Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stanford in the Elite Eight

By now, everyone has heard the story of the Penn state coaches hanging out with Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer in the offseason to pick her brain on the triangle offense. Guess Tara forgot to show them the back door option.

Stanford played their best ball in a long, long time. Perhaps the long season wore on them, but the last quarter of the Pac-12 season was a little lackluster. Not today. And not when playing in Maples.

Penn State and the Stanford Women’s Basketball team were playing in the Sweet Sixteen, held on Stanford’s home court. Much has been written about having neutral sites, but the truth is fans don’t come out if their home team is not playing, the site loses a lot of money, and a lot of empty seats happen. So while this is an inelegant solution, the powers that be are still scratching their heads on how to make this better.

Penn State came out powerful and athletic, and kept it close for about half of the first half. Then Stanford got hot, All-Everything Chiney Ogwumike got going, and Stanford played shutdown defense. Stanford outscored Penn State 25-7 to end the half and held Penn State without a field goal for nearly six and a half minutes.

Bonnie Samuelson, Mikaela Ruef, Lili Thompson
Bonnie Samuelson, Mikaela Ruef and Lili Thompson play good D on Lucas (Photo Courtesy of Kelley L Cox )
Stanford’s Lili Thompson got the assignment to guard Penn State’s great scorer, Maggie Lucus. She averages about 21 points a game. Lili held her to 6 points in the fist half. And for the game? Six points. That’s right they shut her down in the second half. Lucas was scoreless. Tied her career low, too. She was 3-for-14 from the floor, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers. Her last points were nine and a half minutes left in the first. Wowsa! 

Penn State set screens, and even double screens, to try to free up their outside shooter Lucas, but nobody prepares for a game like Tara Vanderveer. Stanford knew the screens were coming and either got over them or switched personal on her so she never got an open look.

Shout out to Mikeala Ruef. Ruefie helped on a lot of those switches on Lucas and played intense defense. She also contributed 11 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. She was one of two Stanford players that got a double-double. The other was that beast Chiney Ogwumike. She had 29 points and 15 rebounds. That marked her 25th double-double of the season, and 83 for her career. Double Wowsa! Amber Orrrrange was second in scoring for Stanford with 18 points.  Lili Thompson and Mikaela Ruef both finished the game with 11 points. That’s four, count-em, four in double figures. Stanford will need that kind of effort from everyone from now on.

Shout out to former Stanford alums Nneka Ogwumike, Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Lindy Larocque and Sarah Boothe in the house. Noticed Toni Kokenis was sitting in the stands with them. Wonder if it was a NCAA rule she couldn’t be on the bench?

Come back to Maples Tuesday night at 6PM Stanford time when they take on North Carolina (Oh yeah, number one seed South Carolina didn’t even make it to the elite eight, go figure).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stanford in Sweet Sixteen

Give credit to Florida State University. They had a definite game plan on defense that gave Stanford trouble. But credit Hall of Fame and Olympic coach Tara VanDerveer with a better defensive game plan, even if her assistants all thought she was crazy.

To recap, the Stanford Women’s Basketball team was playing Florida State for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen that just happens top be held at Maples in PA CA (Palo Alto, California) and is Stanford’s home court.

A very athletic Florida State came out in what is called a pressure half zone. Around the three-point perimeter. Stanford couldn’t get the ball inside to all-everything Chiney Ogwumike and Stanford certainly couldn’t get open for a three. And oh, they were committing turnovers left and right that were resulting in easy scores for FSU. Soon Stanford was down 14-6.

Then Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said, let’s go to a standard 2-3 zone even though we have lived on playing man-to-man all year long. Well, we don’t know what she said exactly, but the Associated Pres reported that her assistants wanted to say in man and Tara insisted on the little used zone. Guess what, she outranked them.

Chiney Ogwumike
Stanford traps a Cheetah
(Photo: Associated Press )

Then Stanford went on 26-2 run to end the half 32-16. Really, it was a 30-2 run if you count the start of the second. FSU was held scoreless for nine and a half minutes in the first. Still not impressed? FSU only scored ONE basket in the final 12 and a half minutes. FSU was 7-28 in the first, missing 20 of 22 shots to end the period. Chalk that up to good Stanford defense and a coach who knows to stick to her guns when she is right.

