Wiggins and Cardinal Wallop Baylor
If some sage person solemnly informed you that the winner of Sunday's Stanford Cardinal vs. Baylor Bear clash was the team that got out in transition, forced turnovers, hit the most three-point shots, pilfered the most steals, and relentlessly attacked the basket off the dribble, which team would most listeners assume had won? The Cardinal did not just beat Baylor 87-63; they beat the Bears at what should have been the Bears' own game. The Card also out-rebounded the Bears by nine, had five blocked shots to Baylor's two, accumulated twenty-one assists to Baylor's eleven, and lost just ten turnovers to the Bears' seventeen. But who's counting?
Baylor was supposed to be the quick, athletic, havoc-inducing team that could give the Cardinal fits. Instead the Cardinal never let Baylor induce more than a headache in their unhappy head coach's noggin, as Stanford rode a revamped offense that turned freshman forward Kayla Pedersen loose and featured a spectacular all-around performance by senior All-American Candice Wiggins to easily surpass the Bears. Said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, "When you have two players score that many points and it's only six less than your entire team, you better get back and evaluate the defense. [Wiggins] is a Kodak All-American and she could do whatever she wanted to do today. On the offensive end, she did what she wanted. On the defensive end of the floor, she created havoc. We didn't have anybody that could stay with her." Havoc is going around these days.
In contrast, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer was generally pleased with how well the Cardinal dealt with the stern Baylor challenge, "Baylor came in undefeated. They have a great coach and a great program. This was a real big challenge for us, especially after the two weeks we've been off. We started out a little slow. They're very athletic, they've been forcing a lot of turnovers, so it was really key that we took care of the ball, and we did a pretty good job of that."
No matter how often Tara VanDerveer invokes her magic mantra, "Candice is not a senior!", Wiggins has indeed reached that milestone. Even if one is not inclined to look backwards, a recording of the Baylor game might be a keeper simply because it features the full Wiggins smorgasbord against a top-ranked opponent. From the first, even though Stanford started a tad slowly, it was apparent that Wiggins was ready to attack. She beat Baylor every way possible: off the dribble, drawing fouls, three-point shots, mid-range pull-up jumpers, you name it. She also had four rebounds, four steals, three assists, and no turnovers. Havoc, indeed! That effort resulted in Wiggins being named on Monday as the U.S. Bank Pac-10 Women's Basketball Player of the Week. We hope she had as much success on her recently completed finals.
Wiggins also appears to have settled into her role as senior leader more thoroughly. It is a role she takes very much to heart. "Being a senior, besides a sense of urgency, there is also a sense of ownership of the team, and taking a lot of responsibility. I take that role with pride. It makes you play a lot harder and every single play give everything you have," she explained. At times in the early games this season, Wiggins, consummate team player that she is, seemed to be pressing, trying to get the mix just right between staying within the offensive flow and imposing herself on the game. The heavy load on her shoulders was not balanced, and though the effort and will were always present, shots did not fall and one could see her fighting to retain her equilibrium. Against Baylor, Wiggins played free and easy, the load sitting lightly once again, the enthusiasm unbridled, any hesitation out the window. VanDerveer hopes Wiggins' teammates realize how just good they have it, "She scores. She defends. She does it all for us. She's a tremendous leader. I love every day of coaching her. I just hope that our team realizes how really special she is, and that they've got to step up and give a little more to her."
No one could accuse freshman forward Kayla Pedersen of not giving that little bit more against Baylor. Pedersen finished with 22 points on 10-16 shooting, 11 rebounds, and two blocked shots. Like Wiggins she scored in a variety of ways, including post-ups, her nifty turn-around jump shot, several longer two-pointers, and numerous attacks off the dribble both in transition and in the half-court sets. Much was expected of Pedersen when she arrived at Stanford, but the Cardinal coaches have found themselves in the happy position of discovering that she is even better than advertised. Asserts Tara VanDerveer, "You don't really ever know when you recruit someone. You see them play but you don't get to really know them. What I like about Kayla is that she listens and that she's a very smart player, a very poised player. Honestly, I'm asking her to do more. As a freshman I think she's even got to be a leader on our team because of how well she plays. She's extremely talented and a pleasure to coach every day. She's got four more years to listen!"
