February 21, 2017

Cheers, tears for seniors and team

After squeaking by Cal by 6 points at the Bears’ home three days earlier, the Stanford women’s basketball team scored the same number of points but delivered a more resounding victory, 72-54, an 18-point margin, at Maples on Feb. 19.

It was a fitting farewell for the team’s three seniors, who were playing their last game at Maples. There are more games to go, but Maples is home.

All 13 players were on hand. Freshman guard Mikaela Brewer was there after missing several games, but she was in street clothes. Freshman guard Anna Wilson was in a boot. The other 11 players saw action.

Seniors in starting lineup

As usual, the starters included the three seniors -– forward Erica “Bird” McCall and guards Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson -– plus the two juniors, forward Kaylee Johnson and guard Brittany McPhee.

As the first of more than 4,300 fans arrived, they received Stanford T-shirts and Beat Cal buttons.

Shortly before the game started, head coach Tara VanDerveer presented flowers to Cal’s two seniors.

Except for a 2-point basket to start the first quarter and two ties later, Stanford led the entire way. The score was 20-14 after the first quarter, 37-32 at the half, 54-44 after the third quarter and 72-54 at the final buzzer.

Marta, Alexa and Alanna cheer their teammates from the bench.
Alanna leads the way

As had been the case at Cal, where she scored a career-high 27 points, sophomore forward Alanna Smith led the team with 17 points to go with a team-high eight rebounds plus one assist, two blocks and one steal. As the Australian made one of her signature moves to score at the basket, announcer Betty Ann Hagenau exclaimed, “Alanna Smith from down under!” 

Britt with 16 and Karlie with 11 were the only other Cardinal players in double figures.

During halftime, the football team walked onto the court holding the Axe, a trophy it has had for seven straight years by virtue of beating Cal.

With the game comfortably in hand toward the end of the fourth quarter, the seniors returned to the bench as the crowd stood and cheered.

Families join seniors for post-game salute

After the tossing of victory balls, the seniors were honored. Joined by their families, they walked through an honor guard of their teammates and staff. As each one approached center court, the video board showed highlights of their careers.

Bird, backed by Kaylee, goes for a layup
Bird was accompanied by her parents, brother and grandparents. A psychology major, she will graduate this quarter to be ready for the WNBA draft.

Bri was with her parents, brother and aunt. Majoring in political science, she hopes to continue playing and then go to law school.

Joining Karlie were her parents and older sister, Bonnie, who graduated from Stanford two years ago. Karlie is a human biology major who hopes to earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

While the seniors and Tara were at the post-game press conference, associate head coach Amy Tucker brought Alanna to the mike. “She’s been red hot of late,” Amy said.

Freshmen get their turn at the mike

Next Amy summoned the freshmen: Anna, Mikaela, forward Nadia Fingall and guard DiJonai Carrington. Slightly hoarse, Nadia said that the year’s highlight for her has been “being around such a great group. … We really love each other.”

DiJonai quipped, “I’m happy to finally know the plays.”

Anna, who noted that she has been injured a lot, said she likes being around her teammates and learning.

Mikaela, who’s also had her share of injuries, said the come-from-behind win at Washington was this year’s highlight for her. She’s also happy that she scored 100 percent on the mid-term for her favorite class, chemistry.

Tara returned to say, “It’s been a great four years with this group.” The seniors have embraced the team culture as workers. They also provide the team with leadership and maturity while being happy for others’ accomplishments, she said. “It’s a great team to coach.”

Underclassmen praise seniors

In keeping with tradition, underclassmen were selected to honor each senior. Britt said of Bird, “There’s no one else like her on the planet.” A great friend, “she makes everyone happier and … carefree.”

Bird responded, “It’s been a great night for me. Playing at Maples has been a dream come true.” After she ends her basketball career, she wants to return to her hometown of Bakersfield and open its shuttered YMCA. Her father, Greg, who coaches the Cal State Bakersfield women’s team, coached Bird as she was growing up. “She’s so coachable,” he said, thanking the Stanford coaches for helping her.

Bri battles for the ball.
When Kaylee came up to honor Bri, she said, “I’ve been dreading this night,” and called Bri one of her best friends. A hard worker, kind and unselfish, “she makes me want to be a better person,” the teary-eyed Kaylee said. Because they both hope to become lawyers, they’ve talked about their “future law firm, Roberson Johnson.”

