March 31, 2014

Team wins to play another day

Penn State was no match for the Stanford women’s basketball team, which defeated Penn State 82-57 and sent the Nittany Lions home on March 30.

A near-capacity crowd, some in nerd glasses, had Maples Pavilion roaring from start to finish as the Cardinal turned in one of its best performances of the season.

It’s no surprise that senior Chiney Ogwumike led all players with 29 points and 15 rebounds for her 25th double-double of the season. She added three assists, two steals and one block to her stat line in 35 minutes.

She had lots of help, starting with junior point guard Amber Orrange, who pitched in with 18 points, three rebounds and one assist in 39 minutes.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson and redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 11 points each. Mikaela had her own double-double with 13 rebounds plus five assists and two steals and a lot of little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Lili added had three assists and a steal. Perhaps her greatest contribution was her tenacious defense, which limited Penn State’s best player, Maggie Lucas, to a mere 6 points.

Maples takes on a new look

Even though this Sweet Sixteen matchup was essentially a home game for Stanford, it had some new wrinkles, such as a brand new playing floor featuring a large NCAA logo in the center plus a Stanford ‘S’ on either side of the center court line.

The bands for the two teams sat in opposite upper corners. The table on the east side of the court was expanded to the length of the court to accommodate the usual TV people plus NCAA officials, scouting coaches and others.

Videos came from the NCAA rather than Stanford, but the announcer was Stanford stalwart Betty Ann Boeving.

Bags and purses were checked before fans could enter Maples. Bottled water was confiscated.

Lili scores first

Lili scored the game’s first basket on a back-door cut, and the team was off and running. Except for a brief 4-point lead by Penn State about halfway through the first half, Stanford stayed on top, leading 44-30 at the half and expanding that margin to 28 points near the end of the second half.

The Cardinal had a 41-33 edge in rebounds and a 14-6 advantage in assists. The team had fewer turnovers, nine to Penn State’s 15, but Penn State had four blocks to Stanford’s one.

For the game, the Cardinal shot 46.9 percent to Penn State’s 36.2. Stanford led in free-throw percentage, 81 to 68.8. Penn State had four 3-pointers to Stanford’s five: two by junior forward Bonnie Samuelson and one each by Lili, Amber and junior forward Taylor Greenfield.

WBB grads cheer for Cardinal

Among those watching the game were some WBB grads. Five of them – Nneka Ogwumike, Lindy La Rocque and Sarah Boothe, ’12; Kayla Pedersen, ’11; and Jayne Appel, ’10 – sat a few rows up from the scorers’ table. Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis joined them after rebounding for the team during warmups.

Many fans as well as present players’ parents stopped by to chat with them. The entire arena erupted in loud cheers when the video board showed them.

When redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp came out to get the balls for the team’s entrance onto the floor, she saw them in the stands and gave them a happy greeting.

After the game, they went to the locker room to celebrate with the team and coaches, who include another Stanford grad, assistant coach Kate Paye,’95.

Nneka, Kayla and Jayne all play in the WNBA and played overseas during the league’s off-season. Kayla plays for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, which has the first pick in the April 14 draft. Therefore, it’s possible that she and Chiney will become teammates again. Chiney is widely predicted to be the top pick in the draft.

Lindy has been a graduate assistant with University of Oklahoma the women’s basketball program. She’ll remain there for another year while completing her master’s in intercollegiate athletic administration in hopes of becoming a coach, she said.

Sarah recently returned to her Chicago area home after playing professionally in Poland. After dealing with foot problems during some of her time at Stanford, she said she was fully healthy and was able do well in Poland. She’s looking into graduate schools such as De Paul.

At various times they were joined by Ros Gold-Onwude, ’10; and Melanie Murphy, ’11. Seated elsewhere were Vanessa Nygaard and Heather Owen, ’98; and Brooke Smith, ’07.

Many stay for battle of the Carolinas

Although some fans left after the game, many stayed for the second game to see whether No. 1 seed South Carolina or No. 4 seed North Carolina would be the No. 2 seed Cardinal’s next opponent. North Carolina won that assignment, topping the Gamecocks 65-58.

