Before the 2004-2005 basketball season began, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer was not worried about the graduation of three-time Kodak All-American Nicole Powell. Not only did the 7th-ranked Cardinal return five experienced seniors, but they also welcomed the addition of post player Brooke Smith and guard Candice Wiggins. And without the services of the two newbies, Stanford would not have been able to overcome the athletic play of 12th-ranked Texas Tech on Sunday at the Leavey Center. Despite going scoreless for 8 minutes and 35 seconds, Stanford still managed to hold on to a slim 61-58 victory, showcasing the Cardinal's toughness and tenacity. The Lady Raiders overcame a 17-point deficit to almost pull off the upset, as point guard Erin Grant put on an offensive display, complete with pretty jumpers and quick drives to the basket. But in the end, a career-high 22 points from Smith and clutch shooting by Wiggins proved to be too much for Texas Tech to handle.
The starting five for Stanford consisted of senior Kelley Suminski and freshman Candice Wiggins in the backcourt, senior Sebnem Kimyacioglu on the wing, and senior T'Nae Thiel and sophomore Brooke Smith in the paint. Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp countered with guards Erin Grant and Chelsey Dabbs, forwards Alesha Robertson and LaToya Davis, and center Cisti Greenwalt.
Texas Tech controlled the opening tip and but they were unable to convert a basket despite getting two quick offensive rebounds. Suminski took Stanford's first shot, as Thiel found the 5'9" guard all alone underneath the basket. Although the ball rimmed out, Kimyacioglu gave Stanford a new shot clock with the offensive board. The Cardinal first got on the scoreboard at the 18:44 mark when Smith made a soft left-hook about eight feet from the basket. This would begin a 12-0 Stanford run, as a stingy Cardinal defense, coupled with plain bad luck for Texas Tech, resulted in the visitor's dry spell. However, the Cardinal's early scoring spree was mainly a result of Smith's inside play. By the time Texas Tech got on the scoreboard with a free throw at 14:31, the Marin County product had posted eight of Stanford's 12 points.
Stanford would continue to pound the ball inside and there was nothing Texas Tech could to do stop the entry pass. Good ball movement and two fouls picked up by Greenwalt midway through the first half enabled the Cardinal to either keep on going back to Smith or have other players make shots in the paint. Whether it was a Suminski drive or a Thiel lay-up, the Cardinal controlled the pace of the game. With a lay-up made by sophomore center Kristen Newlin, the lead had ballooned to 29-12 with five minutes remaining in the first half and Stanford appeared to be cruising to yet another double-digit victory. However, Marsha Sharp had her troops thinking differently, as the defensive intensity picked up and the Lady Raiders kept on chipping away at the Stanford lead. Behind 18-32 with just over two minutes remaining, Erin Grant came alive and took over the ball game. The 5'6" floor general decided to force the issue herself and scored the final four points of the half, all on free throws. Her aggressiveness paid off handsomely, as her drives to the hoop resulted in freebies that she calmly knocked down. By the time the horn sounded, signaling the end of the half, Grant had her teammates believing a comeback was possible.
The beginning of the second half opened up with Texas Tech scoring on three out of their first four scoring opportunities, and the 6-0 run forced VanDerveer to call a timeout just 1:30 after halftime. Wiggins tried to create some scoring chances for herself, but both of her early drives were unsuccessful, as one badly missed and the other met the hands of Greenwalt. The Cardinal were coming apart at the seams and nothing seemed to be working for them. The Lady Raiders keyed on Smith, forcing her to take ill-advised shots, and Stanford was unable to go to their hot-hand. Suminski would end Stanford's scoring drought with a free throw at 14:52 to extend their lead to 33-30, but it was not enough to stop Texas Tech. Even though the 6'5" Greenwalt would pick up her fourth foul five minutes into the second half, Texas Tech whittled away at their deficit until Grant nailed a triple to give her team the lead for the very first time in the ball game, 37-35. A lay-up by Dabbs would extend Tech's advantage to four points, giving the Lady Raiders a 39-35 cushion.
