March 23, 2016

Way too close for comfort

Tara issues instructions during a timeout. (Stanford Athletics)
When Tara VanDerveer reflects on her first 1,000 games as head coach of the Stanford women’s basketball team, one that will undoubtedly stand out for her is her 1,000th, the March 21 victory over South Dakota State.

That’s when the fourth-seeded Cardinal eked out a 66-65 win in Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament, thereby advancing to the Sweet 16 in the Lexington, Ky., Regional. It will be the team's ninth straight appearance in the Sweet 16.

It took a mighty effort in just under 5 minutes to erase an 8-point deficit against the gritty 12th-seeded Jackrabbits, and it wasn’t until the last 1 second that victory was assured.

Lili, Bird help to clinch the win

The final heroics came from junior guard Lili Thompson and junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall. Lili made a driving layup to tie the game 65-65 with 8.2 seconds left. She was fouled in the process and made the free throw to put the Cardinal ahead to stay.

Lili, Karlie and Bri celebrate in the locker room. (Stanford Athletics)
SD State got off one last shot, but Bird blocked it, setting off a joyful celebration by the team and a huge sigh of relief by the fans.

It wasn’t a pretty game by any means. Poor free-throw shooting, 10 of 22, or 45.5 percent, nearly sabotaged the team, costing it 12 points. SD State was more successful at the line, making 7 of 13, or 53.8 percent.

SD State also dominated Stanford in areas where the Cardinal usually prevail, such as points in the paint, 28-24.

Both teams had six 3-pointers. Stanford’s came from junior Karlie Samuelson with three, and from Bird, Lili and junior guard Briana Roberson with one each. Bri’s 3 came at the 40.9 mark, a crucial contribution to the team’s come-from-behind win.

Bench adds only 5 points

Lili, Bird, Karlie and Bri were in the starting lineup along with sophomore forward Kaylee Johnson. Four bench players got into the game, but they contributed only 5 points -- also unusual for this team. Everyone was available except for freshman forward/center Shannon Coffee, still in a boot.

Instead the starters did most of the heavy lifting, with Lili playing all 40 minutes and scoring 19 points to go with five assists, one rebound, one block and two steals. Playing 32 minutes after spending some time on the bench in foul trouble, Bird led the team with 20 points, 12 rebounds and that all-important block.

Karlie played 38 minutes and added 9 points, three rebounds, four assists, one block and two steals.

Loudly cheering, SD State fans filled the stands behind their bench. Sitting behind the Stanford bench, among others, were the players’ families and two members of last year’s squad -- Bonnie Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield -- along with Mikaela Ruef, ’14.

Some random facts from Stanford Athletics

This was Stanford’s 14th straight NCAA win at home since losing to Florida State 68-61 at Maples in the second round on March 19, 2007.

It was Tara’s 1,203rd career game overall and her 979th victory, just 21 wins away from joining Tennessee’s legendary Pat Summitt as the only NCAA women's coaches with 1,000 career wins.

The Cardinal improved to 34-4 in NCAA games at home. The 65 NCAA women's games played at Maples are second most at any venue behind Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena (66).

Next up for the Cardinal is Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Friday. It will be televised on ESPN.

March 20, 2016

Cardinal take first round of March Madness

The bench celebrates a Cardinal play. (Stanford Athletics)
The Stanford women’s basketball team easily defeated the University of San Francisco on March 19 to advance to Round 2 of the NCAA championship tournament.

The fourth-seeded Cardinal won 85-58 over the 13th seeded Dons and will face the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at 6 p.m. March 21 at Maples Pavilion. Twelfth-seeded SDS upset fifth-seeded Miami 74-71 to open Round 1 action. Assistant coaches Kate Paye and Tempie Brown were on the sidelines scouting that game.

The Stanford starting lineup featured four juniors –- forward Erica “Bird” McCall and guards Briana Roberson, Lili Thompson and Karlie Samuelson –- plus sophomore forward Kaylee Johnson. Lili led the scoring with 17 points, followed by Bird with 14, Kaylee with 13 and Karlie with 11.

Coming off the bench, freshman forward Alanna Smith had 9 points while sophomore guard Brittany McPhee and freshman guard Marta Sniezek had 8 each.   

Marta dribbles past a defender. (Stanford Athletics)
Marta makes one of team’s eight 3’s

Marta, who has been known mainly for assists, showed more assertiveness in shooting. She even made a 3-pointer, something she was doing during that night’s warmups. And she still excelled in assists, leading the team with nine.

Her 3-pointer was one of the team’s eight. The others came from Karlie and Lili with two each and from Bird, Bri and Alanna with one each.

By the time the game ended, everyone had seen action except freshman forward Shannon Coffee, who has been in a boot for several games.

Stanford dominated USF in every statistical category, especially rebounds, with a 49-22 advantage. Bird led the team with 10 rebounds, while Kaylee had nine.

The team shot 51.1 percent overall, 42.1 percent on 3’s and 78.9 percent on free throws.

The Tara-Jennifer story line

Before the game started, photographers clustered around head coach Tara VanDerveer as she chatted with USF coach Jennifer Azzi, ’90, one of Stanford’s first great WBB players.

Much of the pre-game hype had focused on the scheduled meeting between teacher and student, and it turned out that the teacher is still the master.

The two teams’ only previous meeting was Dec. 22, 2010, at USF, during Jennifer’s first season as head coach.

It ended in a blowout, 100-45 in Stanford’s favor, but that wasn’t the whole story. It also marked Tara’s 800th career victory.

Upon the Stanford victory, USF graciously supplied the crowd with red signs reading “800” on one side and “Congratulations Tara – S” on the other, so when the final buzzer sounded, fans waved them in celebration.

Jennifer and her then-assistant coach, Katy Steding, gave her flowers and the game ball. Both were in the first class that Tara recruited to Stanford and went on to help Stanford win its first national championship in 1990. They also played on the Tara-coached 1996 USA Olympic team that went undefeated and won the gold medal.

Outstanding players in first meeting

Playing major roles in that 800th win were some fondly remembered names. The starting lineup featured senior Jeanette Pohlen, junior Lindy La Rocque, sophomore Joslyn Tinkle, senior Kayla Pedersen and junior Nneka Ogwumike. Except for Lindy, who is coaching, the others are all playing professionally.

Kayla led all scorers with 16 points plus a career-high 20 rebounds. The team made a total of 11 3-pointers, with four by freshman Sara James, two by Jeanette, and one each by Lindy, Joslyn, junior Grace Mashore, freshman Toni Kokenis and sophomore Mikaela Ruef. Freshman Chiney Ogwumike wasn’t in uniform because she had tweaked her ankle in practice that morning.

Now, just more than five years later, Tara is well on her way to her 1,000th career win. She needs only 22 more, a number she’s likely to reach next season.