Stanford’s unsung hero of the season, Mikaela Ruef, was matched up with FSU high scoring post player, Natasha Howard, even when in the zone. She was held scoreless in the first and scored her first basket of the game with 17 minutes left in the second. Howard ended up with nine points for the game, usually averaging 21.

Speaking of Ruef, she banged her head last game and was held out as a precaution. This game, she wanted it. She was diving after balls, taking charges and hitting the deck often and with abandon. She scored eight and grabbed seven tough boards.

Stanford’s leading scorer, Chiney Ogwumike, did not disappoint when she was left one on one, or alone under FSU’s basket. She had 21 points and nine rebounds. She also got help from her supporting cast. Freshman guard Lili Thompson added 14 points and Bonnie Samuelson had 11 with three 3-pointers (she even made a rare two). Team-wise, Stanford had 17 assists on 22 field goals. Now that’s good teamwork.

See everyone back at Maples on Sunday and Tuesday, rain or shine.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stanford Beats South Dakota, Advances

Well round one is done and in the books. The Stanford Women’s Basketball team with the #2 seed, beat #15 seed South Dakota 81-62 to advance to the round of 32 (which needs a cute nickname). One more win puts them back in the familiar territory of Maples for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight.

Stanford’s all everything Chiney Ogwumike scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. For Stanford to do well, she needs her supporting cast to help her. She did get some help from her starting guards. Amber Orrrrange had 10 points and nine assists and freshman Lili Thompson, playing in her first NCAA tournament game, added 11 points. Bench player and three-point specialist Bonnie Samuelson scored 18 points, all of them threes.
Chiney Ogwumike
Chiney Ogwumike helps Stanford to a first round victory
(Photo: Associated Press )

Things you won’t see in the box score:
  • With her first basket of the game, Chiney set the Pac-12 record for scoring. Then she fought for an offensive rebound and put it back up in traffic. She also holds the Pac-12 record for rebounding, too. In case you are wondering who she passed for the scoring record, it was former Stanford great Candice Wiggins (Still a Sentimental fave). Chiney now has 2,652 points and counting. 
  • Fifth year senior Mikaela Ruef went to the floor hard and hit her head on the court with five minutes left in the first half. She did not return. She was shown on the bench looking lucid and cheering. Hope there is not a concussion and she can play on Monday. 
  • Sara James, in a rare display of emotion, got a technical foul. Refs were not calling much contact during this game and when she was whistled for a foul that she thought should have been on South Dakota, she slammed the ball in frustration. She got T’ed up. 
  • Stanford did a good job defensively on South Dakota except for Australian guard Nicole Seekamp. She scored 22 points. Can't let the other team's star score.
  • Lili had to play with three fouls from early on in the second half. The freshie will need to play smarter and avoid foul trouble in the coming games. 
  • Amber Orrange’s great pass to an open Chiney all alone under the basket on a fast break. Awesome. 
  • Bonnie's threes…well you can get that in a box score but still...Bonnie matched her career high with six 3-pointers. All her points came off of threes. 
Next up is Florida State, which knocked off Iowa State. Could be a blessing in disguise, as Stanford would have had to play Iowa on their home floor. But then again, FSU might be pretty physical for Stanford.

The really bad news is that the game is set for Monday and might be on during work hours here on the Pacific Coast. Might have to BYOD. Bring your own device to work to watch Stanford.

Only five more games to go…

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stanford Upset by USC in Pac-12 Tourney

For the first time in the history of the Pac-12 Women’ Basketball tournament, the championship game will not include a Stanford team. Stanford fell to USC 72-68 in the semis of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Stanford Loses to USC
Stanford Loses to USC in the Pac-12 Tourney
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Other records that fell:
First time in 13-year history of the Pac-12 Tourney, no Stanford in the finals.
Stanford had not lost a conference tournament game since 2006.
(And will this affect their NCAA seeding?)

