The eighth-ranked Stanford Women's Basketball team opened the last week of Pac-10 regular season play by hosting the UCLA Bruins Thursday night, at Maples Pavilion. The days preceding the contest were filled with speculation and questions, due to reports of a reinjured Candice Wiggins, the superstar junior who anchors the Cardinal lineup. Can Stanford win without the two-time All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year? If victory is in doubt, would an injured Wiggins enter the game and save the day, as she did a week prior against the Oregon State Beavers? How will Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer adjust the lineup and the game plan against the L.A. schools? Is Wiggins' health more important than immediate victories, or is post-season seeding too important to risk? All of these questions would be answered after 40 minutes of rock'em, sock'em basketball.
UCLA won the tip, and missed their first shot. Senior Kristen Newlin brought down the defensive board, and passed off to freshman point guard Melanie Murphy. Murphy, who was starting for the third time in her young career, found fifth-year senior Brooke Smith in the paint for the first points of the game. The Bruins' next possession would result in two missed shots, but followed with two strong offensive rebounds. The battle under the glass resulted in Newlin picking up her first foul, and a quick exit, at 47 seconds into the game. UCLA would go to the line to make two free throws, while freshman Jayne Appel came off the bench to keep up the pressure in the post for Stanford.
On the next possession, junior Cissy Pierce turned the ball over, and UCLA answered with a jumper. Smith missed a jumper, allowing the Bruins to grab the rebound, and convert for the score. Murphy missed the next jumper, and UCLA pulled down another defensive board, only this time chalking up a foul on sophomore Jillian Harmon. Freshman Michelle Harrison checks in for Harmon, and Stanford found itself down four points, with two defensive stars on the bench and three freshmen on the floor. School's in session, and it was time to see if the Cardinal could pass their first test.
A UCLA miss was collected by Appel, which found its way to Harrison, and then back to Appel in the paint for a basket. The Bruins turned the ball over in three consecutive possessions, but the Cardinal could not get the rock in the hole, until Stanford converted the back half of free throws from a fouled shot attempt. The first media timeout found UCLA leading Stanford 6-5.
Play resumed, and Stanford and UCLA traded leads, with jumpers by Harmon and junior Bruin Noelle Quinn. Appel missed a layup in tough traffic, but got back down court make a block on the next defensive possession. UCLA went up by three with a layup by Moniquee Alexander, and things turned criminal, as both teams committed two turnovers and racked up a steal each. The referees decided that Quinn had cheated and send Newlin to the line, converting both. Misses by both teams continued the field goal freeze until UCLA broke the ice with a jumper to go up by three. Henderson picked Harmon's pocket for a steal, but couldn't convert. Senior Markisha Coleman, the walk-on Cinderella story, ignited the crowd and melted the ice with a beautiful drive that split the UCLA defense. With her only points of the night on this beautiful play, Coleman ended Stanford's three-minute scoring drought, and breathed life back into the Cardinal team. UCLA missed a three-pointer and committed a foul, bringing the game to its second media timeout.
Smith dropped in her free throws, and Stanford led by one, 13-12. UCLA's Shaina Zaidi made their first three-pointer of the night, and then got the ball back on a steal off a bad pass. The Bruins continued to clog the paint and dared the Cardinal to shoot from outside, but Stanford stuck to the game plan and kept trying to pound it inside. UCLA made another bucket and went up by four. Stanford could not find the hole, and during this drought could only find points from the free throw line. Appel made the front of two free throw attempts, and cut the UCLA lead back to three. The Bruins locked down the offensive glass, and had three attempts to make a basket. Harmon ended the second (three minute, 49 second) Stanford field goal drought with a layup, but UCLA answered with a three-point basket and widened their lead to six. This is as close as UCLA would come to victory, as Appel missed, and put back her own rebound to ignited a 7-0 run at the start of the third media timeout.
An Appel foul sent UCLA to the line, but they came away with two bricks instead of points. Two UCLA misses, including another block by Appel, and a Bruin turnover couldn't have been timed worse as Stanford finally found a way inside the sagging Bruin defense. UCLA went cold and became crime victims as Stanford stole and pounded their way back into the lead. Appel scored four, and Murphy scored three during this game-changing run. UCLA's Kathy Olivier was forced to call a timeout to stop the bleeding. The lead would see-saw back and forth through the forth media timeout, ending with a three-pointer by UCLA that would give them a two point lead, 29-27. Stanford would finish the half out by holding UCLA scoreless for the remainder, scoring a field goal and a free throw, but gave the crowd a scare as Appel crashed hard to the floor at the buzzer. Appel limped into the locker room with her teammates, clutching a one-point lead, 30-29.
The first half was a ragged affair, with UCLA finding success on the offensive glass and in denying the Cardinal inside access. The crowd was witness to 12 lead changes and four ties, as Stanford's hallmark defensive pressure kept the game even. As a Stanford dance troupe provided the halftime entertainment, the crowd was abuzz with worry and speculation. Did we lose a fourth star to injury? Will VanDerveer order the long-range artillery to fire at will? Who will spark some offense for our team?
As the players took the floor for the second half of the game, Stanford saw its three-headed post come to life; for the first time this year, the Cardinal took the floor to start a half with Newlin, Smith, and Appel creaking the floor under the glass. UCLA dropped in the first basket of the half but would not find the net for several minutes after that. Stanford's guards had finally found their targets in the paint, and the Cardinal ran 10-4 on the Bruins for the first five and a half minutes of the half. UCLA bounced back and scored the next seven points to reach the fifth tie of the game at 12:15, erasing the Stanford lead.
Stanford answered with a 9-4 run to go up by five. Junior Cissy Pierce decided to explode at this point. Starting at the nine-minute mark, she scored four points, pulled down a rebound and forced a steal, all in a 90-second span. The Bruins took a last gasp with four straight points, to close to within one, but the paint fumes got to them. Stanford continued to pound it into the paint, with the Cardinal either scoring or drawing fouls. The Cardinal made the outcome academic on an 11-2 run to go up by 10, smothering the Bruins defensively and forcing many bad shots and turnovers. With 1:23 left, Stanford and UCLA would trade a few more buckets, but the Cardinal prevailed. Final score: 65-54.
Hiring the extra painter worked for VanDerveer. Putting three post players on the floor at the same time allowed the Cardinal to have a third target in the paint and passing lanes above the sagging Bruin fray. The triple towers combined for 41 points (Appel high of 24) and 26 rebounds (Newlin high of 10). Stanford battled and won without Wiggins for the fourth time in as many chances, also without making a three-point basket for the first time in 403 straight games. Steady defense and the unwavering will to get the ball inside to the post players is the recipe for victory, as long as the All-American Wiggins recuperates. With the victory over the UCLA Bruins, the Stanford Cardinal clinched a seventh consecutive Pac-10 Championship and secured the number one seed for the Pac-10 Tournament.
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