The Cardinal passed their first test Friday night with a scrappy 64-60 win in their opener against Rutgers. With Pre-season All-American candidate Nicole Powell sidelined due to a combination of back pain and a one game NCAA suspension, and Katie Denny and Shelley Nweke injured, eight Cardinal players remained to take on the Scarlet Knights. Although both Stanford and Rutgers played with thin rosters, neither team used their lean bench as an excuse to slow down the pace. Quick cuts to the basket and stifling defense characterized the play of both teams.
The four guard Scarlet Knight lineup came out to a quick 5-0 lead, but the Stanford women settled down and began hitting the boards harder. Five minutes in, a T'Nae Thiel three pointer gave the Cardinal their first lead of the game. Stanford controlled the pace the rest of the half, following the calm examples of sophomore stalwarts T'Nae Thiel, Azella Perryman, and Kelley Suminski. The freshman Rappahahn and Bodensteiner got into the act at the end of the first half, contributing to Stanford's 33-23 lead at the break.
But Rutgers wasn't finished. The Knights came out with armor flashing in the second half. Their tough defense forced nine-second half turnovers, and their USC-esque willingness to bang around in the post drew contact that put Stanford into foul trouble. Guards Cappie Pondexter and Chelsea Newton spurred on the Knights to close the ten-point gap within the first five minutes. Rebecca Richman blocked on a shot by Chelsea Trotter on Stanford's end, then, on Rutgers next possession, followed up an offensive rebound with a lay-in that put the Knights ahead. The Cardinal shot an abysmal 36.8% on 7-19 shooting from the field in the second half. Stanford's inability to capitalize on their offensive chances allowed the hot-handed Knights to march to a nine-point lead. Stanford held on, chipping away at the Rutgers lead. Two three pointers by Sebnem Kimyacioglu tied the game back up. Cool free throw shooting down the final stretch allowed Stanford to slip away with a 64-60 victory.
Sunday, the Stanford team ventured up 280 to War Memorial Gym in San Francisco. If the Cardinal started the game looking past the Lady Dons, they quickly realized that Mary Hile-Nepfel's team was the real deal. The USF team that couldn't hit the three pointer in their opener against Colorado State burned the fifth ranked Cardinal with a 10-18 three point performance. Freshman Joy Hollingsworth was 5-6 from beyond the arc. The game was an evenly matched battle until the very end of the first half when Stanford pulled away with the help of the strong post play of Chelsea Trotter and Azella Perryman.
The Lady Dons out rebounded the Cardinal in the second half, and foul trouble kept Chelsea Trotter on the bench. Surprisingly, as the teams traded leads back and forth, the margin of difference hovering around three points, neither team looked particularly concerned. It was as if the young Cardinal squad hadn't learned to be afraid, and the young Lady Dons hadn't learned to attack when an upset was at hand. Only in the final two minutes did Stanford play like they were worried. Seb Kimyacioglu yet again hit an important three to tie it up with 1:12 left to play. With 17.7 seconds left to go, another sophomore became the hero of the game.
Stanford's inside game had been the strongest part of their offense all afternoon long, so they ran a play to post up the Dons. It was a play they ran for Chelsea in the first half, and a play they ran all last year for Lindsay Yamasaki. Instead of parking T'Nae or Azella down low, the Cardinal trusted the ball to Kelley Suminski, who put a great spin move on her defender to score the winning basket. Stanford held off a USF comeback by using up two fouls in the final seconds. Stanford 59, USF 57. The eight healthy Cardinal came out of the weekend with two wins and two close calls. That experience in high-pressure situations should put them in good shape going into the Stanford tournament this week.