Party Time for Cardinal vs. Arizona?

The Cardinal did not produce an inspired effort against Arizona, but Candice Wiggins did get to celebrate her birthday and Jayne Appel her new Stanford single-season record for blocked shots with a deceptively easy 69-46 triumph over the Wildcats. Kayla Pedersen added 18. Hannah Donaghe impressed with energy and hustle.

It could have been party time, but it was more like nap time, as the Stanford Cardinal missed and meandered their way to a deceptively easy 69-46 win over the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday evening. We have to hope they were saving the good stuff for the critical game against Arizona State on Saturday. Was there too much love in the air on Valentine's Day? Stanford did not really get tough with the Wildcats. Fortunately Arizona never really got untracked either in a slowly paced game where both teams struggled to find offensive continuity. The most common sight was the Card engaging in extended perimeter passing against a sagging Wildcat defense as the shot clock wound slowly down. The Cardinal spent much of the game with a semi-comfortable lead of about 15 points, but they did not put the Wildcats away firmly until late in the game when freshman guard Hannah Donaghe checked in and brought with her a welcome boost of energy, a flurry of steals, and several sweet feeds to sophomore center Jayne Appel. Senior guard Candice Wiggins may have been celebrating her twenty-first birthday, but a little freshman exuberance made the biggest impact. This was the Cardinal's second game without starting forward Jillian Harmon, out for another two or three weeks with a foot injury suffered against Oregon last week, and perhaps the lack of Harmon's high-octane play was a factor in the Card's malaise.

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer would probably not send a loving Valentine to her team for this late-season effort. "I wasn't really excited about how we played tonight, but sometimes when you don't play well, you look for the positives, and we gave ourselves a lot of opportunities to get O boards, so we got some O boards," said VanDerveer. In other words, the Cardinal missed a lot. Stanford went 6-29 from three-point range, a statistic that might doom them in many games. They skated in this one because the Wildcats committed 22 turnovers and were unable to shoot from outside either. The Cardinal were taking eminently open three-point shots, often kicked out from Appel inside when she got double-teamed; the shots were simply not falling. If we had indulged in a little drinking game in honor of Wiggins reaching legal imbibing age, taking a gulp after each missed Card three-point shot, someone would have confiscated the car keys long before the game ended. We could also drink to Appel's 3 blocked shots, team-high 5 assists, and career-high 4 steals. Appel broke her own school record for blocked shots in a season and now has 62 and counting. She did not get any cute signs waved by the crowd to commemorate the record, so a toast will have to do.

VanDerveer was less than thrilled with the Cardinal defense, which did a better job on the Wildcat guards than on their posts. Arizona's leading scorer, senior guard Ashley Whisonant, was 2-10 for only 8 points. On the other hand, posts Amina Njonkou and Ify Ibekwe scored 14 and 16 points respectively, and shot over 50%. When asked how the Cardinal had limited the Wildcats defensively, VanDerveer replied, "We limited them defensively? Thank goodness, we did something right. We have worked hard defensively and Arizona is a dangerous team. Whisonant can really get going. Njonkou can really rebound and score. They have some talented players. We never really let any of them get going. We could have done a better job defensively. We could have done a better job keeping them off the O boards." It really hurt Arizona that Ibekwe had foul trouble throughout the game. The freshman forward was very active inside and gave the Cardinal problems.

Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini thought the keys were the Cardinal's ability to control tempo and shut down the Arizona guards. "This was a game Stanford really dominated, I felt, just the tempo of the game. They did a really good job on our guards, Ashley Whisonant and Rheya Neabors, and that hurt our offensive flow. [Stanford] is a very good team," explained Bonvicini. "I thought we did a pretty good job, when you look at statistics, defensively. Candice Wiggins is a great player. I talked to Tara a little bit about her before the game. She's special in a lot more than just basketball, but in how she impacts her teammates. Kayla Pedersen plays beyond her years. As a freshman, she's very poised and very smart." As her freshman season has progressed, Pedersen has become even harder to defend, since she has increasingly found her outside shooting touch, which she put to good use against Arizona. Pedersen scored 18 points and grabbed 7 boards, including 5 offensive rebounds.

