Das Boot

Like the German U-boats of the Wolfgang Petersen film, there is a threat beneath the surface attacking Stanford's flagship sports this fall. The latest standout fallen to a foot injury and captured by the boot is Stanford's brightest star. Candice Wiggins injured her foot Thursday night during the Cardinal's exhibition opener, though that did not stop Stanford from hammering Chico State, 103-57.

It is the new four-letter word this fall on The Farm: "boot."  After taking out the best players on the football team and twice sidelining men's basketball players in the preseason, the infamous boot has wrapped itself around the crown jewel of Cardinal Athletics.  Stanford Women's Basketball megastar Candice Wiggins injured her left foot in Thursday night's exhibition opener against Chico State at Maples Pavilion.  Her status is "day-to-day" pending results of an expected Friday MRI examination.

After missing the opening shot of the 2006-07 season, a three-pointer on the Cardinal's first possession, and an overall slow start to the game that included a two-minute substitution to the bench, Wiggins hit a pull-up jumper from 12 feet at the 10:31 mark of the first half to get on the board.  The shot put Stanford up 25-12 in what would be a blowout victory.  But 90 seconds later, Wiggins suffered both a turnover and a mysterious injury.  The Stanford junior said Thursday night that she may have stepped on her own foot.  The video suggests it may have come from pushing off her foot awkwardly.  Either way, Wiggins felt a sudden pain in her left foot at approximately the nine-minute mark of the first half.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer immediately saw the problem and called from the bench, "Candice, are you alright?"  Seconds later, at the 8:26 mark, Stanford called a 30-second timeout to bring out Wiggins.  She winced her way to the bench, and soon left for the locker room with trainer Marcella Shorty.  Wiggins emerged at the end of halftime with a boot on her left foot.  The two-time Kodak All-American is said to have suffered a "sprained foot," for lack of a more definitive diagnosis before the MRI results.  She did not return to the game and will not play in today's second and final exhibition game.  Her status for the start of the regular season and the Preseason WNIT 16-team tournament is unclear.

The injury strikes at the foot of the Stanford star, which has been a problem area for her the last two years.  Wiggins played both her freshman and sophomore seasons with plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the plantar fascia - fibrous tissue that connects the heel to the bones at the front of the foot.  She sat the breadth of the spring and summer, spanning four months, to rest and heal both of her feet.  Wiggins had practiced pain-free, wonderfully and without any incident thus far this fall.  It is unclear whether she tore/injured the plantar fascia of her left left, or if this injury is something completely new.

The frustration and fear is poignant for Stanford, losing their world-beating star guard in the first half of an exhibition game they won by an easy 103-57 margin.

"The worst thing is if something serious happened to Candice.  Then you wish you just took the day off," VanDerveer laments.  "But what can you do?  You can't bubble-wrap people.  She was playing hard and doing well."

"We're all just worried about her," says fifth-year senior Brooke Smith.  "We don't know much right now, but you're nervous for her.  I'm sure she will be fine.  She's a tough kid."

The emotional disruption, as well as the subtracted offensive and defensive force on the floor, of Wiggins' injury had an obvious impact.  The Cardinal led by 13-15 points around the time of the injury and substitution from the game, but the Division II and undersized Wildcats of Chico State scrapped to a single-digit deficit several times in the final six minutes of the half.

"I think in the first half, it took a while for everyone to adjust and get used to it and adjust.  When Candice goes out, everybody has to play a different role," Smith explains.  "But in the second half, I think you saw what everyone can do, and that's really exciting."

There were other factors at play for the slow start, as well.  Stanford had a towering size advantage at every position, with Chico State possession just one player taller than six feet.  Moreover, 6'1" post Renee Goldoff picked up two fouls in the first half and played just eight minutes.  Stanford had some difficulty adjusting to the smaller, but active and aggressive opponent.  Late in the first half, the Cardinal owned a surprisingly slim 15-13 rebounding advantage.  Both teams tallied four offensive boards in the opening stanza.

The Wildcats played to their strength, extending their defense to tenaciously pressure ballhandlers and shooters.  Stanford hoisted a mere two three-point shots out of 30 field goal attempts in the first half, and they shot just seven three-pointers in 64 total attempts in the game.  Chico State also picked up their scoring, hitting nine straight points without missing a field goal during a stretch late in the first half.

"I thought we started out a little bit slow.  We weren't aggressive, so they were making a lot of shots," VanDerveer observes.  "I thought our defense was kind of soft.  Then we picked it up and got more aggressive.  But Candice helps a lot on defense.  We could be a lot more aggressive defensively."

Chico State hit just eight field goals and scored 21 points on 26.7% shooting in the second half, while Stanford exploded.  The bigger and better team manhandled their Division II visitors with a 33-14 rebounding margin and 54-21 scoring advantage after halftime.  Without Wiggins, the Cardinal eclipsed 100 points.  In fact, the junior made just one basket for two points before her injury, which means the rest of the roster totaled 101 points - an impressive feat.

Despite Stanford's shortcomings in the early going, the low block was open for business, and the 6'3" Smith spanked Chico State early and often.  The Preseason Wade Trophy candidate scored 18 points in 14 minutes in the first half, with 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from the free throw line.  Stanford pulled away in the second, and Smith was prudently pulled to the bench after playing just nine minutes, but she still grew her scoring to 28 points on 11-of-14 and 6-of-9 shooting from the field and stripe, respectively.

