The Stanford Cardinal entered today's match-up with the Tennessee Lady Vols brimming with confidence. Stanford had just annihilated The University of Pacific by 61 points Friday night and they were playing in the bouncy, comforting confines of Maples Pavilion. This was the year that Stanford was going to return to national prominence. This was the year that senior Nicole Powell was going to show the nation that she deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as UConn's Diana Taurasi and Duke's Alana Beard. This was the year Stanford was going to end a six-game losing streak to Tennessee and exorcise their demons of the past. In three out of the last four match-ups between these two teams, Stanford had held a lead late into the game and watched as Tennessee stormed back to win. Stanford was looking to change all of that this afternoon.
However, it was not to be. Tennessee clawed their way back from an early 13-point deficit and eventually took the game in overtime, 70-66. Although Powell led Stanford with a game high 32 points and 16 rebounds, her offensive touch that came so easily early on was no where to be found in crunch time, as she finished 7-for-25 in the second half and overtime. She didn't get much help from her teammates either, with Stanford unable to score a single point in the last five minutes of regulation. A tough loss to swallow, this game will haunt the Cardinal for many years to come.
The starting line-up for Stanford consisted of juniors Kelley Suminski and Susan Borchardt in the backcourt, junior Sebnem Kimyacioglu on the wing, and Powell and junior Chelsea Trotter in the paint. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt countered with the backcourt trio of Loree Moore, Shanna Zolman, and Tasha Butts plus Shyra Ely and Ashley Robinson in the paint.
Tennessee got out to a quick 2-0 lead as Butts quickly drove into the paint for an easy bucket. Trotter then went to work for Stanford, as she scored four consecutive points for Stanford, and the Card took a 4-2 lead. The Lady Vols were playing a zone and Trotter was fed the ball early to break it. First off the bench for the Stanford was frosh center Kristen Newlin to bolster their interior play. Down by two at the 15 minute mark, Stanford started a 7-0 run that was capped off by a Powell three-pointer. During the run, Trotter showed her offensive prowess once again as Borchardt made a sweet entry pass to Trotter, who drop-stepped to lose Robinson to score an easy bucket. Things were looking good for Stanford at this point; they were pounding the ball inside and making Tennessee aware that their hosts were more than a three-point shooting team.
After Ely closed the gap to three points on a short jumper to make it 11-8, Stanford went on a 9-2 tear that made the Cardinal lead 10 with six minutes to go. During this run, Suminski showed she isn't just a long bomber, as she dribbled into the paint, shook off two defenders, and canned the jumper. Stanford closed out the first half with a 29-18 lead, holding the Lady Vols to an abysmal 23% field-goal percentage. Powell lead the way for Stanford, as she went 6-for-10 from the field for 14 points and seven rebounds. Stanford was smelling an upset and were only 20 minutes away from exorcising their demons of previous years.
In the second half, Pat Summitt made the necessary adjustments to get her team back into the game. The Lady Vols employed a full-court press which resulted in Stanford turnovers, quick shots and bad decisions. Stanford did not score until two minutes into the half, when Kimyacioglu fired a bullet pass to Powell, who made a quick turnaround jumper and got fouled in the process. Stanford and Tennessee continued to duke it out, though the Lady Vols were gaining more and more confidence along the way, as their shots were falling and Stanford was stone cold from all parts of the court. Tennessee got within two points on a huge Zolman three, and the Lady Vols were not backing down. They whittled the lead to two with pressure defense, offensive rebounding and solid ball movement. Stanford made some good defensive stops at times, but could not back it up with the necessary offense. It would appear that the Tennessee demons were coming out in full force, as Stanford started to play scared and relied on Powell too much.
With 32.2 seconds to go, Tennessee's Loree Moore drove to the hoop to apparently tie the game up at 56 a piece. However, she was called for the offensive foul and it appeared that the momentum had swung in Stanford's favor. Moore had fouled out of the game and Stanford had the chance to increase its lead to a two-possession game. As Suminski was attempting to get the ball across the court, Tennessee's LaToya Davis came out of nowhere to make the biggest steal of the game. She went all the way for the easy basket, and Tennessee had tied the game at 56. Nicole Powell attempted to hit the game winning shot in the waning moments, but it was not to be, as the ball clanked off the rim. Stanford still had a chance, as overtime beckoned, but Tennessee was clearly in charge.