While all four Stanford coaches stayed to scout the game, the players watched only part of it before leaving at halftime.

The game itself was interesting, and so were the teams’ mascots. South Carolina’s, the puffed out Cocky Gamecock, was the more amusing.

North Carolina’s Rameses, which looks something like a bighorn sheep, was the more puzzling since the team is known as the Tar Heels. According to Wikipedia, Rameses represents the live Horned Dorset Sheep that’s the latest in a line of such sheep that have served as the UNC mascot for some 90 years.

Stanford fans will get another look at Rameses and the UNC team in an Elite Eight matchup at 6 p.m. April 1.

March 12, 2014

Reign ends in Seattle rain

March 8 provided a new experience and some unusual ones for the Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans.

The new experience was decidedly unpleasant as the team lost only its third Pac-12 tournament game since 2002, falling 72-68 to USC at KeyArena in Seattle. The loss also meant that the Cardinal wouldn’t play in the championship game for the first time ever.

Just the fact of losing was unusual, since the team had a 29-2 season record heading into the game, having lost only to Washington and the nation’s highest ranked team, UConn.

Also unusual was that it rained hard all day in Seattle. March rainfall has been above average there, according to news reports. Californians were wishing that some of that rain would fall their way to alleviate their drought.

After a bye, Stanford beats Colorado

The tournament began well with Stanford having the top seed and enjoying a first-round bye. Competition for the Cardinal began March 7 with a 69-54 victory over Colorado.

Colorado did well during the seesaw first half, which ended with the Buffaloes on top 23-21. It was only the fifth team to be ahead of the Cardinal this season.

The Cardinal then made the necessary adjustments during halftime and gradually pulled ahead, leading by as much as 19 points with just over five minutes to go.

Four Stanford starters were in double figures, led by senior forward Chiney Ogwumike with 19, plus 11 rebounds for her 23rd double-double of the season. She also had one assist, two blocks and one steal.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson contributed 16 points to go with three rebounds and one steal. Junior forward Bonnie Samuelson was right behind her with 15 points, four rebounds and one assist.

Completing the foursome was redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef with 10 points plus 16 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the year. She added five assists, two blocks and one steal to her stat line.

Both teams had six 3-pointers. Stanford’s came from Bonnie with three, Lili with two and Chiney with one – only her third of the season.

Colorado called for 28 fouls

In an indication of the game’s physicality, Colorado had 28 fouls, the most called on a Cardinal opponent this season. Stanford cashed in by making 21 of 30 free-throw attempts, or 70 percent. Stanford had 15 fouls, giving Colorado only nine free throws, with six of them, or 66.7 percent, going through the hoop. Stanford’s 15-point advantage at the free-throw line matches the team’s margin of victory.

Spectators during the game included family members such as Chiney’s older sister, Nneka, ’12, as well as Tara’s mother, Rita. Nneka left for San Francisco after the game to serve as a Pac-12 studio commentator during the following day’s games, thus making her TV broadcasting debut. Nneka plays for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and recently returned from playing professionally in China.

Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis also was in the Stanford cheering section.

During the game, fans were entertained by the antics of Doppler, mascot for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, which plays in KeyArena. During one timeout, he gave pizzas to some fans.

During another, he competed in a bowling game against Stanford’s Tree and Colorado’s buffalo. The Tree won by cleverly rolling over to knock down all the pins.

Tempie gives chalk talk

Prior to the USC game on March 8, several dozen fans gathered at the team’s Westin Hotel for a chalk talk by assistant coach Tempie Brown and a sendoff for the team.

Tempie alluded to the previous USC game in LA when Stanford was down by 19 points before coming back to win 64-59 on Feb. 21. “We wanted to have a little bit of fun,” she said, “but we came back with great defensive adjustments and hit shots.”

“It was a really great comeback. Our kids showed a lot of guts and determination,” she said, adding that Stanford had defeated USC 86-59 at home on Jan. 27.

She credited assistant coach Kate Paye for a good scouting report. “We’re ready for their press,” she said, adding that there would be some new wrinkles in the team’s game plan and that “the energy at the shoot-around was sky high.”