Smith could have scored still more in the second half, but she moved out more to the high post while 6'5" senior Kristen Newlin worked on the block.  Smith spent the time working on her passing, which resulted in a pair of second-half assists.  Newlin scored a strong nine points in the second half and 12 for the game, in just 21 total minutes of action.

"I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win.  If that's scoring on the block, then I have to do it.  In the second half, we got New a little more on the block and I was playing on the perimeter.  Whatever is scoring for us, working and getting us going, I'm happy to do."

After a negative ratio of nine assists to 11 turnovers in the first half, Stanford executed more soundly in the second stanza with 10 assists against five turnovers.  Wiggins in a boot meant not only that Stanford lost its best scorer, but the junior was also manning the point guard position.  That thrust freshmen JJ Hones and Melanie Murphy, as well as senior Markisha Coleman, into bigger roles.  The trio combined for zero turnovers in the game, which was the most exciting statistic of the evening for VanDerveer, who says that Hones will start as Stanford's floor general while Wiggins is out.

"JJ is going to have to play.  Obviously with Candice not in the lineup, it's JJ now.  She has to be ready to go," the coach declares.  "I thought she did a really good job.  They were a gnatty team.  They were small and aggressive.  They were physical.  JJ is a big, strong player; she just took it to the basket.  A couple of times, she missed but made nice moves."

All three of the Stanford freshmen who played outperformed expectations.  First-game jitters were hard to find for the two floor generals and Michelle Harrison.  The 6'2" forward scored 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including one of Stanford's two made three-pointers, while grabbing a big eight rebounds and dishing three assists.  Harrison had moments where she lost her defensive assignment when trying to give help, but her man defense in the post was physical and unrelenting.  Her athleticism and feel for the game were apparent as well on offense.

Hones and Murphy scored one basket each from the field, but added nine combined points from the charity stripe.  Both players played fast and aggressive for Stanford in transition, while also in control.  Hones had a pair of particularly impressive half-court bullet passes that fed transition scores for Smith and Harrison, plus a sweet lob inlet pass for a Newlin score.  She tallied a game-high five assists.  Murphy made things happen on defense, including two steals and a dive onto the floor to tie up a loose ball that gave Stanford possession.

The fact that the freshmen were playing their first college basketball game and playing extensive minutes at point guard was further exacerbated by the absence of Stanford's super scorer on the wing in Wiggins, says Smith.

"It's a lot harder without Candice out there because she is always coming to the ball, looking for you and helping you out.  I think that made it harder on them tonight than if she had been in the game," the fifth-year senior explains.  "It's a big adjustment.  I think the point guard spot is one of the hardest positions to come in as a freshman and learn, but I think they have both done a great job.  They have all helped run the flow of the game."

Hones agrees that it wasn't easy.

"I think I was nervous the whole game - nervous about not messing up," the freshman admits.  "But I know if you play nervous, you are not going to perform to your best ability.  I was hoping that things were just going to work out.  If I made a mistake, just shake it off and be positive."

All in all, the frosh trio were playmakers and surprisingly poised for their combined 53 minutes.

"They just had to get a game under their belt, and they would do even better if Candice were out there with them," VanDerveer comments.  "I'm excited about how the freshmen did.  I don't think any of them looked like they were deer in headlights, which I have seen from freshmen."

"All of our freshmen are such talented players, as we saw today," Smith echoes.  "They all can do so much and really bring a lot to our team.  It's fun to play with them.

The jobs of the freshmen were made much easier by a pair of much-improved upperclassmen.  Coleman, who came to the team as a manager and then walk-on player before earning a scholarship, played 14 minutes of heady basketball.  She scored eight points, including an inspirational drive the length of the floor at the end of the first half.  Inbounding with just four seconds remaining, the diminutive dynamo bent time and space to reach the other hoop, hitting a difficult lay-in while being fouled with just 0.2 seconds on the clock.  Her teammates roared and rallied around the play, which signaled the beginning of the end for the visiting Wildcats.

Junior Cissy Pierce, who endured great struggles her first two years at Stanford, looked more the part of a veteran college basketball player than ever before.  She started at the shooting guard position and played the most minutes of any Stanford player.  Wiggins would normally play some of that off guard position with one of the other point guards alongside her on the court, but with her classmate clamped in a boot on the bench, Pierce played long stretches in both the first and second halves.  She was the player Stanford most often employed to pressure the ball coming across halfcourt, and she defended smartly.  Pierce was whistled for no fouls, while still exerting her athleticism and quickness.

On the offensive end, the explosive junior wing showed a maturity of shot selection we have never seen from her on The Farm.  Pierce hit 5-of-6 from the field and totaled 12 points (including 2-of-3 free throws).  She did not turn the ball over even once.

"I thought Cissy did really well.  I'm really, really excited about how she played," VanDerveer beams.

While we wait for the details on Wiggins' injury, the new-look Cardinal will have to adjust and move on.  Bigger and better foes await Stanford, including today at noon a Love & Basketball touring team that earlier in the week upset UCLA.


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