Team Victory: Contribution From Two Less Sung

Contributing Columnist Warren Grimes reflects on the Stanford Women's Basketball team's cherished victory Saturday night over the top-ranked Lady Vols of Tennessee, giving credit not only to the usual superstars Wiggins, Appel, and Pederson, but taking note of big-time clutch performances by several of the more surprising heroes including Ros Gold-Onwude and rock-solid freshman Jeanette Pohlen.

A Team Victory: Contributions From Two Less Sung

I made the trip up from Southern California to watch the Tennessee game. GG (my daughter) and I don't get to Maples very often, but we thought this might be a good one. What we and 7,200 other fans witnessed was an historic reverse roller coaster ride, with the nadir just before the half way point. Along the way, there were a lot of gut-wrenching drops and turns that drained hope from all but the most stout of heart. Just to keep it interesting, some overtime trackage, with more unexpected twists, was added to bring the high ending. We arrived at an 11-year high - a victory over the Lady Vols that no Stanford fan had seen since 1996. 

Although Candice Wiggins and Jayne Appel were statistical and emotional leaders on the floor, it was a genuine team victory. Against Tennessee, every careless pass, every defensive lapse, every missed opportunity, can be costly. Stanford had 19 turnovers in this game, but generated 17 from a well-coached and very athletic team that came into Maples as the reigning NCAA champion and top-ranked team in the country, featuring the defending national player of the year. Particularly in the second half and overtime, Stanford's defense was impressive. After shooting a sizzling 59% in the first stanza, Tennessee dropped to 35.5% in the second half and 40% in overtime. 

Both Candice Wiggins and Jayne Appel are All-Americans. And Kayla Pedersen is on track to get prominent conference and national recognition as a freshman. Each deserves every bit of positive press. So let's talk about two other players that GG and I enjoyed watching on Saturday: Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Jeanette Pohlen. Without their contributions, there would have been no high ending to this game. 

Gold-Onwude has had an uneven start to this season, and her first-half performance seemed a continuation. She had some unforced turnovers and missed shots. But great players rise to the occasion. Near the end of the first half, as Stanford was clawing back from a double-digit deficit, Rosalyn stole the ball and raced down court for a lay up. That was a key part of a mini-run that brought the Tennessee lead down to six points at half time. With about six minutes left in the second half, Stanford was surging, and Gold-Onwude was there again. She drove the basket and - still very much in control - stopped short of the hoop to loop the ball over the defender. Ball in! With a two-basket margin, the momentum was with Stanford. But there was more to come. Much more. Tennessee surged back to take the lead with under two minutes remaining. When Candice Wiggins brought the team back to a four-point lead and Stanford fans were sensing victory, Candace Parker brought the Vols back yet again - and Wiggins surprisingly missed two pivotal free throws. It was overtime. And Tennessee had the momentum. Those watching the game on FSN heard commentator Mary Murphy say that Tennessee had done it again (stymied a Stanford victory). 

Tennessee made some key shots and seemed on the verge of taking a commanding lead. With defenders concentrating on Appel and Wiggins, someone else had to take the big shots. Enter center stage Ros Gold-Onwude. Two big three-point shots were dead on. Altogether, Gold-Onwude was to score nine of her 13 points in the overtime, and all but one of the 10 Stanford overtime points. The second of these threes brought Stanford from a one-point deficit to a two-point advantage with less than a minute on the clock. When interior defense gave Appel the ball, she handed it to Gold-Onwude with under ten seconds on the game clock. Tennessee quickly fouled, and up to the line stepped Rosalyn with a less-than-sparkling free throw shooting percentage this season. But it just didn't matter. She now had the hot hand and the confidence of a giant-killer. Both free throws went down, and the game was all but over. Stanford had a four point lead with less than six seconds on the clock. 

Gold-Onwude's heroics in no way diminish the contribution of freshman Jeanette Pohlen. Although not a starter, Pohlen played 36 minutes in this game. Compare this with Jillian Harmon (24 minutes) and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude (23 minutes). Pohlen's line does not impress in the box score. Two points on 1-2 shooting, no free throw attempts, no boards, two assists, one turnover and a steal. Not the kind of stats that the media love to write about. So just why did the coaches play Pohlen such major minutes? GG and I love watching Pohlen because she's in the right place at the right time, plays solid defense, clogs the passing lanes, and causes more turnovers and disruptions than she is given credit for. She is also a solid passer on offense and can reliably bring the ball up court. Simply put, the team is better when she is in the game. Pohlen has grown into college hoops quickly. In the Rutgers game, she had six turnovers, mostly because of a quick whistle on first-step moves. But there was none of that against the Vols. Pohlen was rock solid. 

Stanford played an imperfect but very effective team game to gain this memorable win. And Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Jeanette Pohlen were a key part of the team effort. For GG and me, watching these two players develop will be a favorite pastime this season.

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