Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stanford Starts Slow, Then Beats Washington

You want an analysis of Stanford’s 65-47 win over Washington?  Just dig up any article on their win Thursday over Washington State, rinse and repeat. Stanford started out slow in the first half, couldn’t get it inside to the dynamic duo of POY contender Nneka Ogwumike and her athletic sister Chiney, and couldn’t hit their outside shots (shooting just 23% from behind the line in the first half), and took a slight 27-20 lead into the locker room. Then half time came and Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer had a(n intense) talk with the team and they came out in the second half and hit threes to open up the middle and then Nneka took over inside. Another Pac-12 win for Stanford.

Well, there are some slightly different details. One, they couldn’t get it inside because of Washington’s Regina Rodgers. She is a big presence in the middle and very physical, often wrestling with Nneka for position. It was only when Rogers went to the bench with in the second half that Nneka could get untracked.

Let’s talk about Regina Rogers for a moment. She came in averaging over 16 points for Washington and is their best scorer. Stanford held her to 5 total points, mostly by one on one defense by Nneka and weak side help from others when Rogers touched the ball. But that’s not the point C and R want to talk about.

Let’s back up a bit. C and R missed the first half of this game (and quite a few other Stanford games this season) due to a conflict with the little girl’s team we coach. A commitment is a commitment. These middle school age girls play in the local rec league. They are not destined to play at Division I Stanford or probably play college basketball at any level. Most of these girls just play the sport in the winter, 8 weeks worth, and then forget about it. They are not year-round warriors or typical gym rats Six of the ten girls on our team do not play other sports at all. One girl has never played basketball before and we had to start with, first you dribble the ball when you move, you cannot keep running with the ball.

One of the girls who plays no other sports has a hard time catching the ball. She mentally is afraid of the ball, and that is tough to overcome. If she has never practiced it, and is fearful already, it makes sense she is behind some of the other girls. It is our jobs as coaches to put her in to a position to succeed. We tell our guards to dribble closer and bounce pass to our “centers” so the throw is not so high or scary coming at her head (she is tall and in that group, and this way we are not singling her out). We work on catching with her every practice. We have everyone take 5 minutes to throw the ball against the wall as hard as they can and the other partner has to catch it with both hands. You can try to make the partner miss, so we encourage them to make their throws hard and at an angle so the other partner has to move to catch it. Everyone loves this drill. 

In our game on Saturday, several passes came her way and she fumbled the out of bounds. One of the parents on our team loudly and sharply criticized her with each missed opportunity, to the point he was ridiculing her. She is 12 yeas old. He was holding up a yardstick that we often use to measure pro players, and applying it to someone not even close to that level. And he was picking on someone who is much younger, in a sense, unable to defend herself. Self esteem for a budding middle school girl is still developing and it is crucial it not be smashed by a thoughtless parent shooting off his mouth. We have asked our head coach numerous times talk to him, but as you can imagine, to no avail.

So how does this apply to Stanford basketball? Glad you asked. When we first started this blog about 5 or 6 years ago, we also used the pro yardstick to measure Stanford players. We would criticize, why is she in the line up, she’s useless. OMG, did you see that air ball last night? She calls herself a basketball player? Harsh, indeed. Then we got to know the players as young women off the court. And we met their parents. When you shake a dad’s hand and look him in the eye and tell them how much you admire their daughter, it is really hard to point out every flaw and mistake and bad shot she made in the game last night. So we backed off on personal criticism about the player. Now, don’t get us wrong, C and R are not going all soft on ya. We still worry when Nneka, Chiney and a third player have seven-eighths of the points and everyone else has zeros, kinda like this game.(this time it was Nneka, Chiney and Taylor Greenfield with 44 of the 65 points). We have just made a conscious effort not to criticize personally or so harshly. I think it was Tara VanDerveer who said something like, “our job as coaches is to minimize players mistakes, and that’s the very nature of 18 to 22 year old girls but to make mistakes.”

So back to the Stanford-Washington Game (finally, some of you are saying). Regina Rodgers is a big presence inside we reported. We mean, she is big. She is 6’3, and well, she is about 75 pounds overweight. All of it in her stomach. It limits her ability to move quickly up and down the court. How can someone play Division I basketball and be that out of shape? And are we using an unfair yardstick to even mention her weight as a factor? We have seen some players be a “little out of shape” meaning they have some extra pounds around the middle. And we have seem many different body shapes, some happen to be shorter and stockier the others, but this seems out of control. Would this be talked about if she were on the men’s team? Your thoughts, readers?

Anyway, back to the Washington game. In the second half, Stanford made an effort to hit threes to open up the middle. Freshmen Taylor Greenfield responded by hitting 3 three-pointers to spark a 17-3 rally. She would end up with 12 points for the game. Nneka scored most of her 17 points for the game in the time frame, and Chiney got 15 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double.

Really scary moment when Nneka got pushed out of bounds, crumpled to the ground and held her shin in obvious agony. The refs stopped play and sister Chiney was the first one back to help her up. Reading Nneka’s lips, she said plaintively, “she pushed me!” Quoted in the Stanford site, Nneka shed more light on the play, “I was pushed into a screen and kind of fell over someone’s leg. It T-boned my leg.” She was subbed out around the 9-minute mark.

But here’s the thing (And we feel like we can criticize coach VanDerveer, she’s a grown-up), Stanford was up by 18 when Nneka went out limping. Taylor Greenfield promptly hit a three with her on the bench and Stanford was up by 21. Yet 2 minutes later, Nneka is reinserted back onto the line up. Why? Why risk losing your star player? She was obviously limping after each play. She did go on to score 8 more points to get to her 17. She finally was subbed out with about a minute left, and the lead was exactly at 20 again. C and R are surprised and confounded coach VanDerveer would risk her, and the season, that way. 

Nneka did pass Nicole Powell for fifth on the Stanford all-time scoring list, and needs 5 more to take over 4th place. One might think Tara left in her for records, but watching Tara over the years, she usually does not care about the records, and coaches each game by inserting the best players to win the game (or rest some to give others experience.) Nneka usually averages about 29 minutes a game and is routinely rested in blowouts, when she could be kept into up her scoring average. So it’s strange she continued to play.

Hope she is better and not limping for next week’s home game against Cal.

Side notes:
Sarah Boothe did not dress for the game, we haven’t found out why yet. Freshmen guard Amber Orrrrange, recently inserted into the starting lineup, had a season-high 9 assists, 4 steals and 4 points.

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