot went in, making the score 14-3. By the end of the first half, Stanford led 32-12 and never looked back.

The home team had its largest lead, 55-23 -- 32 points -- at 8:32 in the second half. By then the Cardinal were represented mainly by bench players. Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike was already done for the night after leading the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds to go with one assist, one block and two steals in 27 minutes. It was her 19th double-double this season.

No success with 3-pointers

At the Washington game, the Cardinal attempted 41 3-pointers but made only nine, or 22 percent. This time, the team shot only four times from beyond the arc with zero success. The last time it made no 3’s was in its 62-53 victory at Cal on Jan. 8, 2013. ASU was only 1 for 12 on 3’s.

This time the emphasis seemed to be twofold. One was to get the ball to Chiney, who shot 10 for 12, or to the other posts, leading to 38 total points in the paint. The other was to drive to the basket to score or draw a foul.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange was the leader in that regard, scoring a total of 14 points to go with three rebounds, three assists and five steals in her team-high 30 minutes. The five steals matched her career high and led to some nifty fast-break scores

Freshman guard Lili Thompson also found her way to the basket, scoring 8 points plus two rebounds and one assist in 28 minutes. Ever-reliable redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef contributed 5 points along with seven rebounds, three assists and one steal in 22 minutes.

As was the case in Washington, head coach Tara VanDerveer altered the starting lineup, inserting junior forward Taylor Greenfield in place of senior guard Sara James. Sara didn’t play at Washington and logged four minutes against ASU.

Stat lines mostly favor Stanford

Stanford outrebounded ASU 41-35; had more assists, 10-3; more steals, 9-5; and more blocks, 1-0. ASU made four of its 13 free throws for 30.8 percent, while Stanford made five of 10 for a mediocre 50 percent. Turnovers were somewhat problematic, too, with 17 by Stanford and 15 by ASU.

Perhaps because it was Valentine’s Day, attendance was a bit low at 3,450. The Tree marked the occasion with red trim on its black top hat.

Instead of a singer for the national anthem, Estelina Kovacs, who is hearing impaired, interpreted the words in sign language while an instrumental recording played.

At the half, fans were treated to two dances by the San Juan Sensations, a competitive dance team of 8- to 12-year-old girls from San Juan Dance in Los Altos. The first dance, which was by four of the older girls, was a combination of ballet and modern with some impressively limber and graceful movements. Five younger girls were featured in a less challenging, more hip routine.

University strives to be the best in recycling

Before and during the game, fans were told about Stanford’s participation in RecycleMania, a national contest involving several hundred colleges and universities vying to produce the least waste by recycling, reusing and composting.

Several timeout activities featured trivia questions about recycling. The cheerleaders tossed recycling T-shirts into the stands during one break. Sponsored by Sustainable Stanford, new recycling bins were evident throughout Maples Pavilion.

Next on the schedule is a home game against Arizona on Feb. 16. A win in that game or a loss by Oregon State will clinch a first-round bye for Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament in March.

At this point, Stanford appears to be close to the No. 1 seed in the tournament with a 12-1 conference record. ASU, Cal and USC are tied for second with 9-4 records. The top four teams get a bye.

After playing a home game against Arizona on Feb. 16, the Cardinal visit the SoCal schools next weekend before returning home the following weekend to host the Washington schools and complete the regular season.

February 4, 2014

Second win over Cal comes more easily

Facing Cal for the second time in just four days, the Stanford women’s basketball team had an easier time securing a victory on Feb. 2.

Unlike the Jan. 30 game, when the Cardinal almost blew a 30-point lead at home before eking out a 70-64 win, this time Stanford left Berkeley with a 79-64 victory on its resume. Cal scored the same number of points each time, but Stanford widened the margin to 15 points rather than just 6.

One difference is that the officials in the second game were quicker to blow their whistles. Cal drew those whistles 27 times, compared with Stanford’s 16.

During the first half, for example, Stanford didn’t have its first foul until the 8:38 mark, at which point Cal already had seven. When the whistle finally sounded against Stanford, the Cal crowd cheered.

Team makes 80 percent of free throws

Then at the free throw line, Stanford was 24 for 30, or 80 percent. Cal was only 12 for 21, or 57.1 percent. This 12-point difference went a long way toward clinching the win for Stanford. The 24 FTs were a season high.

Freshman guard Karlie Samuelson was 7-for-7 at the charity stripe. She made six FTs as time began to run out and Cal deliberately fouled her. Overall, Karlie was the team’s second-highest scorer with 16 points. She also contributed two rebounds, one assist and one steal in her 31 minutes.

To no one’s surprise, senior forward Chiney Ogwumike paced the team with 29 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 38 minutes. Her performance in the two Cal games led to her being named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the seventh time this season.

Mikaela pulls in 11 rebounds

Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef contributed team highs in rebounds with 11 and in assists with five in just under 40 minutes, a career high. It was the 12th time this season that she was in double figures for rebounds. It was her third straight game with at least 10 rebounds and her fourth over the last five. She came close to a double-double with 9 points.

Also scoring double figures was junior point guard Amber Orrange with 13. She had five rebounds, three assists and one steal in 38 minutes.

