April 25, 2014

Thanks for the memories: Part 2 of 3

It wasn’t always easy, but the Stanford women’s basketball team won the Pac-12 season championship with only one blip along the way, ending with a 17-1 record in the conference and a 28-2 record overall before the Pac-12 tournament.

Conference play began at home on Jan. 3 when the Cardinal defeated the University of Oregon 96-66.

Less than eight minutes into the game, senior center Chiney Ogwumike snared the 1,267th rebound of her career to move into first place on Stanford’s and the Pac-12’s all-time rebounding list. In doing so, she eclipsed former teammate Kayla Pedersen, ’1l. Earlier in the game, she passed another Cardinal great, Jayne Appel, ’10. In a previous game, she passed her sister Nneka, ’12.

When the record was announced, the crowd of nearly 3,500 accorded her a standing ovation. She received another with 5:34 to go in the game, when she returned to the bench to cheer her teammates.

She finished the game with 33 points, the fifth time she had scored 30 or more points in the season, plus 14 rebounds to register her ninth double-double of the season.

The only other player in double figures was junior forward Bonnie Samuelson, who came off the bench for 17 minutes to score a career-high 21 points, most of them on 6 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc.

Bonnie led the team’s rain of 12 3’s. The others came from junior forward Taylor Greenfield and freshman guard Lili Thompson with two each, while redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp and freshman guard Karlie Samuelson had one each.

All 15 players were available for only the second time in the season, and all 15 played.

Also noteworthy was that the Ducks came into the game with the nation’s highest scoring average of 105.3 points per game. They left with their lowest total of the season.

Chiney gets Pac-12 honors

With Chiney leading the way with 31 points, 13 rebounds and a team- and career-high six assists, the team beat visiting Oregon State 89-67 on Jan. 5.

Another stellar performance came from Lili, who poured in a career-high 19 points and made three of four of her 3’s.

Altogether, the team made seven, or 70 percent, of its 3’s. Taylor had two, while Bonnie and senior guard Sara James had one each.

At halftime fans were treated to a performance by the always popular agility dogs from Ace Dog Sports.

During the Behind the Bench, Karlie and fellow freshman guard Briana Roberson were on hand to answer questions.

On the road to Utah, Colorado and the Arizona schools

The next two weekends found the Cardinal traveling, first to Utah, where the team won 87-61 on Jan. 10.

Chiney’s game-leading 30 points included her first 3-pointer of the season.

Then the team was off to the Rockies, where Colorado fell 87-77 on Jan. 12. Stanford’s 55 first-half points were the most it had scored in a half during the season.

After some less than noteworthy results at the free-throw line in some past games, the Cardinal shot a season-high 87.5 percent (21 of 24).

Karlie had career-highs in points, 19, thanks to five 3’s plus four free throws. Chiney made her second consecutive 3-pointer of the season and finished with 34 points and 16 rebounds, leading to her sixth Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.

After a few days back on the Farm, the team flew to Arizona and a 96-52 victory on Jan. 17.

This game was highlighted by a barrage of 15 3-pointers made of 32 attempted. They came from Karlie with four; Taylor and Bonnie with three each; and junior guard Amber Orrange with two. Chipping in with one each were Lili, Sara and freshman forward Kailee Johnson.

The team’s travels ended with an 80-56 victory over Arizona State on Jan. 20.

Back to the Bay Area

Despite what appears to have been a lopsided score, 72-55, over UCLA at home on Jan. 24, it was far from an easy win.

UCLA had only eight healthy players, but they were well prepared in trying to keep Chiney in check and limiting the perimeter attack. At slightly more than halfway into the first half, for example, the Bruins were ahead 15-14 and Chiney had scored only 2 points.

The score seesawed throughout the first half, which ended in the Cardinal’s favor, 36-35. It stayed close partly into the second half until the Cardinal widened its lead and Chiney went to work. Despite being on the bench for about two minutes with her fourth foul, she came back to finish the game with 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Also in double figures were Lili with 15, freshman forward Erica “Bird” McCall with 12, and Sara with 11.

The officiating crew ended plays with a whistle 29 times. Some of the whistles, as well as the lack thereof, drew boos from the crowd of 4,434. A woman who used loud, foul language to express her displeasure was ejected.

