April 2, 2015

A look back: Part 1 of 3

The Stanford women’s basketball team finished its 2014-15 season with a 26-10 record and several notable accomplishments, including the Pac-12 tournament championship and its eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA’s Sweet 16.

With the graduation of forwards Chiney Ogwumike and Mikaela Ruef in June, this team didn’t have the strong post presence it had enjoyed over the years. What it did have was a supply of speedy guards.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer took advantage of that strength with a new approach to the offense – an approach that she and her staff studied in depth over the summer.

Instead of Stanford’s time-honored triangle offense, which focuses on getting the ball inside to the post, Tara installed a more guard-oriented approach with the posts setting screens to allow the guards to penetrate to the basket.

It took some time for everyone to adjust and for Tara to find the right combination of players. In the meantime, there were ups and downs in this roller-coaster season.

The team would win a game against a strong team, then turn right around and lose to a weak one. For example, it went on the road to beat conference-leading OregonState 69-58 on Feb. 26 only to lose 62-55 to cellar-dwelling Oregon on March 1.

It trailed in several games, only to rally and win. Several victories were narrow, between 1 and 5 points. Its scoring margin for the season was +8.8 points per game.

What fans might best remember is the 88-86 overtime win over two-time defending national champion UConn at home on Nov. 17. It was the Huskies’ only loss of the year.

Although senior guard Amber Orrange and sophomore guard Lili Thompson were the team’s leading scorers, both averaging 13.3 points per game during the season, several other players emerged at various times to help lift the Cardinal.

Here’s a look at how it all unfolded.

Journey begins in June

For the players, the adventure began in June, when 12 returnees and three freshmen arrived on campus for practice and, for 13 of them, summer school. The other two, senior forwards Erica Payne and Bonnie Samuelson, had internships.

The newcomers were guards Taylor Rooks and Brittany McPhee and forward Kaylee Johnson.

Players could practice two hours a week with the coaches and spend another six hours a week with strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil.

They often played in pickup games, and several worked in head coach Tara VanDerveer’s hoops camps. Two sophomores -- guard Briana Roberson and forward Erica “Bird” McCall -- played in San Francisco’s Pro-Am program.

Bonnie, Lili, sophomore guard Karlie Samuelson and sophomore forward Kailee Johnson were limited while rehabbing from off-season surgery.

Summer school ended Aug. 16, giving the players and staff time off until returning Sept. 15. Classes began Sept. 22.

Fans meet team in open practice, exhibition games

Fans got their first look at the team during an open practice Oct. 17. Afterward,Tara introduced each player and the staff, which had two newcomers. One was Evan Unrau, special assistant to Tara. The other was Hana Potter, intern. Also new were sports information director John Cantalupi and Shelley Heward, manager of fan experience and community relations.

Competition began Nov. 4 and 8, when the team breezed through exhibition games at Maples. First to fall was Vanguard, 105-50. All 15 players were introduced, and all except Brittany got into the game. She was recuperating from a foot injury.

The starters were Amber, Lili, Bird, Kaylee and senior forward Taylor Greenfield.

Next on the exhibition schedule was UC San Diego on Nov. 8. Coached by Tara’s younger sister Heidi, the Tritons lost 74-51. The sisters’ mother, Rita VanDerveer, who lives in Colorado, attended the game.

Tara tweaked the lineup a bit, with Karlie replacing Taylor. After the game, Taraintroduced each player.

Season opens with home win over Boston College

The first game that counted was a 96-63 victory over Boston College at home Nov. 14.
Taylor was back as a starter.

Among the game’s highlights were a career-high six rebounds by junior center/forward Tess Picknell in seven minutes.

Lili and Bird had career-high point totals of 26 and 16, respectively. All 15 players saw action.

Mighty UConn falls in OT at Maples

Then came the highlight of the season, the game that had people talking for the rest of the year. Playing at home Nov. 17, Stanford defeated UConn 88-86 in overtime.

The victory not only ended UConn’s 47-game winning streak, but also extended the Cardinal’s home winning streak to 28.

The game was tight through both halves. With 12 seconds to go, UConn was ahead 77-74, but Amber made a 3-pointer to force overtime.

With 2.6 seconds left in OT and the Cardinal ahead by 2 after a free throw by Karlie, UConn couldn’t advance the ball fast enough to shoot.

This game marked the return of longtime favorite announcer Betty Ann Boeving. She had missed the first three games because she was honeymooning after her marriage to Bob Hagenau.

Euphoria over the UConn win and the home winning streak were both snapped three days later, Nov. 20, when the Cardinal fell to Texas 87-81 in overtime.

Just as it had done against UConn, the team kept the game close until the final few minutes. Regulation time ended with the score 75-75. Even with 1:27 to go in OT, the score was 80-80, but the Longhorns prevailed after that.

Lili led 11 Cardinal players with a career-high 28 points in a team-high 43 minutes.

Travels take team to New MexicoHawaii

Going on the road for the first time, Stanford defeated New Mexico 70-65 on Nov. 24.

The journey continued in Hawaii for a tournament in Honolulu. It started with a 70-54 loss to North Carolina on Nov. 28. It ended on a more positive note with an 86-73 victory over host Hawaii on Nov. 29 and an 88-45 win over Prairie View A&M on Nov. 30.

After a two-week hiatus for finals, the team returned to Maples Dec. 14 and came away with an 82-43 victory over Santa Clara University.

Except for Taylor, who reportedly was held out as a precaution because of a sore foot and who was replaced by Karlie as a starter, everyone got in on the fun.

Kaylee recorded the second 22-rebound game of her fledgling career. She had done so the first time against New Mexico.

Trip to Tennessee results in two losses

The season’s next road trip sent the team to Tennessee and two losses. The first was Dec. 17 against Chattanooga, 54-46. The second was Dec. 20 against Tennessee, 59-40.

Just two days later, on Dec. 22, the team was back home and back on the winning track, defeating UC Davis 71-59.

Bonnie, replacing Bird, got her first start this season and the sixth of her career.

This was the first time that both she and Karlie started. They responded with more than half of the team’s points. Bonnie had 30, including 18 from 3’s, while Karlie had 9, all from 3’s.

Bonnie’s total made her the first non-Ogwumike to score at least 30 points in a game since Jeanette Pohlen, ’11, had 31 in the memorable home win over UConn on Dec. 30, 2010.

Pre-conference play ends with home win

After a short holiday break, the players were back at Maples, where they defeated UC Santa Barbara 90-34 on Dec. 28. With the wide disparity in scoring, everyone played at least five minutes.

Brittany had 10 points, five rebounds, three blocks and three steals, playing with energy and hustle that impressed the 4,041 people in the stands.

Bird had a team-high and career-high 12 rebounds. The team had 10 3’s, with three each from Bonnie and Karlie, two from redshirt junior guard Jasmine Camp and one each from Bri and Taylor.

Based on her games against UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara, Bonnie was named Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Coming next: Part 2 – Pac-12 play

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