January 30, 2016

Lili's hot start paces team to victory

 After two weekends on the road that wound up 2-2, the Stanford women’s basketball team returned home to rack up a satisfying 69-53 victory over the University of Washington on Jan. 29.

Abandoning its penchant for slow starts, the team surged to a 26-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. Junior guard Lili Thompson led the way, scoring the team’s first eight points and finishing the quarter with five 3-pointers and another basket for 17 points. When she made her fifth 3 with just over a minute to go, the crowd went wild.

The crowd of 2,858 also gave her a standing ovation when she left the game for good near the end of the fourth quarter. By then she had amassed 27 points plus seven rebounds and one assist in 32 minutes.

Thus she put up more points than she had in the previous three games and just missed her career high of 28 points scored on Nov. 20, 2014, against Texas.

It was far more than a one-woman show. though. Junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall and sophomore guard Brittany McPhee had 12 points each. Junior guard Karlie Samuelson had 10, including two free throws after a technical was called on the Washington coach late in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore Kaylee Johnson did her part with a game-high and season-best 14 rebounds and matched her career high with four assists.

The starting lineup featured Lili, Bird, Karlie, Kaylee and junior guard Briana Roberson.

Eight players, including the starters, Brittany, freshman guard Marta Sniezek and freshman forward Alanna Smith, saw most of the action. Marta had a career-high six assists. Senior guard Alex Green, senior forward/center Tess Picknell and freshman guard Alexa Romano came off the bench to close out the game.

Junior forward Kailee Johnson was unavailable.

The band, Dollies, cheerleaders and Tree were on hand to provide support. Halftime entertainment featured the San Juan Sensations, a girls dance troupe.

Besides the five 3’s from Lili, Karlie added two. Brittany had one to raise the total to eight. She scored 10 of the team’s 14 points in the second quarter.

Next up are Washington State on Jan. 31 and Cal on Feb. 2, both at home.

January 14, 2016

Fans watch practice, tour locker room

An estimated 350 fans, including season ticket holders and their guests, got a peek into the inner workings of the Stanford women’s basketball team during an open practice Jan. 13.

As the visitors entered Maples starting at 5:30 p.m., strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil was putting the team through warmups.

The team next went through layup drills at three baskets, followed by groups of five players doing fast break drills culminating mostly in layups or 3-point shots.

After a water break, five-on-five, red vs. white, scrimmages began, first in the half court, then full court.

The red team included four players who usually don’t get much time during games, plus a male practice player.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer explained later that red team players -- senior forward/center Tess Picknell, freshman forward/center Shannon Coffee, freshman guard Alexa Romano and redshirt senior guard Alex Green -- are the scout team, mimicking the plays of the next opponent, Oregon. “They run it amazing well,” Tara said, referring to the scout team’s running the opponent’s offense.

Classes keep Kiran, Bird away

Senior guard Kiran Lakhian is on the scout team, too, but she was absent because of a class conflict. Likewise, junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall had a class conflict that kept her from practicing with the other eight players on the white team.

White team players who weren’t on the floor practiced free throws on the sidelines.

Taking a break from scrimmages, the team paired off for free throws. Another scrimmage was followed by more free throws.

The final scrimmage saw Alex switching to the white team, while sophomore guard Brittany McPhee and junior guard Briana Roberson went to the red team.

Redecorated locker room stresses tradition

In the meantime, groups of fans toured the team’s redecorated locker room. The walls of the lounge area are adorned with action shots of past SWBB greats. One especially large photo shows Chiney Ogwumike, ’14, hugging Tara after a victory.

Other photos show Tara and associate head coach Amy Tucker cutting the nets after championships. (Amy wasn’t at the practice because she was on the road recruiting, one of her principal responsibilities. She would join the team in Oregon, Tara said.)

Also on the wall are lists of the team’s accomplishments over the years, such as the national championships, Final Fours and conference championships.

The new d├ęcor is meant to emphasize SWBB tradition, Tara said afterward. Returning players like it, she said, noting that Jeanette Pohlen, ’11, took a photo of her picture during a recent visit.

The final stop on the tour was the Arrillaga practice gym, used by the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the men’s and women’s volleyball teams, said tour guide Eileen Roche, director of women’s basketball operations.