Referring to the Colorado game the previous night, she said, “They played a junk defense against us,” meaning that the Buffaloes used a nontraditional defense with a mix of zone and man-to-man designed to limit Chiney.

It was a very physical game, but “we hung in there. We wore them down in the second half,” Tempie said.

Because Stanford didn’t know whether it would play fifth-seeded USC or fourth-seeded Arizona State, the coaches prepared for both. “Tara’s a mastermind,” Tempie said, referring to head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We’ll take on anybody.”

She praised USC’s first-year head coach Cynthia Cooper.

She also was complimentary of redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green, who came off the bench for 17 minutes to score 2 points and contribute one rebound and two assists. However, her stat line doesn’t reflect her hustle and tenacious defense. “Alex did a great job,” Tempie said.

Overall, the Colorado win was “a great team effort,” Tempie concluded.

The sendoff itself was decidedly low key because the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree weren’t there. Because the hotel was hosting a gala for Make-A-Wish Foundation, hotel managers wanted less congestion and activity at the street entrance.

Nevertheless, fans lined up on either side of the exit doors to cheer each player, coach and staff member as she descended on the escalator and walked toward the waiting bus, which left at 4 p.m., two hours before game time.

Fans then went to a gathering at the Tap House Grill near the hotel to socialize and dine before the game.

USC and Stanford tie after first half

The first half of the USC game was close, with each team enjoying no more than about a 3-point advantage and ending in a 32-32 tie as the half ended.

Only about one minute had elapsed in the second half when Bonnie went down hard, landing on her back and staying on the floor for several minutes before going to the locker room with the assistance of trainer Marcella Shorty.

Fans were relieved to see her return to the bench at about the 17:28 mark and get back into the game at the 16:07 mark, when Stanford trailed 41-36.

USC’s largest lead was 10 points with 14:30 to go in the second half. Stanford pulled ahead by 3 points, 60-57, at the 5:06 mark.

However, USC scored 7 unanswered points to go ahead 67-60 with 1:23 minutes to go. Stanford narrowed the margin to 2 points, 70-68, with just 26.6 seconds left, but USC scored 2 more points to clinch the 72-68 victory.

Chiney ties with Candice for scoring record

Chiney made 30 points, upping her career total to 2,629 and tying her with Stanford’s Candice Wiggins, ’08, for the Pac-12 record for career points.

Chiney also pulled in 21 rebounds, raising her Pac-12-leading career record to 1,515. However, she was held scoreless during the final seven minutes and missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game at 71-71 with three seconds to go. USC made one more free throw to ice the game.

Overall, the Cardinal shot only 31.9 percent, its lowest of the season. Its previous low was 32.3 percent Nov. 23 when it defeated Texas 63-54 in Austin.

The only other players in double figures were Lili with 13 and junior guard Amber Orrange with 11. Bonnie was close with 9 points.

USC made eight of 16, or 50 percent, of its 3-point attempts. Stanford made only four of 14 for 28.6 percent. Bonnie, Lili, Amber and junior forward Taylor Greenfield had one each.

Playing its fourth game in four days, USC went on to win the tournament, defeating third-seeded Oregon State 71-62 on March 9.

USC’s upset of Stanford wasn’t the only surprise of the tournament. Second-seeded Cal lost 91-83 to seventh-seeded Washington State in a second-round game March 7.

With Stanford’s early exit from the Pac-12 tournament, the players could take two weeks to rest, recover and regroup before the NCAA tournament. The Cardinal will learn its NCAA seeding and placement when selections are announced March 17, which also marks the start of winter quarter finals. Spring quarter classes start March 31.

March 3, 2014

A time for a trophy, tributes, tears and a victory, too

With more than 5,600 fans in Maples Pavilion, the night of March 1 was emotion-packed as the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated Washington State 84-64 and honored its four seniors.

Even before the game started, the significance was evident as one fan, Lily Wong, gave large mounted photos of the foursome to members of the Amy Tucker Fan Club. As the band entered, several members sported tie dye or wore T-shirts honoring Toni Kokenis, the medically retired senior guard who plays flugelhorn with the band when she’s not involved with her team.

