March 25, 2015

Oklahoma stopped; next stop Oklahoma

Winning its NCAA Round 2 game against Oklahoma on March 23 won the Stanford women’s basketball team a trip to the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City.

No. 4 seed Stanford will face No. 1 seed Notre Dame at 7 p.m. March 27.

With its 86-76 victory over the No. 5 seed Sooners, the Cardinal advanced to its eighth consecutive Sweet 16.

Continuing with the starting lineup that helped win the Pac-12 tournament and the Round 1 game against Cal State Northridge, head coach Tara VanDerveer tapped senior guard Amber Orrange, sophomore guard Lili Thompson, freshman guard Brittany McPhee, senior forward Bonnie Samuelson and sophomore forward Erica “Bird” McCall.

Eight get into the game

She used only three more – senior forward Taylor Greenfield, freshman forward Kaylee Johnson and sophomore guard Briana Roberson – from the 12 available players. Sophomore guard Karlie Samuelson has been out of action for several games because of a broken finger and will continue so. Redshirt junior guard Alex Green and sophomore Kailee Johnson missed the second consecutive game for undisclosed reasons.

The first half saw the Cardinal trailing almost the entire time. Oklahoma’s lead had stretched to 27-20 late in the half, in part because its shots were falling at a better clip, 46.7 percent, than Stanford’s 39.1 percent and in part because of Stanford turnovers.

In all, the team had a season-high 20 turnovers after going into the game with an average of 12.1 turnovers per game, 13th in the nation. Oklahoma had 13 turnovers.

Trailing 36-32 at halftime was nothing new. Counting this game, the Cardinal has been down at the half 14 times this season and has rallied to win nine times, including the past six games.

Lili, Amber spur second-half comeback

Early in the second half, Lili made a free throw, Amber made a basket and Lili hit a 3 to put Stanford ahead 38-36. The lead stretched to as many as 14 points about halfway through the second half, but Oklahoma kept trying to come back.

With less than 3 minutes to go, the Sooners deliberately fouled, but that tactic didn’t work as Stanford made the lion’s share of its free throws.

For the game, Stanford made a season-high 30 free throws on 38 attempts, tying a season-high. Thus it shot 78.9 percent from the charity stripe. The Sooners made 16 fewer free throws, 14 of 19 attempts, or 73.7 percent.

Oklahoma had 28 fouls, with two players fouling out. Stanford had 21 fouls; no one fouled out.

Stanford made only two 3’s in the first half but came roaring back in the second to finish with a total of eight. Bonnie accounted for three of them, all in the second half. Lili also had three. Amber and Bri had one each.

Amber scores 24

Amber led all players with 24 points. Thus she became the 21st Stanford player to pass the 1,400-point mark and tied Louise Smith, ’82, on the all-time scoring list with 1,414 points. Her career-high 11 field goals topped her previous high of 10.

Amber also recorded seven rebounds, three assists, one block and two steals in 33 minutes.

Bonnie and Lili were second on the team with 19 points each. Bonnie’s stats also included two rebounds, one block and one steal in 38 minutes. Even though she got her fourth foul with 3:22 to go, Tara kept her in, giving her time to make a 3 and a series of free throws.

Adding to Lili’s stat line were six rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes.

Bri was the fourth player in double figures, 13, to go with four rebounds, three assists and one steal in 37 minutes.

Stanford is 13-0 this season when at least four players score in double figures.

Bird had a team-high 11 rebounds plus 7 points and two blocks in 22 minutes. The only other player to score was Taylor, who had 4 points plus two rebounds in 19 minutes.

Twelve straight wins at home

The victory upped Stanford’s NCAA record to 77-26 overall and 32-4 at Maples. The latest win was its 12th straight at home.

Attendance was only 2,532. The 3:30 p.m. game time on a work day when most students were away on quarter break probably reduced the crowd. Still, Maples was loud with two bands playing and two contingents of red-clad fans cheering.

Apparently hoping to spur a rally during the first half, a woman handed out red and white pompons to fans in the south bleachers.