The next game was a little easier, as USC fell 86-59 on Jan. 27 at Maples. All 15 Cardinal players got into the game and made positive contributions, if only a rebound or assist. Kailee played for four minutes without the face mask she had worn since her nose was broken in the New Mexico game on Dec. 16.

Chiney had 30 points and 12 rebounds. Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 11 points and 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. She also made her second 3-pointer of the season.

Battles of the Bay

It wasn’t just the relatively late hour that wearied many Cardinal fans at home but the relatively close score, 70-64, over Cal on Jan. 30.

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 outscored Stanford 39-27 for that half. However, Stanford had led 43-25 after the first half.

Free throws helped, too, with Stanford making 11 of 16, or 68.8 percent, compared with Cal’s six of 12, or 50 percent.

Chiney had only 11 points in the first half, while Karlie had 12. She electrified the crowd by hitting a 3 in the last second of that half. She finished the game with 14 points, second only to Chiney’s 23.

Many members of the band as well as 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 LBGT athletes as well as to raise awareness of LGBT issues in sports,” according to the Stanford Daily.

Four days later, on Feb. 2, the second round of the Battle of the Bay got under way at Cal, but this time things were easier for the Cardinal, who won 79-64.

One difference is that officials in the second game were quicker to blow the whistle, calling 27 fouls on Cal and 16 on Stanford. The Cardinal didn’t have its first foul until 8:38 in the first half, when Cal already had seven.
Stanford cashed in by making a season-high 24 of 30 free throws, 80 percent. Cal made 12 of 21, or 57.1 percent.

Karlie was 7-for-7 at the charity stripe. She made six of her FTs as time began to run out and Cal deliberately fouled her. She finished second on the team with 16 points.

Chiney had 29. Her performance in the two Cal games led to her seventh Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.

Tripping up on the Washington trip

Journeying north, Stanford defeated Washington State 77-69 on Feb. 7. Chiney led the team with 36 points and 17 rebounds. Taylor and Amber also were in double figures with 11 each.

Then came the season shocker: Washington defeated the Cardinal 87-82 on Feb. 9. All five Huskies starters were in double figures, compared with three Stanford starters and one bench player. Chiney had 23, while Mikaela had 16 and Lili had 13. Bonnie came off the bench for 14.

The loss 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.

Back on the winning track

Therefore, when the team returned home to host Arizona State on Feb. 14, it ratcheted up its defense against the No. 15 Sun Devils and won 61-35. It held the opponent to a mere 1 point from a free throw until 11:51 in the first half. That’s when the first ASU shot went in, making the score 14-3.

The Cardinal had its largest lead, 55-23, at 8:32 in the second half, with mostly bench players on the court. Chiney was already done with 20 points and 13 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the season.

One oddity is that the Cardinal made none of its four 3-point shots. ASU was 1 for 12 on 3’s.

Cardinal in the pink

Soundly defeating Arizona 74-48 at home Feb. 16, the Cardinal clinched a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. That victory, combined with the earlier one over ASU, elevated Stanford to No. 5 from No. 6 in the AP poll.

A footnote to this victory is that the Wildcats had only six players in uniform. Stanford had 14, with all of them getting into the game. Karlie didn’t play because of a sore foot, but she could have if needed. She felt it would be better to give her foot a chance to heal, said head coach Tara VanDerveer, praising the maturity of her decision.

Despite the odds, 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, ending the first half with a 48-19 advantage. The Wildcats outscored the Cardinal 29-26 in the second half, when bench players were getting major minutes.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Stanford was 3’s, with Bonnie living up to her nickname, “Lights Out,” by going 5 for 8 and finishing with a team-high 17 points.

Altogether, the team made 13 of 24 treys for 54.2 percent. Besides Bonnie’s five, Amber added three, while Taylor and Lili had two each and Kailee had one.

Playing a season-low 22 minutes, Chiney had 15 points and nine rebounds.

Because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Day, pink was evident throughout Maples.

After the game, Lili attended the Behind the Bench for a traditional freshman introduction. The youngest of three girls and three boys, she introduced her parents, brother and a 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.

