Oh joy, oh joy, the first (real) game of the Stanford Women’s Basketball season is here and R finally gets to leave her house (Shut-in from shoulder surgery). And it was a glorious day on the Stanford campus, the weather was perfect, high 70’s, the campus was hummin’, and NCAA women’s soccer was being held, right down the block from Maples. We stopped to see Stanford taking on Santa Clara, which is bittersweet for us as C always took the soccer teams she coached down the road to Santa Clara and cheered for them. Stanford was attacking from the opening kick-off, and it was no wonder they would win 2-1 and advance in the tournament. Sorry Santa Clara.
Maples was its usual sauna, which felt good, and no one bumped into R’s arm, so that was doubly good. Warm ups were fun to watch, and it was evident to C that sisters Nneka and Chiney truly like each other and enjoy playing together. And Chiney is ALL business. She wants it. She wants the ball, the basket, the rebound, to be the head of the line, she wants it. You can’t teach that, it is just there from the get-go and Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer took advantage of that.
From the opening tip off, which Nneka won, Chiney was a beast. She grabbed the offensive rebound and muscled it back in. For someone who doesn’t weigh very much, she sure can fight to the basket, to Rutgers chagrin. And yes, the freshmen Chiney started. It was Nneka and Chiney, Joslyn Tinkle, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen. Fear the Trees indeed! Our smallest player was 6 feet. In fact, Chiney owned the offensive paint when she was in, getting 12 boards, 5 of them on offense.
Stanford took a lead but Rutgers, to their credit, hung around. Speed was a big weapon for them and they were very fast in the transition game, pushing the ball and it was 32-29 Stanford at the half.
And hey, Stanford, where were the free shirts for the threes Stanford made? Gotta throw those out to the fans, especially in our section!
C and R were a little disappointed at how Tara kept the offense so disciplined and regimented to the point were it stifled some of our creativity. The point guard stopped at the top of the circle and passed around the perimeter. Tinkle connected with a couple of threes, but with our height, it seemed we should be working it inside more. It wasn’t until the second half we had the guards drive and create something, or kick it out to a now-open players. Freshmen Toni Kokenis did this a few times. It certainly opened the game up for Stanford and we were able to pull away from Rutgers.
And we saw something we haven’t seen in a long time. Tara played a 1-3-1 trap defense, with Chiney at the point. Chiney has that desire to be around the ball, chasing it on defense. When we saw her play in the summer league and her team played man to man, she would often leave her man to try and steal the ball and we thought Tara would hate to see that. Instead, the mastermind coach saw it and used it to her advantage. She played Chiney at the point and let her chase, trap the ball and otherwise hound the ball carrier. Chiney loved it and put out tremendous energy. She is going to be great on offense and defense.
But it was sister Nneka to the rescue for the Cardinal on offense. Early in the second half, when Stanford opened up their offense a little more, she drove in and would pull up for a jumper, and she out-jumped the defense for easy scores. C and R loved seeing that instead of the set passing. And did you see her rebound? On her defensive rebounds she skied so high and tore them away from everyone. Hecka Nneka indeed! She would end up with 20 of Stanford’s 63 points. Rutgers would end up with 50.
Oh, it was cute when Stanford was on defense and playing man to man, Chiney kept yelling “Nneka, Nnecka!” every few seconds, if the ball went anywhere near her sister. And we saw the sister–ESP when Nneka was open down low and the pass instead went to Chiney up high, she immediately gave a no-look pass to Nneka down low. It is going to be fun to see these two play together, and we hope Tara will play Chiney more, as she only played her 21 minutes.
We did get to see a lot of Toni Kokenis, who played point, which is a bold move for Tara to trust a freshmen so early in the season. Well, Toni is fast, as when Rutgers pressed us with about 2 minutes left, Toni outran two of the Rutgers players. We got a little peek at another freshmen, Sara James, but she wasn’t in long enough to make a splash.
All in all a fun game and we have no where to go but up! Too bad the next two games are away!
A special shout out to all our Stanford friends that said hi to us at half time (you know who you are!).