Sunday, November 13, 2011

All Ogwumike, All the Time

C and R step into a well-warmed Maples to get a look at their beloved Stanford Women’s Basketball team in person, playing their first game at home, second of the season. It will also be the first regular season game for All-America Nneka Ogwumike, who was held out of their first game with an “unspecified upper body injury.”

We see the team warming up and an extra Cardinal Red pad on Nneka’s right elbow, so perhaps that is the source of the mystery injury. We are looking forward to seeing sisters Nneka and Chiney play together for the first time in the regular season this year. We also see Gonzaga warming up, for the first time with out standout guard Courtney Vandersloot, who graduated to the WNBA. We will see if there will be a drop off in scoring.

The game starts and Gonzaga is the impressive one in the opening minutes. They have such strong fundamentals and are quick, and push the ball in transition. Also, it doesn’t help that Nneka is flat and missing shots. And it doesn’t help matters even more when a minute and a half into the game Chiney Ogwumike picks up her first foul and gets VanDerveered (benched by head coach Tara VanDerveer).

Around the 16-minute mark, during an official timeout, Stanford brings out on the court Trisha Stevens, who played on the 1992 National Championship team and was just recently inducted into the Stanford Hall of Fame. The video montage of her stats is mind-blowing. Around the same time, freshmen Amber Orrange (not a typo) makes her first appearance in front of the home crowd.

Then the sisters get busy. As R notes, the sisters own the floor, they own the paint and they own the rebounds. At one point, Nneka is thrown an alley-oop pass and she catches and shoots it before hitting the ground. Not a lot of women’s players can pull off that feat (did anyone clock her hang time?). However, the sister’s scoring and rebounding ability, and Nneka’s jaw-dropping plays are tempered by rookie mistakes. Some of them by the freshmen. Guard Toni Kokenis, a sophomore with a lot of playing time last year under her belt is also passing it away. To be fair, Gonzaga is quick, smart and anticipating where Stanford is going to go with the ball. Whatever the cause, Stanford will end up with 16 turnovers for the game, 10 in the first half alone.

When Nneka takes a well-deserved break around the 7 and a half mark, she has 13 points and Gonzaga has 13 points. The score is 22-13, mostly from Chiney and Toni scoring when Nneka doesn’t. Nneka would have a double-double by half time. One notable score was Jos Tinkle (Bells) scoring on a nifty spin move near the basket on a fast break, breaking ankles and showing us some Show Time. Alas, that would be the only points she scores for the game.

Before the half, though, it is Gonzaga that makes its run. In the last 6 minutes, Gonzaga scores 18 while Stanford can only muster 6 points. Gonzaga would tie the score at 29 with 2 minutes left.

Stanford tries to go for one last shot with 30 seconds left and loses the ball out of bounds with 12 seconds left. Quick minded Tara VanDerveer inserts quick-hands Amber Orrange into the lineup for defense. The freshmen promptly fouls and Gonzaga sinks both shots to go up 32-31 at the half. Tara VanDerveer is going to go bald pulling hair while dealing with these freshmen! Media sources on Twitter not related to Stanford are drooling, hoping for the upset.

At the half, Stanford brings out Trisha Stevens again, plus her teammates from the 1992 National Championship to be honored. The video board shows they played at a high level even back then.

At the start of the second half, Stanford comes out with much more intensity, hustling and diving for loose balls. C and R are sure a “pep time talk” by Tara helped spark that. Many hitting the deck, most notably Toni and Lindy LaRocque.

Then it becomes the Nneka and Chiney show. Really, it wasn’t until Toni Kokenis hit a 3 pointer at the 13-minute mark that any other Stanford player scored not named Ogwumike in the second half. They could not stop Chiney inside. Nneka was even falling to the ground on a hard foul, threw the ball up and it went in. The second jaw-dropping play occurred when Nneka picked the pocket of a Zag guard and raced for the lay up, nearly stumbling for running so hard. As she neared the basket on the left, she faked a hard pass to her right. The Zag guard totally turned around to harass the streaking Stanford player on the right, who DIDN’T have the ball. Nneka had kept it and went up for an uncontested lay-up. Brought Maples to their feet.

The sisters would have had more points, but twice Nneka passed up a basket to try to hit Chiney. Gonzaga tried to double-team at least one of them, but really, they should have put all five on the two. No one for Stanford looked like a scoring threat, which, after basking in glee at their scoring, is really, really troubling for Stanford. Three point shooting was a non-existent threat, the team just 3-13 for the game.

Oh wait, was that Candice Wiggins who just walked by? Candice Wiggins in the house! Our section yelled great things to her and she acknowledged us all! She couldn’t get her championship here, but finally got one in the WNBA. She is well loved here at Stanford.

When Nneka finally came out of the game for good at the four and a half minute mark, the score was 69-51. Nneka would take a seat with 33 points and 18 rebounds.

As Stanford was pulling away, Tara put in four freshmen with center Sarah Boothe. With one minute left, Tara calls a time out and yells at her freshmen to “Get over here,” her face red. She was mad. We tell ya, those freshmen will be the death of her yet!

Hats off to Gonzaga, they didn’t quit and they didn’t back down when Stanford made a basket. Final score was 76-61.

Chiney had 19 points and 6 rebounds. Adding Nneka and Chiney’s points together, and you get 52 of Stanford’s 76. Chip in starting sophomore Toni Kokenis’ 14 and other teams are going to figure out who NOT to guard, which is everyone else on Stanford’s team. Troublesome indeed.

Still, it is hard not to be happy about the remarkable performance Nneka had, coupled with Chiney’s rebounding and scoring on the weak side. Now, if Stanford can just get a few more players involved.

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