As for a major, she’s leaning toward science, technology and society. Asked about her once-stated aim to become president, she said, “Aim high. That’s what I say.”

Off to SoCal

Journeying south, Stanford defeated the University of Southern California 64-59 on Feb. 21, but it was a far from easy victory.

The team came back from a 19-point deficit (13-32 in the first half) to tie its biggest comeback in its history and to tie for eighth-largest comeback in NCAA Division I. Stanford previously overcame a 19-point deficit on Nov. 25, 2007, against Temple in the U.S. Virgin Islands and won the game 63-54.

Finishing with 27 points and seven rebounds, Chiney posted her 23rd 20-point game of the season. Bonnie recorded her sixth game in double figures, scoring 14 points and going 8 for 8 from the FT line. The latter was a career high.

Lili missed the game because of a sprained ankle. Karlie started in her place.

When Stanford visited UCLA on Feb. 23, Tara altered the starting lineup. Joining regulars Chiney and Amber were Bird, Bonnie and freshman guard Briana Roberson. It was the first start for Bonnie and Briana, the second for Bird.

The team finished with a 65-56 victory that clinched its 14th consecutive Pac-12 regular season title.

Payback time against Washington

When Washington came calling on Feb. 27, there was no way the Cardinal would allow it a chance to repeat its victory three weeks earlier.

Instead, Stanford turned the tables with an 83-60 win at home, where 2014 had already been added to the Pac-12 list on the championship banner.

The Huskies were short-handed with only nine players in uniform, while all 15 Cardinal players were available. The starting lineup featured Chiney, Mikaela, Bonnie, Lili and Amber.

Together they scored 71 points, led by Chiney with 32 plus 11 rebounds. Bonnie scored 14 points while Lili had 11 and Amber had 10. Mikaela made her biggest contribution under the boards with a game-high 14 of the team’s 50 rebounds. She also had 4 points.

Shortly after the lead swelled to as much as 30 points with under 7 minutes to go in the second half, the starters were done for the night, turning the game over to their teammates.

The crowd included Chiney’s family, including Nneka. She was seeing Chiney play in person for the first time this season after returning from playing professionally in China.

Senior Night, the last regular season home game

With more than 5,600 fans in Maples Pavilion, March 1 was emotion-packed as the team defeated Washington State 84-64 and honored its four seniors on Senior Night.

Even before the game started, the occasion was evident as several members of the band sported tie dye or wore T-shirts honoring Toni, who played flugelhorn with the band when she wasn’t involved with the team.

Also before the game, Tara presented flowers to the WSU seniors. Then it was time to introduce the starters, a ritual featuring an upbeat video, “Feel the Moment,” with highlights from the season. The starters were Chiney, Mikaela, Bonnie, Lili and Amber.

Chiney scored a career-high 37 points to go with 13 rebounds. Even though she 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, she went to the bench, the crowd gave her a standing ovation, and the band chanted, “We love you.”

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

After the game, the team tossed the traditional victory balls to the crowd, then joined the cheerleaders, Dollies, Trees (there were three that night) and band for “Hail, Stanford, Hail.”

Then the festivities began. The players received Pac-12 championship T-shirts, and a Pac-12 official presented the championship trophy to Chiney.

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

Toni, wearing her No. 31 home jersey, was first, followed by Sara, Mikaela and Chiney.

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

Toni, who will earn her degree in sociology, 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, intending to give all student athletes a voice in seeking equality. “She came to practice every day” and supported her teammates, said associate head coach Amy Tucker.

Sara, a human biology major, will go to Columbia University immediately after graduation to study in its master’s degree program for becoming a nurse practitioner.

Mikaela, after earning her bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering last spring, will receive her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering this spring. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she’d do next. As it turned out, she was drafted by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm a few weeks later.

After earning her degree in international relations, Chiney was widely expected to be a high WNBA draft pick (which she was, going No. 1 to the Connecticut Sun in April).

Then several players stepped forth to represent the team in honoring the seniors. Kailee spoke about Mikaela. She was followed by Erica P. talking about Sara. Redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green saluted Toni, and redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp honored Chiney.

Each senior’s parents also spoke, and Tara had good things to say about each one.

Next: The Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments

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