After introducing her family, Bri said she hopes to go to law school at Stanford.  The hard work and discipline she has learned in basketball will apply at law school, she said.

Highlights of her four years have been the win over UConn (88-86 in overtime at home on Nov. 7, 2014, to end the Huskies’ long win streak and their last loss since embarking on their current streak of 100-plus) and this year’s win at Washington.

Her father, Kenneth, said that when she was in fifth or sixth grade, she played in an especially rough game in a church league. Afterward, he told her that every part of her body must have been bruised. She replied that only her heart wasn’t bruised.

Tara said that when Bri was recruited, no scholarship was available for her freshman year, but there would be one thereafter. In the meantime, her family would have to pay her tuition, and she couldn’t go to summer school.

However, one week before summer school started, Toni Kokenis took a medical retirement for her senior year, freeing her athletic scholarship for Bri. When Tara called Bri’s mother, Felecia, to let her know, the first thing Felecia said was how sorry she was for Toni and her family.

Karlie shoots for 3 from the corner.
Next up was sophomore center Shannon Coffee, who honored Karlie. Like Kaylee, she said, “I’ve been dreading this day for a while.” She called Karlie a “kind-hearted, sincere person” who became her friend last year.

Karlie thanked the fans and her teammates before handing the mike to Bonnie. “I love watching Karlie play,” Bonnie said. She does all the little things. Noting that the two of them, along with younger sister Katie Lou, now at UConn, often played one-on-one at home, Bonnie said, “Lou and I hate to play against Karlie” because she’s so good defensively.

Tara added, “I told her she has to be a coach. I love her competitiveness.”

Tara again referred to the team culture, which is all about “caring about each other and loving each other.”

Although this was the last home game, there are two more conference games, at Oregon State at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and at Oregon at 1 p.m. Feb. 26. Both will be shown on Pac-12 Networks.

The Pac-12 tournament is March 2-5 at Seattle’s KeyArena. Given its current conference record of 14-2, it’s unlikely that Stanford will play the first day.  

(Photos by Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle)

February 14, 2017

Cruisin’ past the Utes

With all 12 available players contributing, the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated visiting Utah 87-51 on Feb. 12.

As head coach Tara VanDerveer has often said, this year’s team wins by committee rather than relying on just one superstar. Therefore, different players step up at different times.

Alanna goes to the basket. 
Stepping up this time was sophomore forward Alanna Smith, who contributed a game-high 16 points along with five rebounds, one block, one assist and two steals in 20 minutes.

Also in double figures were senior guard Karlie Samuelson and junior guard Brittany McPhee with 13 each and senior guard Briana Roberson with 10.

Junior forward Kaylee Johnson led the team in rebounding, snaring six of the Cardinal’s 45.

The team dominated in all categories, but one of the brighter lights was its 90 percent free-throw success, making 18 of 20. Free throws haven’t been a strong point in some previous games.

Nine 3’s from seven players

Seven players contributed a total of nine 3-pointers. Karlie and Bri had two each. Alanna, Britt, senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall, sophomore guard Alexa Romano and sophomore center Shannon Coffee each had one.

Shannon’s trey resulted in some of the loudest cheers from her teammates because she has had limited playing time. This time she made the most of her five minutes by adding an assist and a block to her stat line.

The team got off to a fast start, leading 31-8 after the first quarter. The second quarter was tight, with each team scoring 12, but still giving the hosts a 43-20 lead at the half.

Shannon, Nadia and Alexa scramble for the ball in the fourth quarter..
The third quarter ended 66-41. With bench players carrying most of the load in the fourth quarter, Stanford outscored the Utes 21-10, leading to the final score of 87-51.

The starting lineup was unchanged from recent games with Bird, Kaylee, Britt, Karlie and Bri.

As was the case in the Colorado game, freshman guard Mikaela Brewer wasn’t there. Speaking at the post-game Behind the Bench, associate head coach Amy Tucker said, “Mikaela’s dealing with a personal situation. She’ll be back.”

Since it was Breast Cancer Awareness Day, many fans wore pink. The team’s  white home uniforms had pink accents.

