April 28, 2014

Thanks for the memories, Part 3 of 3

Having become the Pac-12 season champion and earning a first-round bye as well as the top seed, the Stanford women’s basketball team headed north to Seattle for the conference tournament at KeyArena.

Stanford’s first game was a 69-54 victory over No. 9 seed Colorado on March 7. Colorado did well during the seesaw first half, which ended with the Buffaloes on top 23-21. It was the only the fifth team to be ahead of the Cardinal at the half this season.

The second half was a different story as Stanford made the necessary adjustments and gradually pulled ahead, leading by as many as 19 points with just over five minutes to go.

Four starters were in double figures, led by senior forward Chiney Ogwumike with 19 points plus 11 rebounds for her 23rd double-double of the season.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson contributed 16 points, while junior forward Bonnie Samuelson had 15 points. Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 10 plus 16 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.

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 throws, 70 percent. Stanford had 15 fouls, but Colorado made only six of nine FTs. Stanford’s 15-point advantage at the line matched its margin of victory.

Team makes unexpected exit after upset by USC

Prior to the March 8 game against No. 5 seed USC, several dozen fans gathered at the team’s Westin Hotel for an informal chalk talk by assistant coach Tempie Brown and a sendoff for the team.

Speaking of the previous USC game in LA when Stanford was down by 19 points before coming back to win 64-59 on Feb. 21, Tempie said, “It was a really great comeback. Our kids showed a lot of guts and determination.” Stanford went on to defeat USC 86-59 in Maples on Jan. 27.

The outcome was different this time. USC won 72-68 and kept Stanford out of the championship game for the first time ever. It was only the third tournament loss since 2002.

The game was close during the first half, ending in a 32-32 tie.

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.

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 USC was ahead 41-36.

Its largest lead was 10 points with 14:30 to go, but Stanford pulled ahead 60-57 at the 5:06 mark. However, USC scored 7 unanswered points to go ahead 67-60 with 1:23 to go. Stanford narrowed the margin to 70-68 with just 26.6 seconds left, but USC scored 2 more points to clinch the 72-68 upset.

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

The only other players in double figures were Lili with 13 and junior guard Amber Orrange with 11.

In all, the Cardinal shot only 31.9 percent, its lowest of the season.

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

On to the NCAA tournament

Because of the early exit from the Pac-12 tournament, the players had two weeks to rest, recover and regroup before the NCAA tournament.

When the brackets were announced March 17, the team was somewhat surprised at its No. 2 seed and perhaps even more surprised that it would have to travel to Ames, Iowa, for the first two games.

Nevertheless, junior forward Taylor Greenfield was pleased because she’s from Huxley, Iowa, only about 10 miles from Ames. Therefore her family and friends could easily come to see her play.

The first game was March 22, when Stanford defeated the 15th-seeded University of South Dakota 81-62.

Stanford had four players in double figures: Chiney with 23, Bonnie with 18, Lili with 11 and Amber with 10.

Two days later, on March 24, Stanford defeated No. 10 seed Florida State 63-44. Once again, Chiney led with 21, followed by Lili with 14 and Bonnie with 11. Fans were glad to see Mikaela in her usual spot in the starting lineup after she had suffered a hard fall in the South Dakota game.

Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis was at both games, playing flugelhorn with the band.

Home Sweet 16 home

As previously scheduled, Stanford hosted the third and fourth regional rounds, giving the Cardinal a chance to play for the home crowd again.

Because it was an NCAA event, Maples had some new wrinkles, most notably a new floor with a large NCAA logo in the center and the Stanford ‘S’ on either side of the center court line.

Defeating No. 3 seed Penn State 82-57 on March 30, Stanford turned in one of its best performances of the season. It’s no surprise that Chiney led all players with 29 points and 15 rebounds for her 25th double-double of the season.

Amber added 18 points, while Lili and Mikaela had 11 each. Mikaela also had 13 rebounds for her own double-double. Lili also was credited with tenacious defense, limiting Penn State’s best player, Maggie Lucas, to a mere 6 points.

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. Toni 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.

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.

Other grads at the game were Ros Gold-Onwude,’10; Melanie Murphy, ’11; Vanessa Nygaard and Heather Owen,’98; and Brooke Smith, ’07.

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

Triumphant farewell before the Final Four

In a game filled with nail-biting moments, Stanford won its Elite Eight game over North Carolina 74-65 on April 1.

Except for Amber’s opening basket, the Cardinal trailed throughout the first half as UNC’s physical defenders bottled up Chiney. The half ended with UNC ahead 36-30, and Chiney had only 4 points. She hadn’t made her first basket until the 14:47 mark.

Stanford finally took a 43-42 lead with 15:32 to go in the second half, thanks to a basket by Chiney. Stanford stayed ahead for the next few minutes. UNC took its final lead, 63-62, at the 3:50 mark, but Stanford’s clutch plays assured the victory.

Chiney finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for her 26th double-double of the season.

Mikaela had a career-high 17 points plus nine rebounds. Nine of her points came from three 3-pointers, the most of her collegiate career. She made numerous other contributions that weren’t on the stat sheet but that were crucial to the win.

Amber had 14 points, while Bonnie had 13 and Lili had 10.

As it was in the win over Penn State, the atmosphere in packed Maples was electrifying, the din deafening.

