After the Tennessee game I thought, "Goodness gracious, Nneka Ogwumike just might be this year's national player of the year". After the nail-biter against Oregon State I thought, "Stanford's offense didn't look healthy". Somewhat disconcerting was the fact that the Ogwumikes took 46 of the team's 66 shots. The Ogwumike sisters scored 80% of the team's points. And Stanford's defense was nearly non existent". It became clear that Nneka Ogwumike was individually amazing, Chiney was a force, but the team still had some serious work to do. What if Nneka got in foul trouble, or worse, hurt and had to miss a few games? I was beginning to realize that the "Ogwumike Show" could only take Stanford so far. Stanford needed more.
This weekend was an important weekend for the Cardinal because a few Stanford players answered the call for more. Leading the way were forward Joslyn Tinkle and guard Toni Kokenis. Joslyn got her fourth start of the season and personally, I like her in the line-up. As an upperclassmen, Joslyn gets "it". She is more likely to be able to give a consistent performance because she has more experience playing at this level. In just 18 minutes per game she is the team's fourth-leading scorer and poured in 20 against Colorado. She provides important versatility and can give you minutes at the wing with her ability to shoot the three, however, she has shown the most value in the post with her ability to bang with the "bigs" and give the Ogwumikes a break for a few minutes. Of course, she is vulnerable when guarding smaller, faster guards on the wing- Taylor Greenfield is a better choice here. However Tinkle is effective playing "D" on opposing posts and blocking shots in the paint.
Toni Kokenis had 19 points against the Buffs. She is providing the only consistent scoring from smaller guards for Stanford. She has transitioned from the wing to the PG out of necessity and will be huge in bringing Amber Orrange along at the "1". She is the only other player besides the Ogwumikes averaging double-digit points and is leading the Pac-12 conference in Assist-to- Turnover ratio. Without Toni's 26-point performance in the Tennessee game and handling of the Lady Vols' press, Stanford would not have beaten Tennessee at home - regardless of the mind-boggling performance put on by Nneka.
I also want to commend the Cardinal for their "D" on Chucky Jeffery. She came into the game averaging 17 points per game and was held to just two points on 1 for 10 shooting. VanDerveer says it was a multiple-player effort. Well, kudos to all those players because that was a badly needed defensive display. It was an example of what this team is capable of with focus, effort, and execution of defensive strategy. The ability to focus and follow your rules for the entire length of a shot clock is a learned skill. It's that one second you relax that your player cuts back door or crashes for an offensive rebound. This game was the first step towards the establishment of defensive mental toughness for this year's Cardinal team.
Sometimes when I go to commentate on games, I think of Stanford. "Would Stanford match up well with this team", I ask myself? This weekend I watched #13 Miami practice before their game and thought, Stanford would have the advantage inside. However, would a Miami full-court pressure defense forcing 25 TOs per game disrupt Stanford? And who would guard returning ACC POY Shenise Johnson? Ok - you have an answer? Then who would guard the über-athlete Riquna Williams? Who would we trust to make sure Yderstrom didn't get any easy open threes? Our guards are very capable, but young. That's why the Colorado game relieved some of those concerns. It showed we are able to shut a scorer down.
Nneka, Chiney, Toni, and lately Joslyn are showing consistency. But we need more. Preferably a guard. A consistent threat that is more than one-dimensional. I can see the wanted ad now: Skills needed: Can help with pressure, knock down an open three, and make good decisions. Ability to play defense preferred. Experience not needed, but a plus. Realistically, our team may not find a consistent answer at the guard position this year. Instead you will see minutes that fluctuate for players based on who's hot and game-to-game matchups. Stanford will play guard-by-committee. The upside: more people get looks at the court. The downside: in an effort to find the right lineup, quick substitutions don't allow players to get warm on the court. You don't get the confidence in your role that comes with consistency. Younger players may not understand why what worked for one game isn't the right answer for another. The players are just as unsure of who will play that day as the fans are.
Freshman Taylor Greenfield was quite special against Tennessee - a beautiful complement to the outstanding play of Kokenis. Can she do that every game? She and Lindy Laroque will lead the way for the Cardinal's guard committee. But they'll need to bring on another PG to back up Kokenis for the pressure that's coming in March. Losing Jasmine Camp to injury was a big loss for that reason. Amber Orrange looked good against Tennessee's press. But she may be the easy target to sag off of and crowd the Ogwumikes. Bonnie "The Bomber" Samuelson is the only other guard getting significant minutes. She's doing a nice job at this point of her career. However, I can't see any team that's serious about winning failing to glue someone onto her and daring her to make a play at the rim. (Don't get me wrong- I love Bonnie's game! In fact I'm living vicariously through her ability to shoot the three without hesitation! (see next column: Poetry Corner).
People often ask me, do you think Stanford can get to the Final Four again this year? My answer is, Stanford has one of the best frontcourts in the nation, but they only go as far as their guards take them. Their chances are directly correlated with how much the guards improve. And it seems they're on the right track after this weekend's victorious road trip to Utah and Colorado.
Thanks for reading. Do you have something to say/ ask? Hit me up on Twitter @Rosgo21 .
About the Author: New Bootleg WBB columnist Rosalyn Gold-Onwude played guard for the Cardinal from 2005-2010 and was a team leader on four Final Four teams during her outstanding college basketball career, finishing up as Stanford Women's Basketball's all-time leader in games played (148). In addition to being named to the Pac-10 Defensive Team and being selected All-Pac-10 honorable mention as a senior, the Queens, NY-born Gold-Onwude was named the 2010 Pac-10 Co-Defender of the Year. She can be seen covering various Stanford sports for The Cardinal Channel.
Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, broadest, and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!