Kayla Pedersen and Cardinal Push UCLA Back
Stanford freshman forward Kayla Pedersen, who quietly and confidently says what she means with a minimum of fuss, perfectly summed up the Cardinal's 75-62 triumph over a bruising UCLA squad on Saturday afternoon when she said, "I just wanted to come out and be the aggressor, not let them push me around. You do get motivated against [UCLA]. They're just a very physical team. I don't like people pushing me around." When the Card lost to UCLA in Los Angeles a month ago, the Bruins knocked the visitors off their game and almost knocked out a few of Candice Wiggins' teeth. In the rematch at Maples Pavilion, the Card were not having any of that. Behind 31 points from Wiggins and a career-high 28 from Pedersen, Stanford pushed back against the Bruins, and pushed forward to a 25-point lead, which held up through most of the second half until a late Bruin press and some sloppy Cardinal play dwindled the final margin to 13. The Bruins definitely pushed first, building a quick 9-2 lead as the Cardinal missed easy lay-ups and free throws. The home team settled down behind Pedersen's strong offensive rebounding and scoring, and pulled away for a 9-point margin at the half. Candice Wiggins took control for the Card by scoring 17 points in a 10-minute span that bracketed the half to help build the 25-point lead that was maintained until the Card relaxed a hair too early and allowed the Bruins' press to shove them around as a friendly parting gift. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer had mixed feelings about her team's performance. "We played very well in spurts and we played very poorly in spurts," said VanDerveer. "Kayla did a great job on the O boards. Candice came out and worked hard on both ends of the court. We turned it over too many times. We got a little lackadaisical. We got a 20-point lead and then didn't build on that. This is a big win for us. Obviously we lost to them last time. They're a very physical and athletic team. They are a very young team so they're just going to get better. We're happy that we won, but this will give us some things to work on too." The Cardinal finished with 16 turnovers, most of which occurred in the last 7 or 8 minutes of the game, when the Card struggled with the UCLA press. Dribbling once and then picking up the ball while the trap was bearing down was an unfortunately common problem. To the good, the Card won the rebounding battle with ease (44-35), walloped the Bruins with 12 blocks (5 by center Jayne Appel, 4 by Pedersen, and 2 by Wiggins), and held UCLA to 32% shooting. UCLA forward Lindsey Pluimer led the Bruins with 16 points but on only 6-20 shooting. UCLA head coach Kathy Olivier described the Cardinal as a team of "runs," and lamented that her Bruins were not able to get that one last run before the game ended. Said Olivier, "They're a team of runs at home. They're going to have their runs, just make sure that we put a stop to their runs early, and that second run they had, we couldn't put a stop to it. I felt like there [were] more than 5 people out there at times, but I guess I shouldn't really…yeah. That just makes things difficult." Fascinating that even with the total fouls and free throws fairly even, Olivier would find time for a little officiating whine, especially given the style of play her team employs, which can generously be called "physical," but which I personally would call something else. Like Olivier, I guess I shouldn't really…yeah. Tara VanDerveer thought the physical game was good preparation for tournament time. "It was very physical both inside and perimeter stuff, but to me that's going to be the tournament, so I'd really rather have it be that way than not. Kayla didn't back down. Jayne didn't back down. Kayla really stepped up inside and really got aggressive, finished really well. Jayne kind of had an off night, but she didn't give up–she still played hard. JJ (Hones) had some nice passes. When they trapped her, she hit Kayla underneath. There are things that we could do better so if we play them again, we'll have work to do." The pass from sophomore point guard JJ Hones as two Bruins trapped her beyond mid-court, to Pedersen all alone under the basket, was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Pedersen was not often so alone under the basket. Many of her early points came from acrobatic offensive rebounds in heavy traffic, and that initial surge powered her to a big scoring day. "When I go to the O boards, I just get my rhythm going. There were 21 assists in this game. The girls got me the ball, like JJ up top and I'm standing wide open underneath. My team really made it easy to get those easy lay-ups," explained Pedersen. Tara VanDerveer praised the freshman forward's varied skills and mental toughness; "Kayla is having a great freshman year, kind of like Candice as a freshman. She listens. She's got great skills. She's very competitive. What I like is that I don't have to sugarcoat stuff for her. I didn't like how she came out in the beginning of the game, I told her so, and instead of talking to me, she just went back out there and made things happen. She's our best offensive rebounder. She can score. She was on their leading scorer. She was on Pluimer." Pedersen's defense has been surprisingly strong for a young player, although she found areas to improve against Pluimer. "She's their best player and I wanted to do a good job," offered Pedersen. "She had a couple of turnarounds on me, which I don't like, so I need to work on that, but it was definitely a good challenge. My teammates helped, especially on switches." If Pedersen had not kicked it into gear after the Bruins opened that initial 7-point lead, the game might have evolved very differently. The Cardinal managed to mangle a plethora of easy chances from the field and the free throw line in the first few minutes of the game. They seemed to be rushing in response to the aggressive and physical style of their opponent. "It's just a matter of finishing shots," said Candice Wiggins. "In the first half, we had lay-up opportunities, easy shots, free throws, and I think in the second half the difference was that we just finished them. When you finish them, you start building a bigger lead and then you get confidence and everyone starts to finish. It's really contagious. In the first part of the first half, we just weren't finishing and that kind of gets around. We stopped that." If the bad case of the yips around the basket was anywhere near as contagious as the nasty cold virus going around the Bay Area, the Cardinal did well to nip that unwelcome phenomenon in the bud. Sophomore center Jayne Appel was a major sufferer of the aforementioned basket yips, and had her worst shooting day since, well, the UCLA game earlier in 2008. Appel had been riding a streak of exceptional shooting, so perhaps she was due to come back to earth just a little. The big center had only 9 points on 3-10 shooting and struggled to 3-8 from the free throw line, but she kept plugging away on the boards and on defense. Appel pulled down 16 rebounds and blocked 5 Bruin shots. Said Tara VanDerveer, "[Jayne] was missing easy baskets that she's been making, basically since UCLA (Jan 4), but Candice talked to Jayne, her teammates encouraged her, and she can do other things for us. She did rebound. She did block shots. She doesn't give up. She showed really positive body language even though she was missing. She didn't get discouraged and get frustrated. She had a really good second half (2-4 from the field, 7 boards, and 3 blocks). It's hard sometimes when things don't go your way. You want excuses or you want to blame the officials or something, but Jayne didn't do that. You learn a lot about a player when things don't go their way." Things did not go entirely the Cardinal's way on Saturday, but they took hold of an unruly game, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, and shook it into submission. It was not a complete game, relying as it did on star offensive turns by two players, and featuring a frighteningly discombobulated start and turnover-filled finish. However the Cardinal once again proved resilient and able to adjust to whatever an opponent chooses to throw at them. Olivier and the Bruin bench may have gotten a technical for protesting to the officials, but to these eyes, they were allowed to play their style of game plenty well enough. It was most certainly a fair fight. The Bruins pushed, but the Cardinal pushed back. "We were definitely looking forward to this weekend ever since we got home from the airport from LA. It was huge, just to show our growth as a team, what we learned from those two games, and to make sure those two games were lessons and we didn't do the same mistakes again. For the most part, we did do that today," said Wiggins. Revenge weekend is successfully completed.
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