Her family and those of the other three honorees – forward Chiney Ogwumike, guard Sara James and redshirt senior Mikaela Ruef – were packed into the family section. Sara’s mom, Kelly, said some 30 or 40 other relatives and friends were at the game to honor her.

Three Trees perform

All 15 Cardinal players were warming up, while WSU had 11. Shortly before the game started, a virtual grove of three Trees danced on the court. It was later announced that one of them was the retiring 2013-14 Tree, Calvin Studebaker, while another was his successor, Will Funk. The third Tree, actually more of a tallish stump, wasn’t named.

In the meantime, a bloc of girls from BAWSI – Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative – sat in an upper corner chanting “Stanford, Stanford,” and waving the red foam trees emblazoned with the Stanford ‘S’ that had been given to fans.

BAWSI’s purpose is “to harness the power of female athletes to impact society and give them an opportunity to connect through authentic, intentional service,” its website says. It tries to do this “by providing opportunities to serve young girls who weren’t being exposed to organized sports, or physical education classes, and to reach girls in communities where obesity and diabetes were prevalent.”

After a video of highlights from the Feb. 27 home victory over Washington, head coach Tara VanDerveer presented flowers to the WSU seniors.

Then it was time to introduce the starting lineup, a ritual involving an upbeat video, “Feel the Moment,” with highlights from this season. This was its last showing, for even if the Cardinal return home for an NCAA regional, as expected, it won’t be a Stanford event. Instead the NCAA will run the show.

Stanford’s starting lineup featured Chiney, Mikaela, junior forward Bonnie Samuelson, freshman guard Lili Thompson and junior point guard Amber Orrange. They put Stanford up 5-0 less than two minutes into the game and, together with their teammates, stayed ahead throughout the game. WSU kept trying to come back to no avail.

Chiney scores career-high 37 points

Chiney and company made sure of that as Chiney scored a career-high 37 points to go with 13 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 36 minutes. Even though Chiney had four fouls as the clock ticked down, Tara kept her in long enough to reach her record. With slightly more than two minutes left, Chiney went to the bench, the crowd gave her a standing ovation, and the band chanted, “We love you.”

A few seconds later, with Stanford’s lead at 82-62, all starters were on the bench, leaving their teammates to retain the 20-point lead.

Amber finished the game with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. Bonnie also was in double figures with 10 points plus four rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes.

Her point total included two of the team’s four 3-pointers. The other two came from freshman guards Briana Roberson and Karlie Samuelson. However, the team had attempted 23 shots from beyond the arc, thus making only 17.4 percent.

The team did better with total field goals, making 31 of 69 for 44.9 percent. Its biggest success came at the free throw line with 18 of 20 for 90 percent. Rebounding also was good with 51, compared with WSU’s 34.

On the other hand, the Cardinal had 18 turnovers to WSU’s 13, and five steals to WSU’s nine.
Stanford’s athletic trainers were honored with a video and trip to center court during a first half timeout while WBB’s trainer, Marcella Shorty, waved to the crowd from her usual spot with the team’s huddle. She has been with the team for 12 years.

WJM Band, a trio of fifth graders, played rock music for the halftime entertainment. The band had earlier played the national anthem at a game. According to its website, the boys (no last names or other details given) donate their earnings to local charities like Second Harvest Food Bank.

At the end of the game, after the team had tossed the traditional victory balls to the crowd, the players joined the cheerleaders, Dollies, Trees and band for “Hail, Stanford, Hail.”

Pac-12 honors championship team

Then the festivities began. The players received Pac-12 championship T-shirts, and Chris Dawson, Pac-12 associate commissioner, presented the championship trophy to Chiney.

Everyone posed in front of a Pac-12 banner proclaiming the 2014 women’s basketball champions.

After a video honoring the seniors, each one was escorted to center court with her family to receive flowers from Tara while announcer Betty Ann Boeving enumerated the player’s accomplishment.

Toni, wearing her No. 31 home jersey, was first, joined by her mother and other relatives.

Next came Sara with her parents, brother and his fiancée.

Mikaela was escorted by her parents and grandparents.

Chiney was last. With her were her parents, older sister Nneka, ’12, younger sisters Olivia and Erica, and others.