Sophomore guard Marta Sniezek, whose parents were there from McLean, Va., looked gift wrapped with a big pink bow in her hair. She gifted the game with 5 points, two rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 17 minutes.

The game ran into some glitches. First, the tipoff was delayed for a few minutes because of technical difficulties.

Just over four minutes into the first quarter, a referee was injured. He limped to the locker room assisted by trainer Katelin Knox. He sat by the Gatorade bucket after the first quarter with a pant leg rolled up and a crutch behind him. He left later. Thus most of the game was played with only two referees.

The second quarter was momentarily delayed because the clock wasn’t running.

Shannon, Nadia answer questions

To start Behind the Bench, Amy was accompanied by Shannon and freshman forward Nadia Fingall, who answered fans’ questions.

Nadia said, “I still have a lot to work on. I really like getting my teammates involved.” Her goals are to take her game to the next level and avoid mistakes. She also wants to extend her range and improve her free-throw shooting. She had 5 points, five rebounds, one assist, one block and three steals in 13 minutes.

Shannon, whose mother was there from Centerville, Ohio, said she’s “working on mobility and getting up and down the court,” along with finishing at the basket.

Amy interjected that she and assistant coach Tempie Brown, who work with the bigs, “have a lot of fun with our post players. I’m really pleased with our young players.”

Asked about academics, Shannon said her favorite class has been sign language. Her most challenging is human biology.

Nadia’s favorite has been African American history, while her most challenging is Breaking Codes and Finding Patterns this quarter.

Tara pleased with everyone

When Tara arrived, she said she was pleased with how the team finished with its young players. She lavished praise on everyone, especially the seniors for their leadership.

She noted that although Utah is one of the top 10 rebounding teams in the nation, it had only 28 rebounds, while Stanford had 45.

She’s hoping that a record seven Pac-12 teams will get bids to the NCAA tournament, but she doesn’t know where Stanford will go.

Its expected high seed would normally allow it to host the first two rounds, which start March 17. However, Pac-12 gymnastics championships are slated for Maples on March 18, precluding basketball.

Cal is next. The Cardinal will cross the bay to face the Bears at 8 p.m. Feb. 16 and will host Cal at 5 p.m. Feb. 19. Since it’s the last home game, it’s also Senior Day. Both games will be shown on the Pac-12 Network.

(Photos by Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle)

February 11, 2017

A tale of two halves

Karlie becomes the 38th member of SWBB's 1,000-point club. (Stanford photo)
Fans of Stanford women’s basketball had little to cheer about during the first half of the Colorado game on Feb. 10.

However, the home crowd of 2,546 was energized during the second half as the Cardinal gradually caught up and won 64-51, thanks in large part to Brittany McPhee.

The junior guard scored a total of 26 points, with 20 in the second half, and snared a career-high 11 rebounds. She added an assist and a block to her stat line, so when she exited the game with under two minutes left, she was accorded a standing ovation.

Britt brushes up on free throws

Britt was one of the first players on the court before the third quarter. She stood at the free-throw line and swished one toss after another as her teammates returned.

Free throws haven’t been her strong suit during the season. She made three of six during this game, with all three makes coming in the second half.

“I wanted to get out there. I don't think anybody's ever happy missing free throws,” she said during the post-game press conference.

The first quarter ended in a 9-9 tie, and the half saw the Cardinal down 24-27.  Stanford nosed ahead 46-44 after the third quarter, thanks to a last-second 3-pointer by senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall. Also making 3’s during the game were Britt, senior guard Briana Roberson and sophomore guard Marta Sniezek, each with one.

Turnovers drop in second half

Another improvement in the second half involved turnovers. Stanford had 11 in the first half but only two in the second.

Bird was the only other Cardinal in double figures with 15 points. She also had 10 rebounds and one block.

Colorado defenders remained glued to senior guard Karlie Samuelson, but her 4 points were enough to raise her career total to 1,003 to become the 38th member of the team’s 1,000-point club. Even without scoring much, Karlie helped out with four rebounds, two assists and a steal along with her trademark defense and hustle.

She, Bird, Bri and Britt were the starters along with junior forward Kaylee Johnson. Twelve players were suited up. The other player, freshman guard Mikaela Brewer, wasn’t there.