Following scrimmages, the team ran sprints, put in more time at the free-throw line and finally met with Tara and the rest of the staff in a circle at center court. The players left the court shortly before 7:30 p.m.

Rigorous schedule

The players wouldn’t have much time to rest. They had to shower, dress, eat dinner and report back for a short practice the next day at 6:45 a.m. before traveling to Oregon.

Following the Oregon game on Jan. 15, there would be a day to prepare for and travel to Oregon State for a game on Jan. 17.

“This is a pretty typical practice,” Tara told the crowd as most of the team headed for the locker room although Bri, Brittany and freshman forward Alanna Smith put in some more free-throw time before leaving.

During the course of a week, the players watch videos of themselves on their iPads and view videos of previous games and their upcoming opponents’ games with the coaches. Assistant coaches Tempie Brown and Kate Paye share scouting duties and prepare scout reports for the team.

Tara cites progress

“We’re playing well defensively” and stressing an uptempo offensive strategy, Tara said, but the players “have to be able to run a half-court offense,” which she called only fair at this point.

Still, “I’m seeing great progress. … If we did everything well now, it would be boring.”

It would appear from this practice that every player works hard and that the players have good rapport and enjoy one another.

Finally, the coaches have two overarching goals for the team: first, stay healthy; second, improve, Tara concluded.

January 11, 2016

Milestones for Kaylee, Lili

Kaylee Johnson chose a good time to post two career highs for the Stanford women’s basketball team.

With the score 0-7 in favor of Colorado on Jan. 10, the sophomore forward came off the bench with the clock at 6:36 in the first quarter. Just 26 seconds later, she gave the team its first basket. She went on to score all of the team’s 6 points until junior guard Karlie Samuelson and sophomore guard Brittany McPhee hit successive 3’s.

Kaylee (5) and Bri  (10) go for a rebound. (Photo by Stanford Athletics)

Logging 32 minutes, Kaylee recorded team- and career-highs of 17 points and four assists plus 11 rebounds and two of the team’s five blocks to help the Cardinal to a 71-56 home victory.

Also contributing to the win were three other players in double figures: junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall with 16, junior guard Lili Thompson with 12 and Karlie with 11.

Double-double duo of Kaylee, Bird

With Bird adding 11 rebounds to her stat line, she and Kaylee became the first SWBB duo with double-doubles since Chiney Ogwumike (29/15) and Mikaela Ruef (11/13), both ’14, in the 82-57 Sweet Sixteen victory over Penn State on March 30, 2014.

Both have gone on to play professionally. Mikaela is with an Australian team, and Chiney is with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun with fellow alum Kayla Pedersen, ’11. During this offseason she’s a women’s basketball commentator for the Pac 12 Network.

Not to be overshadowed, Lili logged the 1,000th point of her career at 3:08 in the second quarter, becoming the 36th SWBB player to do so. Fans waving handmade signs helped to celebrate her feat.

Colorado didn’t make things easy. Stanford didn’t get its first lead until 1:40 in the first quarter when junior guard Briana Roberson sank a 3 to make the score 12-11.

The first quarter ended in a 14-14 tie, but the team inched ahead to lead 28-21 at the half. Interviewed by the Pac 12 Network’s Mary Murphy before going to the locker room, head coach Tara VanDerveer was far from pleased with the team’s performance.

Colorado has 24 fouls to Stanford’s 12

It was a physical game, especially on Colorado’s part. The Buffaloes had 24 fouls, and two players fouled out in the fourth quarter. Stanford cashed in on the fouls by making 23 free throws, but that number represented only a 67.6 percent success rate at the line.

On the other hand, the Cardinal had only 12 fouls, yielding 4 Colorado points on 50 percent shooting at the line.

All 14 Stanford players were available, but only the usual nine-player rotation saw action because the game was so tight.

Speaking briefly during the post-game Behind the Bench, Tara was a little more upbeat than she had been at the half. “We’re excited about our team’s improvement,” she said.

When Lili and associate head coach Amy Tucker preceded Tara, Amy had a bit more to offer. “The best thing we’re doing is on the defensive end. … We need to pick up our offense to match our defensive effort.” She added that junior forward Kailee Johnson has “been very valuable this season,” especially on defense.

