Can UCLA make it three in a row against the Cardinal? That's the pre-game teaser posed by the Bruins' sports information office. Last year, after Stanford won a lopsided victory at Maples Pavilion, the Bruins prevailed at Pauley Pavilion and again in an overtime game in the Pac-10 Tournament final in San Jose.
Of course, the longer term record tells a different story. In March of 2000, UCLA pulled out a three-point victory in a game at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA post players Maylana Martin and Janae Hubbard were the hometown heroines. Three-point shooting by Stanford freshman guard Jamie Carey almost brought the Cardinal back, but a determined Bruin defense prevented her from getting a clear look in the final seconds. UCLA celebrated that triumph, but was to be frustrated for the next six years and 14 games - until last year's game at Pauley. In that game, the Bruins had three-world class athletes playing the perimeter. One of them, Lisa Willis, shot the lights out in the second half, and the Bruins held off Stanford for a 10-point win.
This year's UCLA team has only one of those world-class guards. That would be Noelle Quinn, now playing point guard and averaging 16 points per game. Quinn leads the team in assists but is not the team's top scorer. Junior forward Lindsey Pluimer is averaging 16.9 points per game and is a three-point threat (she made two against California). Senior forward Amanda Livingston is averaging almost nine points to go with sophomore center/forward Chinyere Ibekwe's eight points per game. This year's Bruins are a less guard-oriented and more post-oriented team. They are outrebounding their opponents by almost eight boards per game.
On Wednesday, the Bruins pulled out an overtime victory against California. That gives them an overall 7-6 record. Not impressive, you say? Well, most of their losses were to Top 20 teams, including Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Baylor. And UCLA always plays Stanford tough at Pauley. I have attended every Stanford/UCLA contest at Pauley for the past 10 years and have yet to witness a one-sided Stanford victory.
Going into this game, Stanford should have the post-advantage with seniors Brooke Smith and Kristin Newlin and freshman Jayne Appel. Interior post passing by Stanford has been impressive in the last few games, but there are questions. Appel committed freshman fouls and took herself out of the game early against USC. And Stanford's posts have to hit free throws to exploit the advantage. On the perimeter, with Stanford playing without All-American junior Candice Wiggins, there is no clear advantage to either team. Quinn can be expected to put up more points than any Stanford guard, but Stanford's freshman point JJ Hones along with junior wing Cissy Pierce and sophomore forward Jillian Harmon can collectively more than offset Quinn. Harmon has been Stanford's most consistent performer this season. She seldom leads in any statistical category, but she's an ever-effective scorer, defender, passer, and often leads or finishes a fast break. The past few games suggest that if Stanford wins, it will be keyed by a strong defensive performance. Stanford held USC to 46 points and Utah to 47 points. Except for Tennessee and Georgia, no one has scored more than 60 points on the Cardinal this year. UCLA should test the defense, but this is not the high potency offensive machine that UCLA had last year.
Another key for Stanford will be the hardly-a-freshman point guard JJ Hones. If she shoots, distributes and defends the way she did against USC, Stanford will be tough to beat.
Now on to the game: Stanford wins a hard-fought 68-59 victory.
The first half was a struggle, with no long runs by either team. Pierce put Stanford on the board early with a jumper and a lay-up. At the 10:46 mark, Stanford clawed to an eight-point lead on a put-back by Newlin. Early on, Smith was seen defending Quinn. A wise move perhaps, but one which put Smith, and ultimately all of Stanford's three-person post rotation, in foul trouble. UCLA's starting center Chinyere Ibekwe and off-the-bench center Monique Alexander (who played 22 minutes) were successful in collecting fouls. Stanford fans booed many of the touch-foul calls, and head coach Tara VanDerveer was moved to leave the bench to complain to the refs. One call on Appel, where she appeared to be standing still with hands straight up, particularly roused the visiting crowd and coach.
At the 6:47 mark, Harmon hit a jumper to put the Cardinal ahead 29-19. But by then, Smith and Newlin (with two fouls each) and Appel (with three fouls) were all on the bench. Stanford played sophomore center Morgan Clyburn (who also garnered two fouls by the 1:30 mark - she collected two rebounds and a blocked shot in eight minutes of play) and freshman forward Michelle Harrison in the posts. Quinn and UCLA cut the Stanford lead to five points with less than a minute remaining, but Harrison drained a three to give the Cardinal its 36-28 halftime lead.
The second half was a different game, with both teams going on runs. Stanford began with a 10-0 run and seemed on its way to putting this game away. Stanford led by 19 points at the 16:10 mark and by 23 points at the 11:10 mark. But UCLA came back via a full court press and some defensive steals that are a hallmark of head coach Kathy Olivier's teams. A 19-2 run cut the Stanford lead to six points by the 4:33 mark. After Hones hit a jumper to restore an eight-point lead, Smith committed a touch foul that was her fifth. She was replaced by Appel.
In the final minutes Stanford increased its defensive intensity, and freshmen Hones and Appel made crucial baskets. Hones added a free throw to give the Cardinal its nine-point victory.
The storyline for UCLA was the aggressive post play that got Stanford into foul trouble and the play of its senior star Noelle Quinn, who finished with a game-high 18 points (Pluimer added 15).
For Stanford, the defense (holding UCLA to 33% shooting) and the play of its underclassmen were pivotal. Stanford was led by Harmon with 14 points, Smith with 13, and Hones and Appel with 11 each. Pierce added eight and Harrison seven (all in the first half). Hones was impressive and unfreshman-like for the second game in row. She missed all six three-point attempts, but she gave the team nine of her points in the second half and five in the critical final four minutes of the game. She was a leader.
The game ball, however, goes to Harmon, who played great defense on Quinn, made 3 steals and generally was a steadying influence on this team. With Wiggins out and seniors Smith and Newlin out at crucial points in this game, it was the freshmen and sophomores, led by Beaver State standouts Harmon and Hones, who held this team together.
A final note: three-point shooting was a disappointing 2-of-12, but free throw shooting (6-of-8) was better than the previous game.
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