The victory moved Stanford into a three-way tie with Oregon State and Washington atop the Pac-12 conference.

Utah is next on the agenda at 1 p.m. Feb. 12. The game will be shown on Pac-12 TV.

February 8, 2017

From thrill to thud

From left: Nadia, Kaylee, Britt, Kate, Tara and Amy worry as UCLA pulls ahead. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chronicle)

It was a hard landing back to Earth for the Stanford women’s basketball team after losing at home to UCLA 85-76 on Feb. 6.

Just three days earlier, the team had joyously celebrated its home defeat of USC and head coach Tara VanDerveer’s 1,000th career win.

To commemorate that milestone, the Maples floor now has logos saying “TARA 1,000 wins” facing east and west on either side of the center line.

Video tributes from ESPN announcer Holly Rowe and Kristen Newlin, ’07, who is playing professionally in Turkey, were shown during the game.

All hands on deck for Stanford

Once again Stanford had all 13 players suited up, while UCLA had nine. Eight of them got into the game. Tara used nine players.

The starting lineup featured the three seniors –- forward Erica “Bird” McCall and guards Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson –- along with the two juniors –- forward Kaylee Johnson and guard Brittany McPhee.

The seniors and Brittany played major minutes and accounted for four of the five players in double figures. Karlie led the way with 15 points, followed by Bird and sophomore forward Alanna Smith with 14 each, Britt with 13 and Bri with 12.

Just looking at the box score, you could point to free throws. Stanford made 13 of 20, while UCLA made 22 of 30, a 9-point difference right there, just like the final score.

But that doesn’t tell the full story. UCLA had nine 3’s, while Stanford had seven. Bri contributed four of them with two by Karlie and one by Alanna.

Turnovers hurt, too. Stanford had 11, with UCLA scoring 10 points from them. UCLA had eight, with Stanford scoring 7 points from them.

Cardinal take lead into locker room

The first quarter ended with Stanford down 22-12, but the team rallied in the second quarter and went into the locker room with a 40-37 lead. Britt and Alanna led the way with Britt making two buckets in a row and Alanna following up with a 3 and then a 2. Bri clinched the deal with a late 3 to give her team the lead.

During the third quarter, Bri fell to the floor after running into a screen and stayed there for several minutes, but no foul was called on UCLA. Instead, Alanna was charged with a foul, much to the dismay of the loudly booing crowd. However, Bri returned to action shortly thereafter.

That quarter ended with UCLA up 55-51, not insurmountable, but not enough. UCLA kept edging ahead in the fourth quarter. If it weren’t for Bri’s two 3’s close to the final buzzer, the Bruins’ margin of victory would have been greater.

Once again a high school band, this one from Silver Creek High in San Jose, provided some of the music.

The theme for the night was recycling and sustainability. Students were stationed around the concourse to explain the effort, recycling containers stood alongside trash receptacles and A-frame signs around the concourse had facts about the effects of Stanford’s efforts.

Some of these efforts were highlighted in trivia questions on the video board. One of them noted that solar arrays being installed on the Maples roof will produce 628 kilowatts of electricity –- the most on campus.

The team will stay home for the coming weekend, facing Colorado at 8 p.m. Feb. 10 and Utah at 1 p.m. Feb. 12. Both games will be televised by Pac-12 Networks.

February 5, 2017

Tara, team share triumph

Tara talks strategy during a timeout. (Stanford photo)
Confetti rained down and cheers resounded from nearly 4,500 fans as the Stanford women’s basketball team’s 58-42 victory over visiting USC gave head coach Tara VanDerveer the 1,000th win of her career on Feb. 3.

She became only the second women’s coach to reach that milestone, preceded by the late Pat Summitt at Tennessee.

As photographers crowded onto the floor immediately after the game, two of the team’s seniors, guard Karlie Samuelson and forward Erica “Bird” McCall sneaked up behind Tara preparing to dump an orange bucket of Gatorade on her. But instead of the sticky liquid, it was filled with multi-colored confetti to match the confetti coming down from overhead.

The team donned T-shirts reading “Tara 1,000” and held up four giant numerals -– 1,000.