Just after 5 minutes into the second half, the video board showed longtime announcer Betty Ann (Boeving) Hagenau sitting upstairs in a wheelchair with her husband, Bob. She told a fan that this was one of her first outings as she continues to recover from a bicycle accident.

During a timeout with just under 6 minutes to go, a toddler wearing a red Stanford jumper danced with the Tree in the corner near the Stanford bench, amusing those who could see her. She then happily waved a pompon that a fan gave her. Earlier she had tried to imitate the cheerleaders’ sideline routines.

Bonnie, Amber uphold senior tradition

It was reported that before the game, Tara told the team that seniors have a tradition of playing their final home game in style.

Among them she named were Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10; Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; and Joslyn Tinkle, ’13, who did well in their farewells to Maples.

Now she can add Amber and Bonnie to that list.

Tradition never graduates.

March 23, 2015

Milestones mark start of March Madness

Defeating Cal State Northridge in the first round of the NCAA tournament March 21, the Stanford women’s basketball team achieved two major milestones.

First, the 73-60 victory marked the 800th at Stanford for head coach Tara VanDerveer. Thus she became only the 10th Division 1 men’s or women’s coach to amass that many wins at one school. Her overall Stanford record is 800-165. Her career record stands at 952-216. 

Second, the tournament-advancing win was the 500th for the program in Maples Pavilion against 87 losses. On top of that, the team improved to 31-4 in NCAA games at home.

Amber, Lili, Brittany, Bonnie, Bird start 

As she had for the team’s successful run at the Pac-12 tournament in Seattle, Tara gave senior guard Amber Orrange, sophomore guard Lili Thompson, freshman guard Brittany McPhee, senior forward Bonnie Samuelson and sophomore forward Erica “Bird” McCall  the starting nods.

Only 12 players were available. Sophomore guard Karlie Samuelson has been out for several games and will be out the rest of the season because of a broken finger. Appropriately, she sported a red cast on her right hand, minus the sling she had used in Seattle. Also out of action for undisclosed reasons were sophomore forward Kailee Johnson and redshirt junior guard Alex Green.

Stanford jumped out to an 8-0 lead, not allowing CSUN to score until just after four minutes into the game. The lead ballooned to 20-7 at the 11:28 mark, but CSUN made a run that put it ahead 29-28 at the half.

During halftime, the crowd of 2,830 applauded Stanford’s national champion women’s water polo team. They also had a chance to admire the addition of 2015 to the Pac-12 section portion of the WBB championship banner in the southeast corner. 

Lili, Taylor spur second-half recovery

It seemed that the Cardinal players stayed in the locker room a bit longer than usual. Once the second half got under way, though, the tide began to turn, thanks in part to Lili and to senior forward Taylor Greenfield. 

Lili had spent part of the first half on the bench with two fouls, but she returned to score 7 quick points, including a 3. She finished second in scoring with 17 points and four each in rebounds and assists in 30 minutes.

Continuing the fine play that won her the MVP trophy in Seattle and the nickname “Tournament Taylor” from her teammates, Taylor scored 13 of her team-leading 19 points in the second half to go with four rebounds and one assist in 32 minutes. Playing virtually the entire game, Bonnie added 14 points from three first-half 3’s and five free throws along with five rebounds and one block.

Also in double figures, Bird had 10 points plus three rebounds and three blocks in 17 minutes.

Freshman forward Kaylee Johnson led the team with 10 rebounds while contributing four points, two steals and one block in 23 minutes.

Playing 38 minutes, Amber had 6 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal. She figured in a game highlight in the second half when she scrambled for a loose ball on the floor and flipped it to Lili, who sped to the basket for an easy layup.

Memories of Lindy’s hustle play

That play brought back memories of the time when Lindy La Rocque, ’12, then a freshman, dove for a loose ball against Cal and flipped it to Jillian Harmon, ’09, who also scored.

The memory may have been especially sharp for Lindy herself. She was in the stands watching with players from the University of Oklahoma, Stanford’s next opponent by virtue of its 111-84 victory over Quinnipiac in the earlier game.