How maddening was this game?
  • Stanford held USC’s best player center Cassie Harberts to three points all game, until she scored 10 straight points in the final three minutes.
  • Cassie Harberts even fouled out with 23 seconds left but Stanford could not take advantage.
  • Mikaela Ruef was held scoreless for the first time in a long time, and her extra points could have helped.
  • Stanford was up by as much as six points in the second, but this time could not close the door.
  • Stanford shot 28% from the 3-point line (4-14) and USC was 50% (8-16). At one point they were shooting 60% from behind the arc.
  • Chiney Ogwumike scored 30 points and grabbed 21 rebounds to break her sister Nneka’s Pac-12 Tournament record of seven double-doubles, yet USC held Ogwumike scoreless over the final seven minutes. To make it worse, she tied Candice Wiggins’ school and Pac-12 career scoring record of 2,629 points, but she could not get that last bucket to pull ahead. Story of the game.
  • Guards Lili Thompson and Amber Orrange scored 13 and 11 points, Bonnie Samuelson added nine but Stanford only got five points from their bench. Taylor Greenfield scored all five, so only one bench player scored.
  • Stanford got it within two twice in the final minutes and had a chance to tie when the score was 71-68, but Stanford could not find their three point shooters and with time running down, only Chiney Ogwumike was able to shoot the 3-pointer with about two seconds left. It missed and game over. No bashing of Chiney, just other Stanford players could not get open or get the ball to the right people when it counted. 
Keep your heads up Stanford. Playing two games in two days without a strong bench is hard. Learn from your mistakes and get ready for the NCAA tournament. More adversity is coming your way, C and R know you will step up.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Stanford Survives, Beats Colorado

This was an ugly game. The only consolidation was the score, with The Stanford Women’s Basketball team putting together a better second half then the first, beating Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal by a score of 69-54 Stanford is lucky, though, every team so far (Utah Oregon still playing) that had the bye started out slow, and everyone lost except for Stanford (and what is with the 12 noon start?)

Chiney Ogwumike and Mikaela Ruef
Chiney Ogwumike,and Mikaela Ruef battle with Colorado (Ted S. Warren - AP Photo)
How ugly was it? Stanford was losing at the half and had a season-low 21 points in the first. That’s right. Usually Chiney Ogwumike has 25 points by half time. She was double-teamed virtually every time she touched the ball in the post, and was held to five-first half points. Good thing Colorado only had 23 points at the half. Both teams shot poorly in the first, Stanford at 24% and Colorado at 27%. Stanford only made one of ten 3-pointers in the first, too and went 6-19 for the game. They will need to step up that percentage.

The play of the game that started the rally in the second half? Probably Chiney Ogwumike’s three! LOL! That’s right ,the inside player got her third three of the year (her career?) and gave them the lead at 30-28. Stanford went on a 16-2 run and never looked back.

Spark plug of the game: Lili Thompson. She scored the next eight points for Stanford during that huge run after Chiney’s three, including a fallaway prayer while being fouled. The basket went in and so did the free throw, and everything went Stanford’s way.

Defensive spark plug was Alex Green, who came of the bench and got some key stops.

Colorado had confidence they could win, which helped them stay in the game in the first. They were also physical, which hurt them in the second. They committed 28 fouls, the most by an opponent all year. The foul shot difference was huge. Colorado made 6 of 9 free throws, and Stanford made 21 of 30 attempts.

For starting out so slowly, Stanford had four players in double figures, and two players in double-double figures. Chiney Ogwumike had 19 points, 11 rebounds and Mikaela Ruef had 10 points, 16 rebounds. Freshie Lili Thompson added 16 points with two made threes and Bonnie Samuelson had 15 points and three made threes. Chiney recorded her seventh career double-double in Pac-12 tournament play, tying the record. Who is that record holder? None other than older sister Nneka Ogwumike, who we should see in the Pac-12 studios starting Saturday.

