What, who'd you think was going to lead off the coverage? Chiney Ogwumike is averaging 24 and 20 in the conference tournament and started the scoring off tonight with a way-too-easy lay-up inside. Not a coach, but if I'm UCLA's, Ogwumike's the one person on the court I can't forget about, so that's a painful lapse. Also, Ogwumike has a two-inch edge on UCLA's star, 6-foot-1 Markel Walker. UCLA may have to get creative defensively to neutralize that edge, which would presumably open up the attack for the Cardinal's outside shooters.
After a Sarah James three, Ogwumike again finds herself open three feet from the hoop. Whoops. She hits a free throw and the Cardinal lead 6-0 less than two minutes in. Minutes later, Ogwumike draws a charge to preserve that 6-0 margin. Even by her standards, this has been a most impressive opening spurt.
Stanford is 3-of-5 while UCLA is 0-of-10 after their worst miss thus far, an airballed three. The score is 8-0 over five minutes in. On the season, Stanford opponents are shooting a horrific 31 percent overall and 23 percent deep, so while UCLA has missed a few open looks, the Cardinal are obviously doing a thing or two right as well on the defensive end.
Update: It's still 8-0, now seven minutes in, with UCLA now 0-of-12 with two turnovers. Walker, often Ogwumike's assignment defensively, is 0-of-4 with both of those turnovers.
Update: Just before the under-12 timeout, a contested UCLA baseline J – funny how they hit that shot but not the five open looks that preceded it – breaks their ice. Still, it's 11-2 after a Bonnie Samuelson three, and Walker has two fouls to boot.
A Peek Ahead
ESPN's Charlie Creme hasn't updated his bracket for the better part of a week. Instead, the most recent bracket I see has Duke as the two seed to Stanford's one seed in the Spokane Regional. Then again, Duke just routed UNC by 20 for the ACC title, so maybe they'd move up to a lower-ranked one seed, and Stanford would get one of the other twos – currently Cal, Kentucky and Tennessee. Georgia, Penn State, Maryland and that UNC team are the projected threes, so it's likely one of those eight squads that will represent the most serious challenge Stanford will have to overcome should it reach its sixth straight Final Four.
I allowed myself the peek ahead because UCLA is doing less than nothing offensively with Walker on the bench with two fouls. Walker comes back at the 9:06 mark and the score 12-4 Cardinal, so maybe action will pick up a little. Stanford, thanks largely to Chiney Ogwumike continuing to draw offensive rebounds and subsequent fouls, now has drawn eight fouls and will be in the bonus the remaining eight-plus minutes of the first half. The Cardinal should go after Walker and try to pick up her third.
After her hot start, Ogwumike is now just 1-of-4, both from the field and the free throw line, and picked up her second foul when Walker posted her up. Ogwumike heads to the bench with the score 14-4 at the 7:54 mark. You have to wonder, in her third game in as many days, whether fatigue is a factor.
At any rate, UCLA is doing better without Ogwumike out there, logically enough. It's just 16-11 Cardinal as Josslyn Tinkle gets called for an off-ball offensive foul, Stanford's second such whistle of the half. But Amber Orrange has Stanford's biggest bucket thus far, with her steal leading to an uncontested layup. The score pushes Stanford's lead back to a more comfortable seven, 18-11, with under six to go in the half.
Stanford's a different team without Ogwumike on the court, and UCLA is now able to go inside in a way they hadn't with the Stanford star prowling the paint. Still, Samuelson hits a three, Stanford forces a steal and has a block on the defensive end, and the Cardinal are treading water without their star in there, which is all you can ask for. It's 21-15 Cardinal at the under-four timeout of a low-scoring half.
Final UCLA Spurt
Samuelson has six on her two threes, and no other player on either team has more than four. Make that nine for Samuelson, now 3-of-4 deep, as Stanford leads 24-19 with 2:35 left in the half. Still, the Bruins had four points in 12 minutes with Ogwumike on the court, and now have 17 points in six minutes without Ogwumike. Stanford's scoring has picked up to keep the Cardinal in front, but that is an ugly difference.
Also, benching Ogwumike because of her two personal fouls may be counterproductive. She is a foul-drawing machine, and she may well have drawn No. 3 on Walker had she been in over the last several minutes. Instead, without Ogwumike down low, UCLA has driven the lane and picked up several fouls on other Stanford players, and the Bruins are now 8-of-8 from the line. The Cardinal lead just 26-25 after a long UCLA two, and the take their first lead moments later thanks to a Nirra Fields jumper, 27-26. The Cardinal came apart on both ends of the court without Ogwumike, and as Ogwumike sat the last eight minutes of the first half, a once-dead UCLA now has second life.
UCLA 27, Stanford 26 (Halftime)
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