In Stanford's first exhibition game of the 2007-08 season, star center sophomore Jayne Appel did not play, nursing an injured left shoulder. Aside from much enthusiastic cheering and coaching from the bench, superstar guard Candice Wiggins slipped through her afternoon very quietly, scoring just 4 points in 12 minutes. Even with that formidable twosome barely contributing, the Stanford Cardinal still drove Chico State, a very good Division II team, to distraction with aggressive defense, strong rebounding, and balanced scoring. Stanford won easily, 95-44. The game was never close. The Cardinal held a 33-point lead at the half (48-15). Stanford junior forward Jillian Harmon led the way with 18 points on 8-12 shooting and 11 rebounds, including 9 offensive boards. She also tied for the team lead with 5 assists. Harmon's strong play was a highlight, as she repeatedly fought her way to corral rebounds and had some spectacular put-backs, but it was the play of two freshmen and the welcome return of an injured guard that generated the most buzz in the stands.
Junior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude started at point guard. She looked fully recovered from the knee injury that cost her the entirety of the 2006-07 season and the hamstring problem that hampered her recently. A total of 28 strong "Ros" minutes was nice to see. Her line of five assists against only one turnover was even nicer, and her 2-3 shooting from three-point range was perhaps the nicest of all. She was the only Cardinal player to sink a three-point shot. Gold-Onwude looked like the player who started for the Cardinal two years ago, with the same feisty attitude and an even more mature game.
Freshman forward Kayla Pedersen, who started at center in Appel's absence, scored 13 points and pulled in 10 rebounds. Even better, she looked fabulous doing it, showing a lovely turn-around jump shot, great quickness after rebounds, strong post moves, and the ability to handle the ball exceptionally well for a big forward. Chico State did not have the size to cause Stanford trouble inside, but Pedersen looked to be the kind of all-around player who could match up well with anyone. Coach Tara VanDerveer commented after the game, "I thought Kayla, she did very well, but I don't think of Kayla as a freshman, and I want her to finish on maybe two or three more of those shots." That was only a small quibble. Overall, VanDerveer was extremely pleased. "She's going to have a great year and a great career for us," proclaimed VanDerveer.
The offense was not always perfectly in sync, and the outside shots were not falling (only 2-11 from beyond the three-point line), but the team attacked aggressively on offense and defense, and got their running game going to good effect. Tentative they were not. They were credited with 14 steals and harried Chico State into 29 turnovers. In contrast, in the exhibition game against Chico State last season, the Cardinal had a similar winning margin but produced only 8 steals while forcing only 16 turnovers. The leader of the steal brigade was high-energy freshman guard Jeanette Pohlen, who finished with 4 steals. Pohlen, who scored 16 points and snatched 8 rebounds, ended her day by scaring several thousand people when she collided with a Chico State player and appeared to have injured her leg. Fortunately the collision resulted in "only" a knee to her quadriceps - painful, but not serious. Pohlen spent a fair amount of time at point guard, often with sophomore guard Melanie Murphy as the "two" alongside her. Murphy went 4-of-6 to contribute 9 points. Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer explained the reasoning behind Pohlen as point, "Jeanette looks up so quick. She passes well and so we have been playing her. We'll play Ros at the 'one', Jeanette at the 'one', JJ [Hones] coming back..." VanDerveer was pleased with Pohlen's efforts and the frosh in general, "I thought Jeanette was super. She is a player. I love that one where she got hit and finished. I'm very happy with our freshmen. I don't even think of them as freshmen. They're basketball players. I think all of them are going to play well, Hannah [Donaghe], too [when she returns]." Donaghe has a hip flexor injury, but is close to playing.
All in all, Coach VanDerveer was happy with the way her team played. She cited turnovers and free throw shooting as areas she would like to see improved. Said VanDerveer, "I think people are listening and they're working really hard. I wasn't pleased with the free throw line. We've spent a lot of time on our defense. Our offense has a long way to go. We're just trying to figure out how to mix everyone together. Without Jayne we're a very different team." More of Candice Wiggins also would have helped the offensive flow. "Obviously we didn't play Candice very much. She would have changed things. She would have helped things a lot," commented VanDerveer. She did like the rebounding work of the Cardinal and the overall aggressiveness with which the team played. "[Last year], Chico State came in and I thought it was almost like we didn't take it seriously, but then BYU came in... I think we were more aggressive and we are helped by having more competition in practice. Jeanette, she keeps people really honest. She'll just do whatever. She just says play me where ever you want me to play. We have more depth. Even though we lost Brooke [Smith] and [Kristen Newlin], Kayla comes in right away and there's your 'four'. Michelle [Harrison] is playing better. She did some nice things. Jill [Harmon] is playing more aggressively. Kayla and Jeanette... And again, this is without Jayne, and Jayne is playing really well in practice." It is hoped Appel's shoulder will be fit for the Yale and Rutgers games next weekend.
There were other positives for the Cardinal. Sophomore forward Michelle Harrison totaled 8 points with 5 rebounds and looked stronger than as a freshman, finishing shots strongly despite contact, and rebounding well. Junior forward/center Morgan Clyburn played 20 minutes and had 6 blocked shots, 3 in one Chico State possession that ended in a Pedersen rebound and no Chico State points. "This was good for Morgan, getting a lot of minutes, and she had some nice blocks," offered Tara VanDerveer. Clyburn also pulled down 4 rebounds and had a couple of well-executed post moves that resulted in baskets. Senior guard Cissy Pierce had a fine game. Pierce tends to get overlooked in the rush to evaluate the younger players (we are guilty right here in this story), but she played a solid, mature game against Chico State. Pierce played 32 minutes and had 12 points. Assesses VanDerveer, "Cissy played really within herself, good shot selection... I thought she looked really poised. I thought she did very well."
Other notes for Cardinal fans include the imminent return of sophomore point guard JJ Hones. Hones had been practicing, but not full court. She might begin full court practice next week, and could play a few minutes in games next weekend. And lastly, if you find yourself needing that extra bit of excitement to take home with you from Maples Pavilion, just keep watching Candice Wiggins. No, not for the great basketball, but for the enjoyment of the little things! She was fist-pumping excited against Chico State when her second free throw bounced around and finally dropped, and this was for a technical foul so there was no one but the officials near her. Enjoy the little things, as much as Candice Wiggins does. I'm trying that at work...
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