Lindy is completing the second year of an internship with the Sooner team while earning her master’s in intercollegiate athletic administration. Sitting elsewhere in the stands were her parents, Alan and Beverly, visiting from Las Vegas. They said Lindy hopes to become a coach.

Free throws contribute to win

Accounting for part of Stanford’s 13-point margin of victory were 19 of 25 free throws, compared with four of five by CSUN. Stanford had only nine fouls, while CSUN had 19. Many of those fouls came intentionally in the final two minutes, even in the final few seconds when CSUN had no chance of winning.

Before Oklahoma’s blowout win over the Quinnipiac Bobcats from Connecticut, Lindy walked past the scorers’ table to greet Tara’s mother, Rita, and sister Heidi, who sat behind the other bench.

As the game started, Tara and associate head coach Amy Tucker sat in the south stands several rows below the Cardinal players. Assistant coaches Tempie Brown and Kate Paye sat at the nearby sideline table. All were scouting their potential opponent.

Most of the players left well before halftime, but Amber, Taylor, freshman guard Taylor Rooks, Bird and senior forward Erica Payne stayed behind. Soon Taylor G. was the only one left, sitting by herself until leaving with 1:45 to go.

Early in the second half, three of the coaches left, leaving Kate there to scout.

With its strong post play and ability to score from beyond the arc, Oklahoma could be a formidable opponent. That game will begin at 3:30 p.m. March 23.

March 12, 2015

Nothing but net

Now it can be told. A few days before the start of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament in Seattle, I was already imagining the above headline.

Somehow my intuition was correct – that Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer would cut the final strand of the net at KeyArena. Stanford would win the tournament despite being the No. 3 seed, its lowest ever for the event.

The road to that ecstatic net-cutting ceremony on March 8 wasn’t easy. Not at all.

Nail-biting 67-62 win over UCLA

It started with a 67-62 victory over No. 6-seeded UCLA on March 6. The Cardinal were missing the services of sophomore guard Karlie Samuelson, who had suffered a broken finger in the Oregon loss March 1. She then had surgery, ending her season. Her right hand was in a cast and supported in a black sling.

Also unavailable was sophomore forward Kailee Johnson. It was later reported that she had a sore foot.

Starters for this game were senior guard Amber Orrange, sophomore guard Lili Thompson, freshman guard Brittany McPhee, senior forward Bonnie Samuelson and sophomore forward Erica “Bird” McCall.

The Cardinal led most of the way, but things got uncomfortably tight as UCLA pulled to within 1 point, 63-62 with only 20.7 seconds left. That’s when the referees took a few minutes at the monitor to determine possession.

The ball went to Stanford. UCLA fouled Bonnie, who hit both of her free throws with 14 seconds left, making the score 65-62. UCLA missed a 3-pointer with 4 seconds to go before fouling Lili, who hit both of her free throws to ice the win.

Amber led the team with 18 points, followed by Lili with 14 and Bird with 10. Bird also had eight rebounds. Freshman forward Kaylee Johnson had seven and Lili six.

UCLA outrebounded the Cardinal 48-34, but Stanford had the advantage in assists, 12-9; blocks, 7-3; and turnovers, 7 Stanford, 12 UCLA. Each team had 13 fouls, and each made 11 free throws.

A big difference was in 3-pointers, 6-3. Lili and Amber each added two, while Bonnie and senior forward Taylor Greenfield had one each.

UCLA had reached this quarter-final game by defeating No. 11 Arizona in the first round March 5.

Payback against Arizona State

Next up for Stanford on March 7 were the No. 2-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils, which had defeated No. 7 Washington State on March 6. WSU had advanced after defeating No. 10 Oregon. ASU had beat Stanford twice during the season.

A fan gathering and sendoff at the team’s Westin Seattle hotel downtown preceded the game. It began with an informal chalk talk by Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, in the lobby. She noted that ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne is a Stanford WBB alum, class of 1988.

When Eileen was an assistant coach for Tara’s predecessor, Dottie McCrea, Stanford was recruiting Charli, so Eileen made her first home visit to Charli and her family. (Eileen was a Stanford coach from 1982 to 1985. Dottie coached the Cardinal from 1976 to 1985.)

