Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stanford, PAC-10 Champs, Again!


Okay, every so often, someone will say or write so-and-so was the hero of the game, but Toni Kokenis single-handily WON the PAC-10 tournament championship trophy for Stanford. The Stanford freshman scored 10 straight points in the span of three minutes in the second half. Make that ten unanswered points from the 5:15 to about the three-minutes-left-in-the-game mark. Stanford was only up by one at that point, after trailing by 9 at the half, and more importantly, deflated UCLA’s hopes of an upset. And it was a good thing she scored, because it seemed no one else for Stanford could.

First, hats off to a scrappy and aggressive UCLA team, who was knocking down shots, especially in the first half. Credit UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell with coming up with a good offensive plan and an even better defensive plan. First, as Stanford’s Jeanette Pohlen pointed out in one of her many post game interviews, UCLA watched them destroy Arizona the day before. They watched Stanford work it inside to the Sisters. So UCLA packed the paint and essentially took away the inside game. Stanford usually says, okay, you take away our inside game, then we will bomb you with threes. That’s why coaches beaten by Stanford this year say they have so many weapons. But this time Stanford could not hit from the outside, making just 3 of 16 threes for a dismal 18% success rate in the first half. At first, UCLA was so quick they could pack the inside and quickly get to the three point line to push Stanford’s three point shooters far way from the line. So many shots were taken a good 4-5 feet behind the three-point line, just out of their comfort zone and it showed. Then it seemed like UCLA just collapsed inside and LET Stanford shoot, figuring all their confidence was gone, and boom, Stanford was down by 9 at the half.

So offensively, Nikki Caldwell used the ol’ pick and roll to her team’s advantage. They know Stanford likes to play man to man and switch defensive players when screened, so when they had a larger UCLA player on a smaller Stanford player, they hit that tall player. And since Stanford starts four players six feet and above, the most obvious to pick on was the smaller Lindy LaRoque. Now, C and R aren’t saying Lindy is a bad player; it was just Nikki took advantage of the weakest link, a 5’8” player. When Stanford switched on the screens the taller UCLA player rolled to the inside, pushing Lindy out of the paint and placed her body closer to the basket. UCLA would penetrate and bounce pass it to the waiting UCLA player who had an easy path to the basket. Stanford tried subbing in different players to solve this problem and instead got themselves all out of rhythm on the offensive side, thanks to UCLA’s defensive scheme. It also hurt to have Chiney Ogwumike on the bench with two fouls for about 9 minutes of the first half, as they missed her rebounding and her defensive prowess. (However, good thing they did because Chiney fouled out anyway with a minute seven left in the game.)

The announcer at half time asked Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer how they were going to solve the problem of switching and TVD said that was exactly the problem and she wasn’t sure. She also said they weren’t sure who to play, admitting the line up juggling did not work, and that they needed to do a better job of working it inside, implying the outside game was waaaaay off.

In the second half, Stanford stuck with their starting line up of their tall trees, with liberal helpings of Toni Kokenis. Having Chiney and sister Nneka Ogwumike back in the game at the same time helped them work it inside and keep UCLA off the boards. And when Stanford couldn’t get it inside and the three was iffy, Toni would dribble penetrate and then execute a pull back jumper.

Now, TVD knows Lindy can knock down threes when she is open, but her weakness is that she cannot create her own shot by dribble penetrating like a Toni or a Nneka. However, since the threes were not falling for Lindy and she is not tall enough to play inside, she was out of options. So when Lindy missed 2 threes in the first five minutes of the second half, TVD wanted Toni to create some points, put her in at the 16-minute mark, Toni goes on her tear including the ten straight unanswered points (She would score a career high 17 points and gave a career high smile when UCLA called a timeout to staunch the flow) and Tara VanDerveer looks like a genius. And she is. Final score 64-55 and it was much closer than it sounds.

It was kinda sad after the game when the network took away Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen to go up to the “booth” to give a post game interview. They missed some of the celebration with their team and the team photos with them all in their championship T-shirts and hats. In the team photo on the Stanford official website with the group posing with the winning trophy you can see the two out of three captains absent.

Also, we think Nneka Ogwumike won the tournament’s most outstanding player, but they network didn’t announce it, so it was hard to tell. And... and, when they interviewed Nneka immediately after the game and the woman announcer was giving leading questions and trying to get her to say they wanted a national championship, Nneka diplomatically said they were taking it one game at a time and they are trying to win the next six. The announcer stupidly said, well if you win the next six, you win the national championship. Yes, Nneka knows that, she is trying to be humble and not be brash or engage in trash talk. C and R didn’t care for her tone! Give us the mike next time, hee hee.

Sad to see, part two, was the dismal crowd. C and R read somewhere it was about 2,600. Wish they would bring it back here. Well, you can say Stanford won the last PAC-10 tournament because next year it will be the PAC-12 tournament and probably a completely different format.

Congratulations to Stanford and watch Monday night to see all the seedings for the NCAA tourney.

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