Despite the downhill spiral the Cardinal found themselves to be in, all hope was not lost. They still were playing hard and contesting every Texas Tech field goal attempt. Stanford would battle back and take the lead after Smith banked home a lay-up on a pretty spin move to make it 40-39 in favor of the home team. However, the Lady Raiders would answer right back on the very next play, as Dabbs beat everyone down the length of the court and received a long pass from Grant and made the lay-up. The two teams would continue to trade buckets until Grant drove into lane, making the basket and drawing the foul on Wiggins. After hitting the ensuing free throw, Texas Tech built a two-point lead that would grow to four points, after freshman post Erin Myrick converted on the lay-up. Things did not look promising for Stanford after Wiggins picked up her fourth foul with 7:51 left to go on a careless hip check. However, VanDerveer risked losing her most athletic player and left her precocious freshman on the floor, hoping her gamble would pay off in the end.
With five minutes remaining in the game, Stanford was trailing 49-52. And then Wiggins went to work. The 5'11" guard shook off an early poor offensive showing to seal the game for Stanford. After having a hand on a Suminski drive and a Smith lay-up, Wiggins drove hard to the basket with 2:09 to give Stanford a 57-56 advantage. However, it would be short-lived as forward Alesha Robertson scored on a jumper to put the Lady Raiders ahead 58-57. Wiggins gave Stanford the lead for good with another drive to the hoop at the 1:34 mark. Texas Tech would not be able to respond in the waning seconds, as Thiel was fouled with two ticks left to end any hope of a comeback for the Lady Raiders. Two made free throws by Thiel accounted for the final score of the match, 61-58.
Going into the match, the Cardinal's game plan was clear: pound the ball into the paint and get Greenwalt in foul trouble. With a post rotation going four players deep, there were plenty of fouls to give. As Texas Tech discovered early on, Brooke Smith would be the go-to player for Stanford, using her quick footwork and spin moves to score baskets. However, Smith was the only post player to establish herself offensively among the Cardinal's vaunted frontcourt. Kristen Newlin, T'Nae Thiel, or senior Azella Perryman were not as effective or as consistent as Smith in scoring points. With Smith picking up three fouls early on in the second half, Stanford really did not have anyone to turn to in the paint. However, Smith played a smart game the rest of the way and was instrumental in leading the Cardinal comeback.
Kelley Suminski played a smart game as well. She was solid on defense and her offense proved that opponents can not just regard her as an outside shooter. The 5'9" guard drove to the hoop on several occasions and it jump-started Stanford's sagging offense in the second half. While she only attempted two three-pointers, normally her bread and butter, Suminski discovered the gaps in the Lady Raider defense and made them pay dearly for them.
During the game, Candice Wiggins exhibited a variety of ways to score, showing why she will be a future star on The Farm. Her athleticism was on full display throughout the afternoon, giving Stanford fans an indication of her potential. After a missed Texas Tech field goal attempt early in the first half, Wiggins beat the entire Lady Raiders defense down the court to receive a half-court pass from Suminski to convert on the easy and uncontested lay-up. Her speed and hunger to run will give new meaning to transition offense. However, that's not the only way she can score. On one particular play, the La Jolla, Calif. native swished a sweet turnaround jumper near the basket - with a hand in her face. And those two driving baskets towards the end show that the freshman is willing and ready to take charge of the offense when necessary.
As a whole, Stanford played well. Their defense did a good job at holding Texas Tech to a 26.1% shooting percentage in the first half, though part of it was attributed to nerves and tightness on the part of the Lady Raiders. However, Stanford could find no answer for Erin Grant, as she shredded the Cardinal defense to pieces, using her athleticism to break down her defender and either shoot the jumper or take it to the hoop. Without senior Susan Borchardt in the line-up, Stanford will have problems containing speedy guards like Grant, as Borchardt is usually assigned to defend the opponent's best guards. When Borchardt is given the green light to start competing again, you can bet VanDerveer will be resting a whole lot easier.
The absence of Borchardt also had an effect on the Cardinal offense. Suminski played point guard for most of the game, with Wiggins filling in at times. However, Suminski is a natural shooting guard and Wiggins is just learning the position. So when Stanford endures such a dry spell spanning both halves, having Borchardt on the court would have been a tremendous help in igniting the offense. With each empty possession, Cardinal players were taking quick and ill-advised shots, enabling the Lady Raiders to gain more confidence as the game wore on. The fact that Stanford built a huge lead and then let Texas Tech back in is reminiscent of Cardinal teams of recent years. They would never be able to put the hammer down on an opponent, and if Stanford is to advance to the Final Four this year, they need to learn and cultivate that type of mentality. However, one of the more positive things that resulted in the come-from-behind victory is that this team is full of heart and grit. They did not let losing a 17-point lead affect their play down the stretch and players such as Smith and Wiggins stepped up big-time.
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