Tennessee scored the first points of the overtime period and sprinted to take a four-point lead. However, a Powell trey and a Trotter three-point play gave Stanford the edge once again. Despite the efforts of the Cardinal, Tennessee proved to be too strong, as the Lady Vols capped the game with a 8-4 run to seal the deal and once again break the hearts of Cardinal fans in Palo Alto.
It was a tough defeat to swallow and undoubtedly, Nicole Powell will feel most of the heat from this loss. She attempted 35 field goals for the game, while the rest of the squad only took 30 shots. During the Lady Vols run in the second half, she started to look tight and many of her shots were short. She tried time and time again to be the savior, but the ball would just not fall in the hoop for her. While many will criticize Powell's uncharacteristic penchant to shoot first, pass later, it appeared that she was the only player who really wanted the ball when it counted the most. While her offense was not clicking for her in the end, she made many key defensive stops and grabbed defensive rebounds that would give Stanford another chance to score. Powell simply ran out of gas and as a result, her offense suffered. Like many great players before her, Powell found a way to help her team when she could not buy a basket. If she can put this game behind her, she will continue to dominate the competition.
Every player has a weaknesses and unfortunately, Tennessee was able to exploit Kelley Suminski's to the fullest. Her ballhandling was suspect, as she had difficulty handling Tennessee's full-court press, and it led to either turnovers or surrendering the ball to Powell. Suminski's miscue with 32.2 seconds was probably the worst of her five turnovers of the game, as it resulted in Tennessee sending the game into overtime. Despite all the negatives, Suminski displayed an overall game that will bode well for Stanford in the future. She scored all 11 of her points either posting up or driving to the hoop. Her dedication to improving her quickness and athleticism showed, as she was able to blow by her defenders and take the ball to the hole. She also played good perimeter defense for most of the game, another aspect that has improved in her three years on the Farm.
Beyond Nicole Powell's performance, the post play of Stanford was a strength that can be relied on in future games. Chelsea Trotter played a tough game, and she matched up well with the 6'5" Ashley Robinson and 6'3" Shyra Ely. She has some serious post moves, consisting of drop-step maneuvers and spin moves that can shake her defenders. She boxed out well, which lead her to grabbing six rebounds, including some key offensive rebounds off of her teammates' missed shots. It was a rough and physical game and she more than held her own ground. Azella Perryman, in just her second game of the season, made a quick impression with her tenacious rebounding and tough mentality. She got in great position and grabbed rebounds with ferocity. She looked a little bit rusty and awkward on offense, but that is to be expected. Her game is all about grabbing rebounds and it showed today. Perryman brings tenacity and toughness that every team needs, a player willing to get down and dirty and bang in the paint. When she is completely healthy, she will be hard to stop. Frosh Kristen Newlin also played some quality minutes for Stanford. While she is still inexperienced on the court, she will bring a lot to the team in terms of her overall play and composure. She has excellent fundamentals and is equally adept on offense and defense. Another asset that she brings is her ability to track the ball wherever it may be. There was one sequence in the first half where she blocked Brittany Jackson's drive to the hoop and still had the ability to maintain possession of the ball. When she does gain experience, she will be a force to be reckoned with.
Sebnem Kimyacioglu continues to struggle with her outside stroke. However, she made up for it with her defensive plays and heady court sense. In order for Stanford to advance deep into the post-season, she needs to find her stride again and hit her shots. She can be a lethal shooter when she is on, and opponents will have to respect her abilities. T'Nae Thiel played some heavy minutes, which is surprising due to her recent recovery from a stress fracture. She doesn't quite look in game shape yet, but that is to be expected as she, like Perryman, is playing just her second game of the season. Thiel wasn't able to contain Robinson and Ely today, but once healthy, she will be a defensive presence in the paint to be reckoned with.
Stanford still has the personnel and ability to reach the Final Four. Their play for the first 35 minutes indicates this. How Stanford responds to the adversity of this loss and how they deal with such a mental meltdown will determine just how far the Cardinal will go this March. A positive that can be drawn from this defeat is Stanford can hang with a Top 5 opponent without resorting to their (three-point) bread and butter. Though Stanford did fire off 21 attempts from beyond the arc, many of those shots were out of desperation in the second half. Stanford built their lead with good ball movement, nice inside play, and intense defense. If Stanford can somehow learn to overcome these late-game collapses, they will be difficult to contend with in the NCAAs. Texas Tech will be a difficult opponent to play next weekend, but they represent a good gauge at how well Nicole Powell & Co. can recover from this crushing defeat.
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