Pac-12 note: Chiney Ogwumike’s 19 points increased her career scoring total to 2,599, bringing her to 31 points away from breaking Candice Wiggins’ Pac-12 record of 2,629. AND Chiney’s 11 rebounds brought her Pac-12-leading career rebounding total to 1,494. All kinda crazy records in this hear Pac-12 tourney.

Next: Stanford plays USC at 6 PM Saturday on the Pac-12 channel.

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stanford Shines in Senior Night

Senior Night for the Stanford Women’s Basketball team is always emotional. Some get overwhelmed emotionally. Some cry. Some feed off the energy and family in attendance and set a new career high during the game. That someone is Chiney Ogwumike.
Stanford Seniors
Stanford Seniors! Sara James, Mikaela Ruef, Toni Kokenis, Chiney Ogwumike (Photo courtesy of Pac-12 Networks )
A few years ago, Stanford broke with tradition of having the senior ceremony right before the actual game, due to several players being overcome with emotion and then not playing very good basketball. So after Stanford beat Washington by a score of 84 to 64 and officially won the Pac-12 regular season title, Stanford fans stayed behind and the players and families were introduced, speeches were made, and yes, tears were shed. But not from one Chiney Ogwumike. She said she wouldn’t cry, she is too happy, too happy for her four years at Stanford and all the rich and varied experiences it has brought her.

Chiney was honored along with Sara James (must be called Sejjie we learned), Mikaela Ruef, who is a fifth year senior and went through this last year as she was not sure if she was coming back, and Toni Kokenis. Toni retired last year after repeated concussions, yet choose to stay with the team and attend every practice and game even though she could no longer participate. Of course someone asked if she missed the game. The emotional answer was yes.

A big shout out to Mama Ogwumike for an eloquent speech on how thankful she has been for the Stanford family and how they had embraced her daughters. Yes, you can’t talk about Chiney Ogwumike’s Stanford career without mentioning older sister Nneka Ogwumike, who had a stellar Stanford collegiate career and was the number one draft pick in the WNBA and went on to win rookie of the year (and that last year with Nneka as a senior and Chiney as a sophomore was a thing of remarkable beauty to watch unfold). But Mrs. Ogwumike said when it is all said and done, it is the relationships that have been built that will be remembered and treasured forever. Dad Peter was reluctantly prodded into speaking too, and his booming voice showed where Chiney gets her heart and passion for playing. Don’t you want to be adopted by the Ogwumikes?

So in the game, as we mentioned, Chiney scored a career high and Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer let her, meaning she kept her in long enough to get number 37, a point over her old record before Tara took her out for a rousing standing ovation with two minutes left. And truthfully, Stanford needed her points AND her defense. Washington State was not going away, despite being down all game. They have two really good guards in Lia and Tia who did not give up, and really took it to the basket. I am sure WSU and the entire Pac-12 nation is glad Chiney is a senior.

More game facts:
Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike scored a career-high 37 points with 13 rebounds for her 13th 30-point game and 22nd double-double of the season. She scored 21 of those points in the first half. Chiney Ogwumike’s 37 points increased her career scoring total to 2,580, bringing her to 50 points away from breaking Candice Wiggins’ Pac-12 record of 2,629 career points. Chiney already has the Pac-12 career rebounding record, so every rebound builds the record. She currently stands at 1,483.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange scored 20 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists. She came just two points and one rebound shy of her respective career highs.

Junior forward Bonnie Samuelson scored 10 points for her fourth double-digit scoring performance over the past five games. She hit two 3-pointers in the game.

Speedy Freshie Briana Roberson continues her energetic play, scoring eight, which I believe ties her career high.

One disturbing trend, Stanford was 4-23 for 3-pointers. When teams key on inside player Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford must make outside shots to open things up and have a more balanced scoring attack. This will be imperative in the NCAA tournament, especially if Stanford wants to come back to Maples for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight.

Stanford is the 14-time Pac-12 champion and the No. 1 seed at the Pac-12 Tournament for the 13th time this year. They get a bye in Seattle and will start in the quarterfinals, facing the winner of Thursday night’s UCLA-Colorado first-round contest.

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