Stanford Throttles New Mexico

After a disjointed road effort at Baylor, the Cardinal came out smoking from the perimeter against New Mexico at Maples Pavilion and put the Lobos away early with a barrage of threes.

If you play any golf, you've surely heard the phrase, "Never up, never in," which translates: if you don't hit the ball hard enough to reach the cup, you can't sink the putt. The Stanford Cardinal did not have that problem pulling the trigger on their long range shooting in an 84 – 46 thumping of the New Mexico Lobos on Thursday evening. The three-point shots were up early and often. Stanford scored their first 15 points on 5 threes, 3 from freshman G Lindy La Rocque and 2 from sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen, before sophomore F Kayla Pedersen broke the spell with a lay-up 6 minutes into the game. La Rocque completed her first career start with 12 points (4-9 from three-point range) while Pohlen finished with 12 points (4-6 three pointers). Junior guard JJ Hones returned from a stress reaction that had her sitting out the first two games to contribute 12 points (3-4 from distance) in only 11 minutes. RS junior G Rosalyn Gold-Onwude joined the first-half three-ball parade with one and sparkled with 5 assists including one lovely drive and dish to freshman F Nneka Ogwumike for a score and a free throw. Said Pohlen, "It's one of those things where once somebody gets on fire, I think everybody else feeds off that. I know people on the bench were having a contest to see how many people would hit. Once somebody gets going it gets everybody else excited, which is a lot of fun."

Senior F Jillian Harmon (13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) did not hit a three but was a key contributor to the other notable facet of the Card's triumph – the defense. Head coach Tara VanDerveer had been unhappy with the defensive intensity at Baylor. She was much more satisfied by the effort against the Lobos. "We were aggressive. We wanted to play a lot better than we did in our last game. This is a young team that's really learning and listening. It started with Jill's defense on #10 (Lobo G Amy Beggin who was 3-13 with 4 turnovers). [Beggin] is an excellent player. She's one of their top players and top scorers. Jill came out and did an excellent job on her defensively."

Added VanDerveer, "The team knows that if they don't work hard on the defensive end they're not going to play. We have to really improve our defense. We want to be more aggressive. [New Mexico] is the type of team that is a really capable offensive team. They're excellent shooters and our #1 game plan was no open looks."

The #1 game plan worked to perfection. New Mexico shot just 27% for the game and made only 4-17 three-point shots. Beggin was the top scorer for the Lobos with 12 points. No one else had over 7 points.

"It was really important to show we could bounce back after a tough loss," offered Harmon. "I think we started off the game really well, and Jeanette and Lindy were 4-4 from three-point range in the first couple of minutes of the game. We came out really strong and aggressively defensively as well."

The Lobos were able to nullify much of Stanford's inside game by sagging in on junior C Jayne Appel, but with the outside game on fire and a large lead early, Stanford did not press the issue inside. Appel, who finished with only 5 points on 2-4 shooting but had 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a team-high 7 assists, played a little point center and zipped the ball out to shooters or more often to cutting fellow bigs for easy lay-ups. Freshman F Nneka Ogwumike, who received some of those passes, slashed her way to 11 points on 4-6 shooting, grabbed 8 rebounds, recorded 2 blocks, and avoided the foul trouble that marred her otherwise exceptional previous two performances. Freshman C Sarah Boothe got a little ahead of herself a few times with the ball and missed scoring chances, but Boothe had an otherwise solid game with 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists in 14 minutes.

"It was a tough game inside. They're big. They're physical. But we went with a different weapon. We went outside, knocked down perimeter shots, which will just open things up more inside for us," said VanDerveer. "Jayne is really a great passer and a really unselfish post player. They were collapsing in on her. Other players might have gotten frustrated but she made some good passes out. There might have been a couple of times where we missed her and could have gotten her the ball more. She worked really hard defensively and was rebounding for us too."

