There may not have been true trepidation at Maples Pavilion Thursday night as the Stanford Cardinal, encumbered by an unfamiliar two-game Pac-10 losing streak, hosted the Oregon State Beavers. A hint of confusion, a dash of consternation, perhaps even a very faint air of desperation might have been detectable, as everyone wondered how the Card would respond to their downstate "smack down" at the hands of UCLA and USC last weekend. The Cardinal had won the previous 14 games in the series with Oregon State, and the 2007-08 Beavers won't finish in the top half of the conference, so a reasonably easy home win looked to be in store. Still, Oregon State had managed to play Stanford tough, even at Maples Pavilion, on occasion recently, and the Cardinal, last seen riding along on a high of fabulous wins, were reeling. Where did all that mojo go? Would Stanford be ready to grab some back? It will take much more than one game to overcome the damage done in LA to the Cardinal's psyche and status, but so far, so good. The Beavers had no chance from the opening tip. Star center Jayne Appel was on her game and Oregon State had no one who could stop her. The final score was 81-45, but it could have been even more lopsided. The Cardinal pushed their lead to 38 points midway through the second half, and held almost all of that margin the rest of the way. With 10 minutes to go, the score was 63-25. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer was looking for more energy from her team, which started off much better than has been the tendency this season. The Cardinal never let the Beavers get into the game. They played strong defense, hit their shots, and generally played with purpose. The lessons from LA hit home. The score was 8-0, 19-4, 33-9 and finally 42-19 for Stanford as the first half progressed. "Our team came out and was energetic. They played hard, worked really well together, and obviously got the ball to Jayne (Appel). It's not her career high, but it might be her highest percentage. Jayne finished really well. That was the name of the game – get it to Jayne," said VanDerveer. The sophomore center had a superb game, finishing with 25 points on 12-13 shooting and 8 rebounds in only 20 minutes. Sharp and focused, Appel demonstrated her famous "hands of glue", repeatedly snaring high over-the-top passes and turning them into lovely lay-ups with either hand. Her teammates got her the ball in excellent position. Oregon State had no time to double Appel. Beaver head coach LaVonda Wagner said, "Jayne Appel missed one shot all night. She did a great job. We were not able to get that backside help on her. They just went over the top and scored easy baskets." Stanford did a lot right on this drizzly Thursday evening. They shot over 50% for the game and drizzled down their three-point shots at a rate that would win them plenty of ballgames (6-16 for 37.5%). It is amazing how much difference one or two more made threes can make to the fortunes of a team. Aside from Appel, the reserves did most of the work. The bench accounted for 48 of Stanford's 81 points (and outscored Oregon State's 45 points), 14 of 25 total assists, and all 6 of the three-point baskets (1-1 for sophomore JJ Hones, 2-4 for senior Cissy Pierce, 2-4 for freshman Hannah Donaghe, and 1-2 for junior Morgan Clyburn). The Cardinal also recorded 14 steals and 9 blocks, with the thieving and the swatting spread amongst many players. Nobody played more than 23 minutes; the reserves actually got more minutes than the starters. Even better, a new face graced the court for the Cardinal, garnering cheers and applause from the crowd. Freshman forward Ashley Cimino made a promising start to her college career with 1 basket, 2 free throws, 1 rebound, 1 assist and 2 blocks in 13 minutes. For someone who has been sitting out all season with a back injury that required surgery and has had minimal full-contact practice time, she looked extremely calm and comfortable in her long-awaited debut. Other notable performances came from the ranks of the reserves. Morgan Clyburn played a team-high 23 minutes and scored a career-high 9 points on 4-7 shooting, while adding 2 blocked shots, 1 assist, and 1 steal. JJ Hones went 3-3, including 1 three-point shot, to contribute 8 points, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and zero turnovers. If not for one missed free throw we might even call her game "perfect." Jeanette Pohlen added 8 points, 5 assists against zero turnovers, and 3 steals. Her passing in transition was one of the highlights on the night. Pohlen on the break with the ball is going to delight fans for years to come. Her steal and subsequent assist on a lay-up by senior Candice Wiggins that turned out to be the only bucket of the night for the senior star was particularly well executed. Freshman Hannah Donaghe is