Overall, Stanford shot 55.3 percent to Cal’s 37.7 percent. The Cardinal led Cal in rebounds, 33-30; assists, 17-10; and blocks, 3-0.
Stanford had 10 turnovers to Cal’s 11, but scored 14 points off turnovers, while Cal managed only 8. Cal had five steals to Stanford’s two.

Cal had six 3-pointers, while Stanford had three – one each by Karlie, freshman guard Lili Thompson and junior forward Bonnie Samuelson.

The game stayed fairly close in the early minutes as the lead went back and forth, but Stanford gradually moved ahead to stay.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer deployed 12 of the 15 available players, but four played for only the final two minutes or less. Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis joined her teammates on the cross-bay trip.

Kids get in free

Haas Pavilion was loud with a reported attendance of 5,715. Stanford fans were concentrated behind and near the bench but were scattered throughout the venue.
Because anyone in 12th grade or younger got in free, the crowd included a sizable number of youngsters, many of them waving yellow tube balloons.

Adding volume were both the Cal band, which marched in playing the fight song before the game, and the Stanford band, which was perched in an upper corner. The Dollies and Tree were there, too.

The win upped Stanford’s season record to 21-1 and its Pac-12 record to 10-0 to sit firmly atop the conference. The win helped boost Stanford’s national ranking to No. 3 from No. 4.

Also worth noting for the day is that the Bay Area reveled in its first rain in a long time. It wasn’t much, but it was welcome as California confronts a serious drought.

Moreover, the game was over in time for people to watch the Seattle Seahawks blow out the Denver Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl.

Stanford heads north to play Washington State at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 and Washington at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 9.

February 1, 2014

Stanford staves off Cal rally

It wasn’t just the relatively late hour that wearied many Stanford women’s basketball fans after Cal had come calling Jan. 30. It was the relatively close margin of victory as the No. 4 Cardinal survived a No. 21 Bears rally and won 70-64.

While the game was hard on fans, who just had to watch, it was even harder on the players, who had to find a way to win. It wasn’t easy.

Stanford had led by as many as 30 points with 13:35 to go in the second half. That’s when Cal began closing the gap and ended up outscoring the Cardinal 39-27 for the half. However, Stanford had led 43-25 after the first half.

Free throws make a difference

Perhaps the most telling statistic, though, is that Stanford made 11 of 16 of its free throws, or 68.8 percent, compared with Cal’s six of 12, or 50 percent. Without those additional five FTs by Stanford, the score would have been even more uncomfortably close – 65-64.

Despite aggressive Cal defense, leading to perhaps some hurried shots, senior Chiney Ogwumike led her team with 23 points and 12 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season. She added two assists, two blocks and a steal in 39 minutes.

She had only 11 points in the first half, while freshman guard Karlie Samuelson had 12. Karlie electrified the crowd by hitting a 3-pointer in the last second of that half. She finished the game with 14 points, second only to Chiney, to go with three rebounds, two assists and a steal.

The only other player in double figures was junior forward Taylor Greenfield, who had 10 points along with one rebound and one assist.

Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef and freshman forward Erica “Bird” McCall each had 8 points. Like Chiney, Mikaela had 12 rebounds. She also had two assists and a steal. Bird had four rebounds and a block.

Team makes five from beyond the arc

Karlie and Taylor each had two of Stanford’s five 3’s. Freshman guard Lili Thompson had the other one. Cal had a total of six 3’s.

Stanford committed 11 turnovers to Cal’s nine but had 19 assists (a season-high eight by Lili) to Cal’s five. Rebounds were even at 44 each. Stanford had the edge in blocks, 3-1, and steals, 5-3.

For the game, Stanford shot 42.2 percent, while Cal shot 36.6 percent.

Cal had 17 fouls to Stanford’s 14. One of Cal’s fouls came right about the time it began its second-half comeback. While they were going for a rebound and becoming tangled, Cal guard Brittany Boyd appeared to throw Bird to the floor, leading to a chorus of boos by the crowd. When the referees reviewed the play and stuck with their original call of a foul, rather than anything more serious, the booing continued for several minutes.

Bird wasn’t hurt, but two of her teammates had to go to the bench after mishaps during the first half. One was junior guard Amber Orrange, who apparently got a bloody nose in a collision. The other was Lili, who hurt her knee and limped off the court. Both returned to action after being attended to by trainer Marcella Shorty.

Despite the traditionally intense rivalry between Cal and Stanford, the crowd numbered a surprisingly low 4,228. It included a busload of Cal fans along with the Cal band, cheer squad and Oskie, the mascot.

Toni leads Cal-Stanford effort for equality

Many members of the Stanford band along with a number of fans wore black T-shirts reading “We A.R.E. Pride.” The initials stand for Athletes Reaching Equality, an initiative started by medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis and Cal guard Mikayla Lyles.

Its purpose is to “promote safe and supportive communities for LGBT athletes as well as to raise awareness of LGBT issues in sports,” according to the Stanford Daily. It involves activities on both campuses.

Halftime entertainment was provided by Alliance Street Dance, a Stanford student group of four men and five women who choreograph and perform their own routines in a variety of styles from hip-hop to ballet.

This game marked the halfway point in the Pac-12 schedule and found Stanford atop the conference with its 9-0 record, 20-1 overall.

Battle of the Bay, Part 2, will get under way at 1 p.m. Feb. 2 when Stanford journeys to Cal. A trip to the Washington schools is on tap for the following weekend.