Though JJ Hones did not start the game and Stanford had built an 13-point lead before she entered the contest, it was clear that Hones' return was big news for the Card. Besides those previously mentioned three three-pointers, the junior point guard contributed one of the highlight plays of the game when she hit a driving reverse lay-up after being popped in the face and fouled. Hones did not know her shot had gone in until given the good word by teammates and the cheering crowd. Said Hones, "It was so nice to play. It was killing me sitting on the bench."

Hones on the bench may not have been killing the Cardinal, but having her back on court did make a big difference even in practice, according to VanDerveer. It may not have been coincidence that the perimeter shooting opened up at this moment. "We're trying to open the floor a little bit," explained VanDerveer. "Jeanette has been doing a fabulous job for us running the point and I'm so proud of her coming back in such great shape. She's really worked on her three-point shot. And now to have JJ right on the horizon coming back really changes our team. JJ helped us in practice yesterday, just her presence on the court. I should have had her practice with her [protective] boot on. She really gives great stability with her experience and poise. Other people feed off that."

The Card might also be feeding off of the happy to fire away nature of freshman sharpshooter Lindy La Rocque. VanDerveer said La Rocque got the start because Rosalyn Gold-Onwude was late for practice but there is more to it than that. "Lindy opens things up for us. I just felt we needed that. She could help us with our perimeter scoring. It's contagious. Three-point shooting is kind of contagious. It opens things up," said VanDerveer, who compared La Rocque as a freshman to another recent Stanford long-range bomber, Krista Rappahahn.

"[I'd compare her to] Krista Rappahahn as a senior, not as a freshman. But if it's a pure shooting contest there are a lot of people on our team that if we put the clock on and we make passes to them, they can shoot as well as Lindy. Jeanette is shooting great. She's being asked to do a lot more. Some of it I think for Lindy is that she's playing very confidently and for a freshman she knows when to take good shots. She might take a couple of bad ones but some even go in. She's doing more for us. She relaxes people a little bit. She fires and you think the ball is going to hit the ceiling and it goes in. It's good to have somebody out there that they always have to worry about."

Between Hones and her oft-mentioned stabilizing, calming influence and now the relaxation provided by La Rocque, the Card should be a very imperturbable squad. Perhaps it is fortunate that Jeanette Pohlen is not the mellow sort on court. Pohlen's significant gains in fitness have been a topic of much praise from her coach. Pohlen credits a summer with a fitness coach for her improvement. "Before the summer I talked with Tara. She always has these little meetings before we leave. She said we needed to run more next year. We needed to get in better shape. So I worked with a speed coach along with doing other basketball skills and he really helped me out a lot. He is a track coach. He's worked with sprinters. He knows running form. I feel like I can go a lot longer," described Pohlen.

Pohlen and her teammates may need their best running form when they take on #2-ranked Rutgers on Sunday in the biggest non-conference home game of the season. The Scarlet Knights are fast and love to pressure with their aggressive and quick defense. Stanford will need to be hitting from outside without neglecting the inside to stay ahead of Rutgers. Even with all the delight over the hot shooting against New Mexico, it is worth noting that the Card cooled considerably from beyond the arc after their scorching start. They connected on only 4 of the last 17 threes after starting off 8-10. And while not forcing things inside was the smart way to go against the Lobos, the Card posts will have to impose themselves on the game more robustly against a team like Rutgers that can defend the perimeter so tightly. This is a team-wide issue; Stanford must do a better job feeding their posts. That staple of Stanford basketball has not truly emerged yet this season. Sunday would be a great time to bust out with some inside domination. Several Stanford players will be on hand at Cal this Friday evening to scout Rutgers as they tangle with the Bears.

Said Jillian Harmon, who will be one of the scouts, "We have so many talented players on this team and with the loss of someone like Candice (Wiggins) who did a lot for us last year, I think a lot of people are still finding their roles and learning where they can pick their spots. I think it is coming together though."

Will it come together soon enough?

For Don Anderson's photo gallery and slideshow from this game, click HERE.

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