Thumping in the Thunderdome

Stanford traveled south Thursday for a non-conference meeting with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. The weather was mild in beautiful Santa Barbara, with chances of severe storms around 7pm predicted in the direct vicinity. Rain did fall, in the form of three-point field goals from junior Candice Wiggins, and the Gauchos found out the hard way that lighting can strike the same spot 32 times in a row.

On February 1, 2007, the eighth-ranked Stanford Women's Basketball team traveled south for an out of conference match-up with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. The weather was mild in beautiful Santa Barbara, with chances of severe storms around 7 pm predicted in the direct vicinity of UCSB's Event Center. Rain did fall, in the form of three-point field goals from junior Candice Wiggins, and the Gauchos found out the hard way that lighting can strike the same place 32 times in a row.

Senior Kristen Newlin won the opening tip for the Cardinal, and Wiggins dropped her first three-pointer of the night, after the defending Gaucho fell down trying to guard her.  Newlin got on the board with a bucket, assisted by sophomore sensation Jillian Harmon.  Trailing by five points, the Gauchos scored their first basket on a jumper that was preceded by some nice passing that ate up the shot clock.  Wiggins assisted Harmon for two more, and fifth-year senior Brooke Smith ate up two defensive rebounds to keep the Gauchos from second chances.  However, UCSB would steal and convert, cutting the Cardinal lead to just three.  Smith put back a Newlin miss, yet the Gauchos answered, draining a three-pointer to stay within two points.  Smith was fouled while shooting and sunk both her free throws to extend the lead to four points.  The Gauchos dropped another jumper, and the Cardinal entered the first media timeout leading 11-9.

Junior Cissy Pierce and freshman Jayne Appel entered the game, replacing Wiggins and Newlin.  Appel got on the score sheet quickly with a monster block and rebound on the ensuing defensive possession.  Unrecorded on any stat sheet was Pierce's relentless harassment of whichever Gaucho brought the ball down.  Pierce was fouled while shooting, and hit the front half of her free throw attempts.  Another Gaucho miss was followed by a bucket by Appel, set up by a great Smith pass.  With the score Stanford 14, UCSB 9, the Gauchos dropped two baskets on two possessions, defending the Cardinal well on the intermediate possession.  With the Cardinal lead down to just one point, freshman JJ Hones fed a streaking Pierce, who laid it in with ease, causing Gaucho coach Mark French to burn a timeout to talk things over with his team.  I don't know if they listened.

Wiggins and Newlin replaced Hones and Appel at the end of the timeout, and the Gauchos used their post-timeout possession to turn the ball over.  The Cardinal continued their eight-point run with great defensive pressure and total control of the glass, which saw Smith recording two blocks, Newlin scoring four points and two rebounds, Wiggins with an assist and a rebound, and Harmon with two points and a board of her own.  Finally, the Gauchos woke up and started to score points during a mini-run that cut the Cardinal lead back to three.  Hones and Appel replaced Harmon and Newlin at the second media timeout, at 9:46 remaining (this is noteworthy because the second media timeout comes at play stoppage after the 12:00 minute mark, and it is tells of the non-stop back-and-forth frenetic play of both teams at this point of the game).  Appel was fouled while shooting and made the back half of her two free throws.  Harmon returned for Pierce, and Appel scored another bucket on a nice pass from Wiggins.  Appel stole the ball but committed her first foul and then turned the ball over just after bringing us to the third media timeout at the 8:00 minute mark.  Stanford 25, UCSB 19.

After another smooth three-pointer from Wiggins, off a nice pass from Smith, things got ugly for both teams.  For the next 1:23, neither team could score, even though Stanford was dominating the offensive glass.  The lid came off the basket when Appel muscled in a bucket from the paint, compliments of a great high-low pass from Hones.  With Stanford leading 30-19, the Gauchos caught fire and rattled eight straight points off during a run that was filled with Stanford misses, fouls, and turnovers.  With 3:47 remaining, it was Head Coach Tara VanDerveer's turn to talk things over with her team, with a timeout called.  I'm pretty sure the Cardinal listened.

Now, I don't know what VanDerveer told her team.  Maybe she reminded them that she recruited them for their offensive prowess.  Maybe she reminded them that they are one of the best defensive teams in the land.  Maybe she threatened to have them run lines right after the game, in the UCSB gym.  Maybe she showed them the weather forecast from the newspaper, and pointed at the sign proclaiming the building "The Thunderdome," because for the next 9:36 of the game (spanning both halves), lightning struck 10 times in a row on the west rim, followed by 22 times in a row on the east rim.  The Cardinal came off the timeout and gave the Gauchos 32 reasons why Stanford is ranked eight in the nation and first in the Pac-10 standings, and why the Gauchos are in the middle standings of the Big West conference.

