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.
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.