“Charli was a tenacious player, and her teams have always reflected that,” Eileen said.

She substitutes liberally, so “they’re going to be all over us. You’ll see a lot of motion.” ASU has “good, big posts”; therefore, “we’ve got to keep our driving up. We have to run and keep the bigs off the boards.” It’s going to be a tough game, she said.

Fans then moved outside, where the band, Dollies, cheerleaders and Tree were entertaining the smiling, dancing players. This Tree was a more traditional evergreen type rather than the palm seen during the regular season. It also was a girly Tree with a woman dancing beneath the outfit.

Two hours later, Eileen’s prediction of a tough game proved to be uncomfortably accurate. The Cardinal eked out a 59-56 victory that again kept fans biting their nails until the final buzzer.

Once again the starters were Amber, Lili, Brittany, Bonnie and Bird. Kailee was back in uniform.

Amber had scored all of the team’s points at the 13:55 mark, when Stanford led 12-6. It led 29-25 at the half. By then, Amber had poured in 15 points, while Taylor had 9.

Halftime entertainment featured the mesmerizing Veniamin – The Human Slinky. Attired in a coiled, multi-colored costume, this flexible, one-man wonder transformed himself into multiple permutations – up, down, sideways – just like a four-limbed Slinky. It was one of the more unusual feats I’ve seen.

As the second half got under way, Taylor joined starters Amber, Lili, Bonnie and Bird. Stanford had a fairly comfortable 48-35 lead at the11:08 mark, but had amassed 10 fouls to ASU’s one.

The lead kept shrinking until it was down to 57-56 with 39.5 seconds left. At 28.7 seconds, referees spent several minutes at the monitor to determine possession after the ball went out of bounds. They ruled in Stanford’s favor.

That’s when ASU began taking advantage of the wide discrepancy in fouls. Each time Stanford inbounded the ball, ASU would foul, forcing another inbounds play in hopes of a turnover. The clock wound down to 20.2 seconds when ASU, now with six fouls, forced Bonnie and the ball out of bounds.

ASU got the ball and took a shot, but Kaylee blocked it. She was fouled and made her first free throw and missed the second, but Taylor rebounded it. She was fouled, and made her free throw to clinch the game at 59-56.

As fans were leaving after the game, Taylor’s parents and Amber’s parents and sister were in the concourse watching a monitor with the Pac-12 Network’s recap. Amber came running out to get huge hugs from her family before returning to her teammates to watch part of the Cal-Colorado game.

The Orranges and Greenfields had every right to be proud of their daughters. Amber had a game-high 18 points, followed by Taylor with 17. Amber also had three rebounds and two each for assists, steals and blocks in 36 minutes. Taylor had three rebounds and one assist in 30 minutes.

Kaylee had a team-high 10 rebounds plus 3 points and a career-high five blocks. The team’s nine blocks were a season high (eight previously).

The team had eight 3’s, compared with ASU’s four. Bonnie, Taylor and Amber had two each, while Lili and sophomore guard Briana Roberson had one each. Bonnie’s two 3’s brought her up to 225 for her career, tying her for 10th place in the Pac-12.

Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher for Stanford fans was the disparity in fouls. The refs called 21 on Stanford, while ASU got only 13 whistles, many of them deliberate in the final seconds.

One more game note – Stanford was in its red road uniforms for the first time in a Pac-12 tournament because it was a lower seed than ASU. Seeding didn’t matter in the end, though.

Battle of the Bay – Round 3

The championship game against No. 4 seed Cal on March 8 was even more suspenseful, a 61-60 win in a fight to the finish.

Once again, fans gathered at the team hotel for a chalk talk by Eileen and a team sendoff.

This game is, “going to be a challenge for our youngsters in the post,” Eileen said. Part of the game plan is to take away Cal’s strengths. “We’re going to try to stop them in transition,” she said.

She called the Stanford-Cal matchup, “a tremendous rivalry. We’re honorable opponents.”