looking more confident by the game, and impressed with 9 points (2-4 from beyond the three-point arc), 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in just 13 minutes. Cissy Pierce added 10 points, including the least likely shot of the game, a 25-foot, high-arcing toss that just beat the shot clock, and appeared to surprise Pierce more than anyone. The Cardinal did have a few too many turnovers (16) and did not rebound well enough (34 Stanford to 31 for Oregon State), so there is work yet to be done. "I thought we had too many turnovers. We could have taken care of the ball better, but we did a good job defensively and forced a lot of turnovers by them (25). It was really great to have Morgan go in and go 4-7," noted Tara VanDerveer. "We could have done a better job on the O boards. We played a very tough schedule so it's really important for our players that don't play as much to get valuable game experience." The authoritative performance by the Cardinal bench overshadowed slow nights by several starters, a slightly troubling development that was not in the grand plan to reclaim the Card's edge. Only slightly troubling because while the starters were in, the idea was to get the ball to Appel, which worked so well that it put a quick end to Beavers, and therefore the minutes for the Cardinal starters. We do note that on the day she was named WBCA National Player of the Month for December (for averaging 20.5 points, 3.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game while shooting 44.4% and 42.5% from beyond the three-point arc), Candice Wiggins had the second lowest point total of her illustrious career. The lowest (3 points) was also against Oregon State, oddly enough, in the game at Corvallis last season during which Wiggins changed from street clothes at the half to hit a critical three-point shot when the team was struggling. The Cardinal did win the game, but that day of rest did not work out as planned. This one did. Wiggins only played 14 minutes. She did contribute 3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal, so it was hardly a bad night overall, but the 0-2 from three-point range is worrisome. Wiggins' long-range shooting let her down in LA, and getting her shooting back to her usual level, which we might call "Destroyer of Teams", might be priority #1 on the team "to do" list. Tara VanDerveer was just happy to rest her star, who VanDerveer feels might be somewhat weary from the year of continuous basketball that resulted when Wiggins played on what seemed like 8 or 9 USA Basketball teams over the summer and fall. Said VanDerveer, "The best thing is that whether Candice scores 4 points or 40 points, she is a great teammate. She's encouraging and she's working hard. What's nice for us is to be able to rest Candice so that in some of the games, where we need her to play 40 minutes, she'll be ready. She's there when we need her. She's not caught up in her own minutes and her own points. She understands the big picture." VanDerveer loves to praise Wiggins. We love to write it all down. We may all have to live with very limited minutes from Wiggins against lower echelon conference teams, which makes fans sigh, but they understand the big picture too. It would be wonderful to say that the Cardinal have moved beyond the LA debacle, when they played one bad game against UCLA and then got caught in an uncharacteristic hail of USC three-point shots. Unfortunately now is too soon to make that claim. Beating up Oregon State, a team without the inside presence to counter Appel, is not challenge enough for that. It was only one step in the right direction. Said Jayne Appel, "We needed to prove ourselves and show how hard we have been working." Jeanette Pohlen expressed similar sentiments, "You never expect to lose. You always go in there trying to give it your all. It hit me right after we lost. Like Jayne said, though, after last week, we're really just trying to rebound off of that, come out here this weekend and show that we are improving from those two losses." Improvement is evident. However the only true cure for the Cardinal is a successful Pac-10 road trip against top competition. That is the proof they need to be sure the harsh LA lessons have been well learned. Their performance against Oregon State was promising, but by no means definitive. Winning the conference will now take a monumental effort. The Cardinal might need to run the table, beating Cal and ASU twice each, just to tie. There is no leeway anymore. They must continue the strong home stand with a win over the Oregon Ducks on Saturday first, but then comes the Arizona road swing, which is where the Cardinal will find out if LA was a bump in the road or a portend of continuing struggles against the teams that know them best.
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