Wiggins may be special, and it was her birthday, but she did not get much love from the official scorer. Fans at the game, who follow Wiggins through her last few home games with what we shall call rapt attention, if not downright obsession, saw her sink 3 three-pointers. After the game, one three-point shot mysteriously vanished from the box score. Wiggins got credit for only two from beyond the arc and three points were erased from her point total (19 points changed to 16). The missing three-ball had been transferred to new ownership. Just moments ago the slippery shot was returned to Wiggins after the officials reviewed the game tape. We can now say officially 19 points and 6 rebounds for Wiggins on her birthday. "I've played a lot on my birthday before. It's just how it happens when you have a birthday during the season. It was exciting, having people in the stands say happy birthday to me during the game," said Wiggins. "Being a senior and these being my last two regular season games at Maples, it's really every game I look forward to, because I love playing with these teammates, I love playing for Tara, so really every game is the same, but obviously it is a great rivalry we have with Arizona State. Our team is going to be very motivated on Saturday."

Freshman guard Hannah Donaghe must have been very motivated when she made a surprisingly early appearance against Arizona. Donaghe has been used almost exclusively in mop-up duty, and has rarely had the opportunity to play with the starters. The young guard made excellent use of her time with Appel and Wiggins, quickly earning assists on passes to both of the Cardinal stars. Donaghe played only 7 minutes, but crammed in 3 assists, two steals, and one lay-up that was the easiest Cardinal bucket of the night. Without Jillian Harmon, others need to fuel the Cardinal's fire. Donaghe proved willing and able to do just that, and her boundless (and bounding) energy ignited the best stretch of the game for the home team, which scored 10 straight points to put the game well out of reach with about 5 minutes to play. VanDerveer said of the energy on court, "It was flat. Honestly, I think we miss Jill a lot. She brings a lot of energy to our team, and a lot of times we count on her to be the one hustling, getting on the floor for loose balls. This has to be a wake-up call for some people. Unfortunately JJ (Hones) has been shooting much better–she missed some open shots. Ros (Gold-Onwude) had some open shots. This is not just the Candice, Jayne, and Kayla show. Honestly, besides the usual suspects that we count on game in and game out, Hannah gave us a real nice spark. She came in and got the ball to Jayne. She did not make a lot of mistakes. A lot of people were turning the ball over. I was excited about Hannah." February is a time when rotations typically contract rather than expand, but the Cardinal are searching for some more punch, so could more minutes for Donaghe with the big guns be in store?

The biggest question right now is whether the typical Card intensity that appeared to be somewhat lacking against Arizona will permeate the line-up against Arizona State. The Card must make rock-solid sure that the Arizona game, easy win though it was, turns out not to be a harbinger of struggles to come, because it felt suspiciously like the Washington game that immediately preceded the "Infamous LA Collapse," or ILC for short, as in "Inexcusable Loss Coming." VanDerveer wants her team to do better by birthday girl Wiggins against Arizona State than the Cardinal did against Arizona. "Our team is going to give [Wiggins] her birthday present on Saturday. We didn't give her a good present tonight," noted VanDerveer wryly. Although it is a time of adjustment for the Cardinal, who are temporarily down a valued and experienced starter, there is no time for tinkering, over-thinking, or tentativeness. Two huge games that will decide the Pac-10 regular season title are in the offing, first against Arizona State on Saturday and then one week later at Cal. Time to go out and seize the Pac-10 regular season championship with inspired play. If they summon anything less than full-throttle energy, the Card may be stuck with a booby prize, thanks for playing the 2007-08 Pac-10 sweepstakes, and a healthy shove out the door by the other participants. The betting here is that the Cardinal will be more than ready and Wiggins will have a happy belated birthday with lovely gifts from her teammates on Senior Day at Maples Pavilion. Energy will not be a problem.

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