Cardinal Slog Past Washington

The Bootleg's Women's Hoops Columnist Sue Bair comments on the #2-ranked Cardinal's convincing, but less than stellar victory over the visiting Washington Huskies at Maples. Freshman Jeanette Pohlen provided much of the Cardinal's punch on Sunday, assisted by yet another dominating rebounding performance from classmate Kayla Pederson. On to LA, where the going gets tougher this coming weekend.

How ugly can a 35-point win be? This was not the sort of ugly you might run from screaming, but it was unlovely enough to give your average basketball fan the willies. Stanford outscored Washington 77-42 on Sunday afternoon, but they were not patting themselves on the back with glee afterwards. There were too many goofy turnovers, too many rebounds to the Huskies, and too much poor execution for that. Washington shot an atrocious 15.8% in the first half, and were lucky that their shooting percentage broke into the teens. They scored eight points in the last two minutes of the first half to go from down 30-4 to 32-12, and nudge their shooting percentage from horrific to merely awful. The Huskies finished the game with a 21.6% shooting percentage. If the Huskies had shot well, they might have forced the Cardinal out of their sluggishness. As it was, Stanford did not have to do much against an opponent that simply could not hit a shot.

Washington, who has some good size on the roster, competed fiercely on the glass (49 rebounds for each team), especially the offensive boards (UW had 20 to 11 for the Card.), and scrapped hard on the defensive end, but could not make the Cardinal pay by hitting their shots. Washington head coach Tia Jackson was pleased with their defensive effort and mystified by their shooting woes; "I think everyone expected Stanford to win. We wanted to give them a good game, and we came out here really looking to exploit some things defensively, and try to take away their three-headed monster - that was Kayla Pedersen, Jayne Appel, and obviously Candice Wiggins. Defensively we did what we wanted to do. Now on the other end, maybe there was a four-headed monster because we could not score. We got some wide-open looks, great looks that we'll take any other day. We just wanted to knock them down. Unfortunately we were not able to do that. The rims were real friendly to us earlier in shoot-around. I don't know what happened. Someone must have tightened them up on us or something. I don't know who had the wrench that tightened up those rims but I need to talk to them." The Maples Pavilion maintenance staff is not talking and no, that was not a toolbox under Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer's seat on the bench. VanDerveer saw much potential in the Huskies, despite the lopsided Cardinal win. "I think they have a very talented team. They have some really talented players. They're just in the process of learning a new system. They're going to be a much bigger challenge down the road," assessed VanDerveer.

Good defense by Stanford certainly contributed to the Huskies' shooting woes, although too many fouls marred the Cardinal effort the second half, when the Huskies shot all of their 13 free throws. The Cardinal offense was more problematic. The first half was fairly gruesome; Stanford shot just 36.7% and turned the ball over 11 times. Although four Cardinal players scored 12 points or more, the most notable performance on this low-energy afternoon was the high energy off the bench of freshman guard Jeanette Pohlen, who scored 20 points (3-5 from beyond the three-point arc) and added 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Pohlen did all of her damage in the second half, when the Card cut their turnovers, upped their assists, shot 50%, and generally picked up their energy level. Tara VanDerveer said, "I was pleased with how Jeanette came in and gave us a spark, knocking down her perimeter shots. Washington's game plan seemed to be to double Jayne (Appel) and Kayla (Pedersen), and guard Candice (Wiggins). We had to beat them with other people. Jeanette really did a great job for us. I thought we ran well. Defensively we forced a lot of turnovers. Unfortunately for us, we turned it over. We never really got in a good rhythm. Jeanette for me was definitely the high point. She has great energy, made some really nice passes, and solved the box and one." Pohlen knows she is not generally one of the first options on offense, so she takes her opportunities as they arise and looks for other ways to make her mark. "If I'm open and it's a good look for a shot, I'll take it, but for the most part, I try to contribute as much as I can - play defense on the other end, try to get steals. My main focus is to contribute as much as I can, whether it be on defense or on offense, whatever is needed," notes Pohlen. And we note that she mentioned defense first.

Other solid performances came from freshman forward Kayla Pedersen, who contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds, sophomore center Jayne Appel, who started slowly with foul trouble but ended up with 12 points and 7 rebounds, and senior guard Candice Wiggins, who was defended well but managed just 12 points and 5 rebounds. No one had a picture-perfect game. Pedersen missed 6 of her 12 free throw attempts. Appel lost 6 turnovers to aggressive, physical doubles by the Washington defense. Wiggins shot only 4-12. This was a sluggish Sunday. Said Pedersen, "We could have done a lot better. Bouncing off that (Tennessee) win, we didn't want to have a letdown after that. The Washington State game we played really well together. This game, not so much."

Sophomore guard JJ Hones might have played the cleanest game of any Cardinal, as she finished with 7 points, 4 assists and no turnovers. Hones is quietly moving her assist-to-turnover ratio into that lofty 3:1 zone she inhabited before her ACL injury. Still, coach VanDerveer feels that the offensive execution is not where she would like it to be, and is looking for improved play from her point guards. Junior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude had been ill enough to miss practice on Saturday and felt poorly during the game on Sunday, ultimately playing only 14 minutes. Hones is still in the process of fully recovering her conditioning and explosiveness. The Cardinal are also hoping that freshman forward Ashley Cimino, who has been sidelined all season by a back injury, will be ready to play in two weeks when the Oregon schools visit Maples Pavilion.

So it has begun for 2007-08 - the Pac-10 season entered with both a bang (huge blowouts) and a whimper (too easy and less than stellar play). There probably was not a soul in the house who thought Stanford was in danger of losing either of these two games against Washington State and Washington. Even Washington head coach Tia Jackson admitted they just wanted to give the Cardinal a good game. Both opponents struggled in the pre-season and are more likely to finish in the bottom third of the conference than the top half. The Cougars have been picked to finish last once again. The Huskies could coalesce and end up surprising people, but a bottom-third performance is more probable. Perhaps it was inevitable that the Cardinal would turn in a lackluster game right about now. The week before Christmas when they powered past #10 Baylor and New Mexico, and toppled #1 (not any more!) Tennessee required a great deal of mental effort. The team made Tara VanDerveer's 700th career win an impressive show on Friday, but with that extra motivation gone and the opponent less than threatening, they hit a definite lull against Washington. Not desirable, but better now than next weekend, when the Cardinal journey to Los Angeles to face the talented but turbulent UCLA Bruins and the perhaps even more talented but injury-plagued USC Trojans. The LA trip has traditionally been a tough one for Stanford. With Cal looking powerful and Arizona State potentially returning to form, every game is critical for winning the Pac-10 championship. Only the Cardinal's best effort will do.

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