Referring to Taylor’s strong showing in the ASU game, Eileen said, “We’re so happy” about her. Eileen also mentioned that the team would be back in its white home uniforms and would use the Seattle Storm’s locker room. The WNBA team plays its home games at Key Arena. Its mascot, Doppler, was on hand for the Pac-12 games.

As the Cal band watched, the Stanford band, etc., entertained the team. A sousaphone player had taped a red “Go Stanford” sign across the top of its bell. The band then chanted, “After tonight, we’ll be the champs,” before launching into “All Right Now.” That’s when the Cal band began playing in an attempt to drown out the Stanford musicians.

Cal had reached the final game by defeating No. 5 Washington on March 6 and No. 9 Colorado on March 7. Colorado had advanced after upsetting No. 1 seed Oregon State on March 6.

Before the game started, the video board noted that Stanford was 36-3 all time in the tournament. Now make that 37-3.

Starting the victorious effort were Amber, Lili, Brittany, Bonnie and Bird.

Stanford had an immediate advantage over Cal because it had played the earlier game the night before, giving it more rest than Cal on a night when clocks moved up an hour to Daylight Saving Time.

Perhaps another difference-maker came less than 5 minutes into the first half when Brittany inadvertently collided with Cal’s star point guard Brittany Boyd, sending her to the locker room with a cut below her eye.

Boyd returned with a bandage on her cheek with 2:22 to go in the first half and Cal ahead 24-20. She wound up playing 27 minutes but had only 7 points. Forward Reshanda Gray, another Cal star, played only 29 minutes because of foul trouble. She wound up with 6 points.

In the meantime, Taylor was on her way to a career-high, game-high 20 points, while Lili had 13 and Amber had 12.

Kaylee finished with 12 rebounds, giving her 17 10-plus rebound games for the season. She had 7 points and two blocks in 28 minutes.

At the half, Stanford was down 25-23. Each team had seven fouls, and Taylor and Lili had 8 points each.

Taylor scored the first of the team’s three 3-pointers early in the second half to give Stanford a 26-25 edge. She had another 3 later, as did Bonnie.

Stanford maintained a lead no higher than 6 points throughout that half. With 8.4 seconds left, the lead was 61-57, so Cal’s final 3-pointer left it 1 point short of forcing overtime.

Time to celebrate

And with that, Stanford fans and players could celebrate. The players rushed onto center court, where they received championship T-shirts and hats. When the PA system played, “We Are the Champions,” they gathered in a circle hug.

When the all-tournament team was named, Amber was among the five for the second time (also in 2013). In addition to her 12 points, Amber had a career-high six steals, tying for most steals for a championship game. She also had four assists in her 38 minutes.

Taylor was named the Most Valuable Player and received a curving, blue glass trophy. A similar but larger trophy was presented to Tara for the team’s 11th tournament championship.

After a shower of multi-colored confetti, it was time to cut down the nets, starting with freshman guard Taylor Rooks, who needed some instruction, as did her classmates, Brittany and Kaylee, being new to this ritual. It continued through the classes to the seniors.

As the staff and coaches took their turns, the players were treated to cupcakes. After cutting the net loose, Tara handed it to Taylor, who draped it around her neck.

Taylor was the first non-starter to be named MVP in the tournament’s 14 years. Five other Cardinal players have won the honor: Nicole Powell, ’04; Candice Wiggins, ’08; Kayla Pedersen, ’11; Nneka Ogwumike, ’12; and Chiney Ogwumike, ’14.

Defense was crucial in all three tournament wins, especially in the championship game, when Stanford had an 11-8 advantage in steals and a 4-0 advantage in blocks. The 11 steals tied a season high for the team.

For the tournament, Stanford had a total of 17 steals, while its opponents had a combined 14. The team also had a three-game total of 20 blocks, compared with four for its opponents.

Winning the championship moved Stanford up from 19 to 14 in the AP poll, clinched an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and boosted its hopes to host the first two rounds with a 4 seed or higher. Everything will become clear after the NCAA selection show at 4 p.m. March 16 on ESPN.