When the team fell behind 7-16 with 14 minutes to go in the first half, Toni instigated and led the “Go! Stanford!” cheer from her seat. She did so again in the second half when Stanford took its first one-point lead.

She had been on the floor with the team until tipoff, then moved to her seat. She joined the team for the post-game celebration and net-cutting.

With Stanford ahead 54-46 at the 9:38 mark in the second half, freshman forward Kailee Johnson jumped up and down to incite the crowd from her spot on the bench.

When the final buzzer sounded, the screaming bench players streamed onto the court to hug their teammates and jump in elation.

Everyone got hats and gray T-shirts reading “NET WORTHY” with an ‘S’-emblazoned ball going through the basket.

An NCAA official presented the regional championship trophy to Tara, who handed it off to Chiney.

When the all-regional team was announced, its five members included one each from North Carolina and South Carolina plus Amber, Chiney and Mikaela, who was named the regional’s most outstanding player.

Then it was time to cut down the net before preparing for a trip to Nashville and the team’s sixth Final Four in seven years.

UConn prevails again

As the bracket would have it, Stanford’s first opponent was undefeated defending national champion UConn. The Huskies had downed Stanford 76-57 in Storrs, Conn., on Nov. 11, the Cardinal’s second game of the season.

The outcome on April 6 in Bridgestone Arena was almost identical as UConn prevailed 75-56, a 19-point difference again.

UConn went on to defeat previously undefeated Notre Dame 79-58, a 21-point difference, for the national championship on April 8. It was UConn’s ninth overall championship, surpassing Tennessee’s record. Notre Dame had advanced to the final game by defeating Maryland 87-61 in the game preceding Stanford’s.

During its game, Stanford led UConn 16-10 about midway through the first half and kept a lead for 12 minutes, 10 seconds, the longest UConn had been behind all season.

However, UConn edged ahead 28-24 at the end of the first half and just kept going from there.

UConn’s defense and size were too much for Stanford, but rebounding was fairly even with 35 for UConn and 33 for Stanford.

Fouls were a problem, with 16 by the Cardinal and 10 by the Huskies. The Huskies got 17 points from FT’s, while Stanford got only 8. Turnovers were yet another problem, with 13 by Stanford and eight by UConn.

Amber led the team with 16 points, followed by Chiney with 15 and Lili with 12.

Junior forward Erica Payne received the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award, the first Stanford women’s basketball player to do so. The award goes “to the student athlete with the highest GPA participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 89 championships” in all three divisions, the NCAA website says. Erica’s GPA is 3.515.

Prior to the game, fans gathered for a reception at the team’s Hilton Hotel across the street from Bridgestone Arena.

They included recent alums like Nneka, Lindy and Grace Mashore, ’12; and Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; along with Kerry Blake,’11, who was the team’s manager for four years.

After the game, the team gathered for one last huddle before waving to the fans and heading for the locker room, joined by Toni.

Later, long-faced fans returned to the hotel in the rain to welcome the team shortly before 11 p.m.

“The outcome was not what we had wanted,” Tara said. However, “I’m exceedingly proud of our team.”

Speaking for the team, Chiney said, “We are so thankful to have fans like you… We competed so hard. … The biggest privilege of my life is the ‘S’ on the front of my jersey.”

One last farewell to the team

The mood was decidedly more upbeat as several hundred people gathered at the Arrillaga Alumni Center for the annual spring banquet April 17.

The evening began with a social hour while fans chatted with each other and the players, who were all dressed up.

Two of the players garnering the most attention were Chiney and Mikaela. Chiney, who earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations at the end of the spring quarter, was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft on April 14. She’ll go to the Connecticut Sun, where she’ll join Kayla.

Mikaela, who completed her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at the end of the spring quarter, was taken No. 31 in the draft. She’ll go to the Seattle Storm, joining classmate Joslyn Tinkle, '13.

Another focus of attention was senior guard Sara James, who leaves for New York City on May 21 to begin a two-year graduate nursing program at Columbia University.

After a buffet dinner, Tara presided over the program. Noting that returning players would begin spring conditioning April 21, she thanked the many people who help the team and fans behind the scenes.

She also introduced each player, starting with the freshmen and going on to the rest of the team class by class, ending with the seniors.

Along the way, she cited individual accomplishments, such as Lili’s being named to the Pac-12 all-freshman team and Erica’s Elite 89 award. She noted that Bonnie made 62 3-pointers and missed only one free throw all year for a 96 percent success rate at the line.

Amber’s honors included All-Pac 12, honorable mention on the Pac-12 academic team and finalist for the Lieberman Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.

When the seniors came to the front, their framed jerseys served as a backdrop to the dais.

Tara praised Toni for staying with the team and helping her teammates.

She called Sara “a tough competitor” and lauded Mikaela for her improvement since her freshman year. She cited Mikaela’s being named the Stanford regional’s most outstanding player.

Chiney, a three-time All-American, was first on the team in scoring and rebounding, setting Stanford and Pac-12 records in both. Her other honors included the Wooden Award for best female basketball player. She was the first Stanford and Pac-12 player to be accorded the honor.

After a video with highlights from the season, Tara wrapped up the evening by saying, it was “just a fabulous year.”

No comments:

Post a Comment