The Cardinal fired off 10 consecutive points to end the first half, a run highlighted by the sequence of freshman Michelle Harrison streaking out to the perimeter and elevating high to swat a Gaucho three-point attempt, which found its way to freshman Melanie Murphy, who pushed the ball upcourt strong.  Murphy found herself racing across the timeline with Wiggins to her left, Harrison to her right and three backpedaling Gauchos.  As Murphy entered the top of the paint, she dipped her shoulder left, looking at Wiggins, causing the Gauchos to collapse toward the two-time All-American.  However, Murphy fired the ball perfectly to the right, never looking at her target, the streaking Harrison.  Harrison laid it in for an easy basket, and all of the air left the Thunderdome.  Additionally during this run, Wiggins got the front half free throw of a fouled shooting attempt; Murphy converted a three-point play after being fouled while shooting; and Newlin got a pair of buckets, one as time expired in the first half.  Stanford 40, UCSB 27.

The first half stats reflected the Cardinal dominance in nearly ever aspect of the game.  Stanford had 24 points in the paint, to UCSB's 10.  Turnovers were nearly even with six for the Cardinal and seven for the Gauchos.  Second chances points, points converted from offensive rebounds, were overwhelmingly in Stanford's favor, with 13 putbacks, to just two for UCSB.  Most telling of Stanford's chances to go deep into the NCAA Tournament, is the points recorded from bench players, with Cardinal non-starters scoring 15 points, and the Gauchos recording only three bench points.

The punishment continued with 22 consecutive Cardinal points to open the second half.  The Gauchos could not stop the furious storm that swept over them, as Stanford bullied UCSB into forcing seven turnovers and just four field goal attempts, all misses.  Stanford ran the length of the floor quicker and better, and two UCSB timeouts could not stop the destruction or give the Gauchos a rest.  The Cardinal extended their lead to an unthinkable 35 points before the Gauchos converted a field goal attempt at 14:11 left in the second half by sophomore guard LaShay Fears.  Fears was fearless at this point, scoring 10 points on four consecutive possessions for the Gauchos, including two consecutive three- point field goals (Gaucho junior Chisa Ononiwu also got a bucket).  What should have been a game-changing rally for the Gauchos, an advantage to be gained during this brief moment of calm when the eye of the hurricane passed overhead, was spoiled after each Fears' field goal, when the Cardinal would answer by running past the gassed Gauchos for uncontested lay-ups.  Harmon and Wiggins got in on the easy buckets, and Smith got greedy with two before the media timeout at 11:56.  The fury of the first eight minutes of the second half completely exhausted UCSB, with the Gauchos visibly tired and unable to keep up with the better conditioned Cardinal.  How tired were the Gauchos?  During this 28-12 run, one Gaucho guard took the ball in, dribbled in the corner, drew in a deep breath, and stumbled back a step before proceeding.  Stanford 60, UCSB 39.

The Gauchos got to within 25 points on a basket by UCSB freshman Meagan Williams and a pair by Ononiwu, and the Gauchos induced Appel to foul out with 5:50 to go in regulation, but the Cardinal answered with an 11-2 run to get to the 4:06 mark, owning a 34-point lead and the game in hand.  The referees decided that the Gauchos cheated for the first time in the second half at the 2:22 mark, and handed them their first foul to the Cardinal seven.  With the rest of the Stanford bench getting valuable minutes, UCSB would whittle the margin back to 25 points, but time expired and the storm's fury had passed.  Stanford 84, UCSB 59.

Stanford got in the hardware business against UCSB; they owned all the glass and all the paint.  The Cardinal wrecked the boards 44 times to the Gauchos 25 rebounds, and Stanford gave the Thunderdome an extreme home makeover with 50 coats of paint (50 paint points, to just 18 from UCSB).  The Gauchos had four players in double figures, shot a respectable 43.5% from the field, and forced 18 turnovers, but that could not overcome the precision attack of the Cardinal, who shot 53.5%.  And the suffocating defense that produced five blocks and a wide rebound margin, specifically 29 Cardinal defensive rebounds to just seven Gaucho offensive rebounds.

Brooke Smith captured a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds), and Kristen Newlin missed her own double-double by one rebound (10 points, 9 rebounds) in just 21 minutes of play.  The Doppler Radar player of the game is lightning rod Candice Wiggins, who rained down 21 points on the Gauchos and blew in six assists with no turnovers.  Next up, the Cardinal will face their rivals the California Golden Bears; here's to hoping the Bears, no doubt waiting for a free lunch on the river bank, get swept away by the approaching Cardinal storm surge.

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