It was readily apparent that the Cardinal coaches were true to their word when they claimed to have "tweaked" the Stanford offense, in part to get Pedersen more consistently involved. Anything that allows Wiggins to blast off as she did has to be considered a resounding success. The offense provided numerous driving opportunities, and the aggressive "get-to-the-basket" mindset was also evident in how spectacularly well the Cardinal got their transition game going. Freshman guard Jeanette Pohlen, in particular, had an excellent day, collecting ten assists with only one turnover. Many of her assists came in transition, including a beautiful bounce pass to a streaking JJ Hones for an easy basket. Pohlen has played some very good games this season and has been garnering ever-increasing minutes, but this may have been a breakout of sorts, even if she did not score very much. Against a quick and experienced Baylor team, she played a season-high 31 minutes, contributing good defense without collecting many fouls (2), which had been an issue earlier. Her excellent feel for the game was evident throughout the contest. Pohlen was not credited with any steals, but she did deflect a ball off a Baylor guard to create a turnover, and generally made herself a nuisance to the opposition. TheBootleg.com loves a good nuisance!
Sophomore JJ Hones also had a fine afternoon, as she continued to demonstrate that her recovery from a torn ACL is progressing very well. More than in any previous game, Hones looked like the player who started at the point guard position for most of last season. She controlled the ball with poise, ran the floor, and competed as though she felt good about her knee and her conditioning. Her total of nine points was third-highest on the day for Stanford, and the variety in the ways that she scored - one three-point shot, one finish on a fast break where she had to really motor, one drive in the half-court, and one spinning jump shot - was another welcome sign that her legs and confidence are back. We're not sure if the coaches tweaked the defense too, but the Cardinal were always in position and back on defense such that Baylor could never get their own transition game going. It was a very complete and satisfying victory over a top quality opponent.
Complete and satisfying unless you are a head coach who, along with her staff, has been fussing and fiddling but now may be beginning to see the hoped-for final shape of the puzzle that is the 2007/08 Cardinal finally emerge. Post-break and post-tweaking, expectations have been raised. Tara VanDerveer wants more from her team. "I think we need more. Obviously different people are going to step up, but Jayne [Appel] can really contribute a lot more. I see different people being able to contribute more and being more in the flow of things. This is the type of game in which we could have done even more," assessed VanDerveer. "Our freshmen are doing very well and we have another freshman [Ashley Cimino] that we hope will be healthy in a month. Jill [Harmon] can contribute more, Cissy [Pierce]… Ros [Gold-Onwude] and JJ [Hones] are both coming off ACL's and they're both doing well. I'm on them a lot but [Baylor] is a team that forces 24 turnovers a game, and we took care of the ball pretty well. Some of the turnovers were even unforced. I guess I have very high expectations for our team. I think we can do better." VanDerveer also cited offensive rebounding as an area to improve.
This was not a game sophomore center Jayne Appel will want to put in her highlight reel (except for that nice transition basket where she outran the entire Baylor defense). The normally highly productive and efficient Appel had only seven points (3-8) and eight rebounds, and struggled to control the ball when the Baylor defense collapsed on her (five turnovers). She was limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble. The newly-tweaked offense did not often get her the ball in the best position inside, and she was in the high post more than in previous games, but with Wiggins and Pedersen going off in a big way and the running game in gear, the Cardinal were not inclined to pound the ball inside to her as much as usual. To succeed in the long run, the Cardinal will need for Appel to dominate inside - they know it and she knows it. Perhaps there will be some "re-tweaking"? Tennessee will not fall on Saturday (December 22nd) without a superlative effort from Appel added to what the Cardinal brought to the table against Baylor. Look for much bigger games from Appel in the near future.
In some ways this week of Cardinal basketball is like the week that just ended - one full of exams. Last week was for academic finals. This week is for basketball midterms. Game number one in basketball exam week gets a grade of "B+" (We are tough graders.). The Cardinal sent the Baylor Bears back to hibernation in Waco by unleashing a strong and aggressive all-around game on both offense and defense, and because Candice Wiggins played like the superstar that she is. It was not perfect, and may not do for a final exam, but as a midterm it was a hit. Exam number two occurs Tuesday night in Albuquerque, when the challenge will be to stay sharp and focused for a trap game against New Mexico. The grading will be easy on that one, for as long as it is a win, it is an "A". The last midterm is by far the most difficult, but the Cardinal have been studying up for this one for a decade. The components are there, so nothing short of a win gets an "A", even against top-ranked Tennessee.
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