Sweet 16 Live Blog: SU 34, UGA 27 (Half)

Stanford women's basketball leads Georgia 34-27 at halftime of their Sweet 16 matchup in Spokane, Wash. Chiney Ogwumike leads the Cardinal with 18 points on 8-of-9 accuracy, while her teammates' collective 7-of-23 shooting struggles have kept the Bulldogs alive. Stay tuned for our second-half blog!

Setting the scene

ESPN shows us Stanford's pregame locker room, and I spy with my little eye that the coaching staff have written up five keys for tonight. The first appears to be illegible chicken scratch, so if we lose, let's blame it on that bullet point. Two through five, in order, are drive the paint, go to the basket, rebound, and be aggressive. We'll see how well rubber meets road soon enough.

To set the scene for those just tuning in to the women's squad now, let's run down the starting five. In the backcourt are guards Sarah James (five points, 16 minutes per game) and Amber Orrange (11 ppg, 146 assists nearly double any teammate's). Up top are three forwards: Mikaela Ruef (four points and seven rebounds per game), Joslyn Tinkle (12 ppg, team-high 66 blocks) and Chiney Ogwumike (22 ppg, 13 rpg, 58% shooting, all team bests). Good luck running down a roster's strengths in three sentences, but Ogwumike is the overall MVP and dominant post prescence in the mold of her sister, Nneka, or Jayne Appel before that, Orrange is the point guard and emotional floor leader the men so desperately need, and Tinkle is one of the most versatile players on the roster, bringing a little bit of everything. Those three each average over 30 minutes per game, and will go a long way toward determining the Cardinal's success tonight. Perhaps the most exciting sub is sharpshooting Bonnie Samuelson (whose younger sister, incidentally, is a key recruit Stanford is pursuing), whose 36 made threes and 107 attempts (for 35.3 percent accuracy deep) are both team highs.

Sleepless in Spokane

The first media timeout comes six minutes in, and it couldn't have come quickly enough for the Bulldogs. Stanford fans complain when their teams have early East Coast starts, but perhaps we got a bit of karmic retribution tonight, with a game that won't finish until nearly 11 p.m. Eastern. (Of course, it could have been crazier yet, as the Cal/LSU game will be going until 1:30 a.m. out East.) I suspect there's more to it than circadian rhythm – though don't try telling that to a Cardinal fan when we have a poor start out East – but whatever the case, the Bulldogs start shooting just 1-of-12. Meanwhile, Stanford is now 6-of-15 after Amber Orrange knocks down a toes-on-the-line two from the left corner. Stanford scored the game's first nine points, so though the Bulldogs have been playing the Cardinal evenly since, the ladies from Athens are in a hole. It's 15-6 Cardinal at the 12-minute media timeout.

They Belong Too

So those first nine points look even more important at the moment, as the Bulldogs have gone on a 13-4 tear and have their first lead of the contest at 22-21, with 6:07 left in the first half. (The flow is reminiscent of the UCLA game in which the Cardinal jumped out strong early, only for UCLA to rally back.) Stanford is dancing with the girl boy? who brought ‘em, as Chiney Ogwumike has 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting. With no Lady Bulldog starter listed at over 6-foot-3, the 6-foot-4 Ogwumike (who plays bigger yet) should continue to have a steady source of points inside, so Georgia's going to have be very efficient on the offensive end. 8-of-14 (after the 1-of-12 start) is pretty darn efficient for UGA, especially when that mark includes three three-pointers, and so we have a game of it after all. But Ogwumike now has 16 on 8-of-9 shooting, and those latest buckets have helped the Cardinal claim a 28-22 lead at the last media timeout of the half.

A bit on Georgia while we have a break in action. At No. 16 in the RPI, the Dogs are a prototypical four seed. They are 7-4 against top-50 RPI teams, but have struggled against the cream of the crop, going just 1-3 against RPI top-10 squads. In particular, offense has failed the Bulldogs against elite teams, as they have put up totals of 38 and 46 in their last two top-ten losses – and 38 in an inexplicable loss at sub-.500 Mississippi State a month ago. Georgia's best win was at Kentucky, 75-71, back on February 3, and the Dogs beat Montana by 10 and Iowa State by five to get this far in the Big Dance.

Let ‘Em Play!

Upon reflection, my first-half MVPs might by the officials, who have called only seven whistles the entire half, allowing the game to develop a nice flow. At the half, Georgia is just 3-of-7 at the line, while Stanford is +5 in rebounds and +1 in turnovers. Those stats suggest a moderate Stanford lead, and sure enough, it's 34-27 Cardinal after 20. Ogwumike has 18 on 8-of-9 shooting, while the rest of her team is just 7-of-23 for 16 points. I suspect neither Ogwumike's fire nor her teammates' ice continue to this extent the rest of the way, but however you've arrived at it, a halftime lead is a halftime lead. Stay tuned for second half live blog coverage, only at The Bootleg!

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