Congratulations and keepsakes

“Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment,” said Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10, covering the game for the Pac-12 Network. When the season started, Ros said, Bird told her that the team had set four goals: win the Pac-12 championship, go to the NCAA tournament, go to the Final Four and win Tara’s 1,000th game. Now it’s one down, three to go for the team.

Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner, presented a trophy to Tara and praised the “impact she’s had on so many student athletes.”

Bird, Karlie and the other senior, guard Briana Roberson, gave Tara a framed Stanford jersey with 1,000 on it plus a photo of her holding up a championship net and a list of career milestones.

“I am really speechless,” Tara said, but went on to say, “We had a great game. … We want to have even bigger games the rest of the year.”

She noted that she’d remember this game, but “I’ll never forget 999 either.” She was referring to the 72-68 win at Washington on Jan. 29 that moved Stanford into a tie for first in the Pac-12.

“What gives me great pleasure” is the improvement that players make during their years at Stanford and then their accomplishments after graduation, she said.

 “I have more than 1,000 memories, (and) I’m moving on to 1,001 on Monday night,” she said. That’s when UCLA visits.

Video board shows tributes

Joining her mother, Rita, and the rest of the Maples gathering, she turned to the video board to watch a series of tributes, starting with athletic director Bernard Muir and head football coach David Shaw.

More tributes came from former star players: Jennifer Azzi, ’90; Jayne Appel-Marinelli, ’10; Chiney Ogwumike, ’14; Nneka Ogwumike, ’12; Jeanette Pohlen Mavunga, ’11; and Candice Wiggins, ’08.

They continued with Andy Geiger, the retired Stanford athletic director who hired Tara; Brooks Johnson, former Stanford track coach; Mary Murphy, TV commentator; Dawn Staley, South Carolina coach who played on the 1996 gold-winning Olympic team coached by Tara; Carol Callan, USA Women’s Basketball director; and Tara’s sister Heidi VanDerveer, head coach at UC San Diego.

After tossing the traditional victory balls into the stands, the team headed for the locker room.

Band makes welcome appearance outside

As fans left Maples, they were entertained by the band, Dollies and Tree outside the northwest entrance. The band has been on suspension but is expected to be allowed to play for home games before the winter quarter ends in late March.

In the meantime, recorded music has been filling the void, but the Prospect High School band of Saratoga was in the stands to provide some music for this game.

The game started on a positive note with all 13 players available for the first time in several weeks.

As has been the case recently, the starting lineup featured Bird, Karlie, Bri, junior forward Kaylee Johnson and junior guard Brittany McPhee.

Game starts slowly

Things got off to a slow start, especially for USC. Karlie scored her team’s first 2 points on free throws, followed by two more FT’s by Bird and a basket by Karlie. Trailing 6-0, USC finally got on the board with a trey at the 6:45 mark.

The first quarter ended 14-10 in the host’s favor. The margin widened to 31-22 at the half, just after Bird launched a successful 3 with 3.8 seconds left.

Because it was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, halftime honored the national championship women’s volleyball team, which marched onto the court with its trophy. They were followed by seven of Stanford’s female medal-winning Olympians of 2016, and then a performance by the all-girl San Juan Dance of Los Altos.

Karlie shoots for 3 from way downtown. (Stanford photo)
Karlie provided some late third-quarter fireworks with three consecutive 3’s in slightly more than a minute, followed by a last-second 2-pointer, helping to raise the score to 52-32. Bird and Britt also made 3’s during the game.

Karlie finished the game with a team-high 21 points, plus four rebounds and two assists in 35 minutes. Just behind her was Bird with 18 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 35 minutes.

Britt with the grit

Britt aggressively drives toward the basket. (Stanford photo)
Britt, who made a number of gutsy plays that don’t necessarily show up in the stats, was the only other player in double figures. She had 10 points plus five rebounds and one block in 28 minutes.

Kaylee had 11 of the team’s 39 rebounds (compared with USC’s 27), plus 2 points, three assists, two blocks and one steal in 25 minutes.

Tara began her career with two years at Idaho starting in 1978. She went on to Ohio State for five years before moving on to the Farm in 1985.

It’s highly likely that she would have reached 1,000 victories earlier, but she took off the 1995-96 year to coach the Olympic team.

Other highlights of her storied career are detailed elsewhere in the extensive coverage on this Fast Break Club site.