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.

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