Seniors tell post-graduation plans

The Behind the Bench also was devoted to the seniors, who sat in a semi-circle with their parents. The team sat behind them.

While waiting for Tara and Chiney to return from media interviews, associate head coach Amy Tucker said each senior could answer one question.

Toni, who will earn her degree in sociology this spring, said she’s staying at Stanford to pursue a master’s degree in the same subject. She’s also starting a nonprofit, We A.R.E. Project, intended to give all student athletes a voice in seeking equality in athletics. It is an offshoot of We A.R.E. (Athletes Reaching Equality) Pride that Toni and Cal WBB player Mikayla Lyles started earlier this season to generate awareness for LGBT inclusion in sports.

Even though Toni couldn’t play this season, Amy said, she remained with the team and scored a double-double – “energy and enthusiasm” – every day.

Sara, who will be going to Columbia University in New York City immediately after graduation to study to become a nurse practitioner, said she’s pursuing that goal rather than becoming a doctor because she wants to have more time with patients and have a family.

Mikaela, after earning her bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering last spring, will graduate with a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering this spring. She said she’s not sure what she wants to do next, but “whatever I do, I plan to be good at it.” As for playing basketball at Stanford, “I love being a part of this team,” she said.

Amy allowed another question for Toni, who was asked how much she missed playing this year. “‘A lot,’ would be a simple answer,” she said. “I miss being on the court with my teammates.”

“She came to practice every single day” and supported her teammates, Amy said. Toni added that she hopes to coach youth teams someday.

When Tara joined the group, she started by saying, “This was a really big game.” Seattle will be tough, she said, referring to the Pac-12 tournament March 6-9.

During the four years that the class of 2014 played, the team lost only two games at home, Tara said.

Tara, players praise seniors

Speaking of Mikaela, Tara said, “We’re glad that she’s back this year.” She’s one of the top rebounders in the conference.

Representing the team, freshman forward Kailee Johnson said, “Mikaela is a great leader on this team” and Kailee’s mentor.

Mikaela’s mother, Katie, thanked the fans for being her family away from home.

Junior forward Erica Payne used Sara’s nickname, Sej, when she said, “Sej is a ball of energy… and one of my best friends on this team.”

Sara’s father, Mike, said, “Sara is so lucky that she was able to attend Stanford” and receive so much support. “I have never been prouder. Through all the highs and lows, she’s always the same person. She always puts the team ahead of herself.”

Tara noted that “Sara’s always the first one in the gym.”

As for Toni, “She’s been a great part of this team,” Tara said.

Redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green call Toni “such a special friend,” so fun, energetic and creative. “I’m truly inspired by Toni. She encourages others to be comfortable with themselves.”

Toni’s mother, Marie, hobbled by a broken ankle sustained when bowling, said Tara’s mother, Rita, is a great recruiter. When Toni was visiting the campus during her junior year of high school, the two women chatted, and she always talks with Rita when she sees her.

She joked that “some of Toni’s best games were against my alma mater,” UCLA.

Toni introduced her aunt, who has attended all of her games, her sister and other relatives and friends. She thanked the fans and band for their support.

Chiney will graduate with a degree in international relations this month so that she can go on to the WNBA, following in Nneka’s footsteps. She’s widely expected to be a high draft pick. She wants to “take basketball as far as I can go” and to do community work.

An emotional Jasmine Camp, redshirt sophomore guard, said Chiney “has been one of my best friends,” like a sister. “She brings life to everything she does. We can’t replace you.”

Chiney introduced her family and said, “It’s been a special four years.” She’s not crying “because I’m so overwhelmed with happiness.”

Her mother, Ify, thanked fans, saying, “The support has been overwhelming” for the entire team. “It was a difficult decision (for Nneka and Chiney) to choose Stanford and leave Texas,” but it was the best decision she and their father, Peter, ever made. She thanked the coaches for all they did for her daughters.

“It’s been a great journey,” Peter said. Addressing the team, he said, “If Tara asks you to do something, do it because she’s never failed yet.”

“Our team did a great job tonight,” Tara said, but “this was just a warmup.” The team will have the next two days off and practice two days before flying to Seattle on March 6 for a hoped-for three games through March 9.