Amy listens as Lili speaks after the game. (Photo by Dave Cortesi)
Lili thanked the fans for their support and gave credit to her teammates and the staff. It’s an honor to be in the company of the other members of the 1,000-point club, she said.

Lili cites tag team approach

Noting differences from her freshman year, Lili said, “We’re playing a lot faster” with a tag team approach. “When the other team gets tired, we’re not.”

As for the much-lamented 49-31 loss at Arizona State on Jan. 4, “We didn’t execute our game plan,” she said.

After graduation, she sees the WNBA as a possible option, but she wasn’t quite as definite about becoming U.S. president as she was in her freshman year. She’s still young, she said, but her Stanford degree -- in science, technology and society with an emphasis on innovation and organization -- will help.

For now she’s relishing “day in and day out just being with my teammates.”

The keys to balancing basketball and academic demands are “managing your time and communicating with your teachers” about when the team will be out of town, she said.

Discussing recruiting, Amy said Lili didn’t receive much focus from other colleges because she had moved from Hawaii to Texas while in high school. However, her high school coach at Mansfield, Texas, alerted Stanford to her.

Freshman forward Alanna Smith, an Australian who’s the team’s first international player, first gained notice when her father sent Stanford a video of her. However, Amy said, the coaches had to assess Alanna in person, so she made an official visit to Stanford in September 2014. Because she had already graduated from high school, NCAA rules allowed her to work out.

After that, “we were confident that she would like Stanford. … She will have a great future here,” Amy said.

The team will take its 13-3 record (3-1 Pac 12) on the road to the Oregon schools and then the Southern California schools over the next two weekends. The team returns to the Farm to host Washington at 8 p.m. Jan. 29 and Washington State at noon Jan. 31.

January 9, 2016

Back on track

Playing its first home conference game, the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated Utah 72-52 on Jan. 8.

It was a refreshing and reassuring change from the 31-49 loss at Arizona State on Jan. 4. Those 31 points represented the lowest total ever for the SWBB program.

Instead of starting the team’s five juniors as she has for the past several weeks, head coach Tara VanDerveer gave freshman Marta Sniezek the nod at point guard over junior Briana Roberson.

Bri has career-high eight assists

However, with Stanford trailing 4-7 at the 5:29 mark, Bri entered the game. She finished with 4 points, two rebounds, three steals and a team-high and career-high eight assists in 32 minutes. Marta had 2 points by making the team’s first basket, plus one rebound and one assist in eight minutes.

Junior guard Lili Thompson and sophomore guard Brittany McPhee shared scoring honors with 16 points each. Lili added three rebounds and three assists, while Brittany had five rebounds.

Also in double figures was junior guard Karlie Samuelson with 13 points, two assists and one steal despite playing only 20 minutes because she got three fouls fairly early into the game.

Junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall recorded 11 points and 11 rebounds of the team’s 36 rebounds for her ninth double-double of the season. She had three of the team’s six blocks.

The evening got off to a good start with an excellent rendition of the national anthem by the Choral Project, an adult mixed chorus based in San Jose.

Even before that, out of the public eye, former Stanford and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, now with the University of Michigan, gave the team a pep talk in the locker room.

The crowd of 4,030 included a student booster contingent with the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree.

Brittany’s free throws give team first lead

Fans saw the game get off to a less than auspicious start in the first quarter with the Cardinal trailing with only .01 second left. That’s when Brittany hit two free throws to put the team up 13-12.

The second quarter was a seesaw battle, but Stanford eked out a 30-28 lead before heading to the locker room for halftime.

The third quarter was a different story as the home team surged to a 55-40 advantage. It was more of the same in the fourth quarter. With the nine rotation players on the bench and the score 70-52 at the 1:14 mark, the other five players came in. Freshman center/forward Shannon Coffee hit a basket to make the winning score 72-52.

Shannon sheds headband

By the way, without her usual white headband, Shannon looked like a different person. When the team came out for its pregame warmups, I had to look twice to make sure that someone new hadn’t been added.

However, something new had been added to the fans’ experience. Instead of just having their tickets scanned and breezing into Maples, they now must subject their bags to a search.

For details on this new policy, go to http://gostanford.com/fls/30600/pdf/facilities/14-prohibited-items.pdf?DB_OEM_ID=30600.

Next the Cardinal will host Colorado at noon Jan. 10, followed by a Behind the Bench.