Stanford Rips Rutgers
After Stanford recovered from a poor outing at Baylor with a blowout win at home over New Mexico, there was much hope but no certainty that the Card would be ready for a Rutgers team coming west ranked #2 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Well, the Cardinal were more than ready but the Scarlet Knights were not. Despite trailing by 5 points in the first 5 minutes, Stanford led by 20 at the half and pulled even farther away late in the game to make the final score 81-47. The Cardinal have made huge strides in only a week, though seeing as Cal also pummeled Rutgers, it is now very clear that the Scarlet Knights have a collection of young talent that is not functioning cohesively yet. Said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, "This was a really big win for our team. We've come a long way since last week. I'm really proud of how people worked hard this week. This is an excellent team we just beat. Rutgers is a very young team. What you see from them in November is not what you'll see in March. They have some great young talent that is just figuring out how to play together. And we had a lot of young people who today figured it out. I was really proud of how Nneka (Ogwumike) played. I thought she had a great game. Jayne (Appel) really stepped up big. Jeanette (Pohlen)… We did a really good job of taking care of the ball. We didn't turn it over. We got good shots. We knocked down big shots early, got our confidence going with Jill (Harmon) hitting a three right away. JJ (Hones) and Jeanette hit shots. We were able to zone them the whole game and we're pretty big when we're in that zone." During the opening minutes Rutgers appeared to be more focused than they had been at Cal two nights earlier. The Knights remembered to get the ball inside to senior C Kia Vaughn, who had 6 quick points. The visitors led 13-8 after 5 minutes and the crowd settled in to stomp and yell their way through what looked like a real fight. Then Stanford switched to a zone defense with freshman F Nneka Ogwumike, junior C Jayne Appel, and sophomore F Kayla Pedersen strung out along the baseline. Rutgers never solved that zone, which the Cardinal employed almost the entire game. The Scarlet Knights struggled to score 9 more points in the first half, which ended with Stanford up 42-20 and Rutgers needing to make some serious adjustments. In the 28-6 Stanford run that essentially put the game away, Appel scored 10 points and junior G JJ Hones hit 3 three-point shots. The major adjustment Rutgers made in the second half was to rouse the heretofore relatively inactive officials. Though the Scarlet Knights' goal must have been to play better, more aggressive defense, the result was a lot of hard and obvious fouling early in the half that riled up the crowd and spurred the officials into hyper-vigilance. In the first half Rutgers was whistled for 6 fouls and Stanford for 4. In the second half the Knights were called for 18 infractions and Stanford 9. The Cardinal sank only 8 baskets in the second half but camped at the free throw line, making 20-22 freebies. Six Stanford players finished with 8 or more points led by Appel, who had 19 points on 8-11 shooting and 14 rebounds. Pedersen (17 points and 4 rebounds) sank two threes and was 7-7 from the free throw line. Ogwumike chipped in 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, including one where she stretched to tip a rebound out to Pedersen at the three-point line. Stanford's posts played the kind of assertive, take-no-prisoners game the team will need to reach their goals this season. This was a breakout game for the bigs. We love Appel's assists but we were sort of glad to see that she only had one this game. We'd rather she score the 19 and knock Kia Vaughn on her ass. Other high scorers were Hones and senior F Jillian Harmon with 9 apiece and sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen with 8. Stanford had no trouble with the Scarlet Knights' vaunted press. The Cardinal committed only 3 turnovers in the first half, only 8 total in the game, and had no trouble passing over or dribbling through the Rutgers defenders. One of our favorite press breaks is the Jillian Harmon Express, which is simply Harmon straight ahead up the middle as fast as she can go. Harmon gets up a head of steam, much like a running back hitting a hole, and then nobody seems very interested in getting in her way. They'd probably have to tackle her anyway. The Card shredded the press several times for easy buckets and the Knights never seemed comfortable that their press would not cause them more harm than good though they persisted with it for most of the second half. It was an uncomfortable road trip on the whole for the team from New Jersey. Said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer, "We've been hitting buzz saws this whole California trip. Stanford was no different. They shoot extremely well. They have great balance. Tara (VanDerveer] is a great coach. It's good to see them play as they did. I wish for us to have given them better competition. She and I made a pact some time ago that she would take care of the west, Pat Summitt would take care of the south and I would take care of the east. She and I have shared some very historical moments and so I see that we've got a lot of work to take care of the east." Somehow that quote brings to mind The Wizard of Oz. But who helps Dorothy, who gets the creepy castle full of flying monkeys, and who has to watch for falling houses? And what about the north? A house might indeed have fallen on Stanford with about 3 minutes to go in the first half when junior point guard JJ Hones crumpled to the ground with what appeared to be a serious injury to her left knee. Final confirmation is pending but there is little doubt Hones is gone for the season. Hones was a key contributor in last season's NCAA run and had improved tremendously even over that high standard over the summer. She was probably Stanford's best three-point shooter and her 17-minute line on Sunday included 9 points on 3-4 three-pointers and 6 assists, including one beauty where she received a contested outlet pass and made a long touch-pass over a Rutgers defender to Jeanette Pohlen for an easy lay-up at the other end. "She'll get an MRI and I don't know any more than that," said Tara VanDerveer. "She's unfortunately experienced this before. It's very upsetting to see a player go down like that." "We've had it happen to JJ our freshman year," stated Jayne Appel when asked how the team kept powering ahead after seeing the injury occur. "At that point you just say we're going to win this for her and try not to look over at her, just keep on going with what we had going on at that point in time." Added VanDerveer, "It's unfortunate that knee injuries are such an epidemic in women's basketball. We try to do everything that we can to avoid it and prevent it but Jayne has seen it a couple of times. I've seen it a lot more than I want to. I think for this particular team, we have great leaders in Jill, Jayne, Kayla, Jeanette, Nneka, and you have to keep playing – you don't have any other choice. It's sad. We're very disappointed. We have to move on very quickly. The fact that Jeanette had played the "1" basically our first 3 games and our exhibition games really helped her and also I think Mel (Murphy), Ros (Gold-Onwude) and Jill will help us out at that position. It's over. We have to move on." Going forward, what can we expect from the Cardinal? Losing Hones puts a major crimp in their Final Four plans. A whole lot of leadership, three-point shooting, and sharp offensive execution goes to the sidelines. There were questions after losing graduated star Candice Wiggins but the past two games indicated that those questions would ultimately be answered to the good. Now we pile on yet more questions. First of all, can Jeanette Pohlen be a great point guard, great enough to lead the team deep into the NCAAs? This one is actually not that hard. Yes, she can. Watching Pohlen even in her first games as a freshman last season, it was clear that she was great with the ball in her hands on the break and that she had a great feel for the game. Watching her this year it is also clear that she has command of the offense and the skills to run the point. She won't be the JJ Hones we saw against Rutgers, but neither was Hones until she had a year or two of experience. Pohlen has a season to work with and a great start upon which to build. "Jeanette is one of the hardest workers we've had in our program and that says a lot [considering] the young people we've had in our program," proclaimed VanDerveer. How comfortable is Pohlen at the point? "Getting comfortable and getting more comfortable by the day," answered Pohlen. "It's nice that the coaches have confidence in me and my teammates have confidence in me, which really helps me and helps me get through each day and keep improving each game." A second critical question is how much load the posts can bear given the uncertainty at guard. The Rutgers game provides a positive answer here as well. Appel did what she has to do and will have to do from here on out when Stanford faces a difficult foe. Think 20 and 10. Think 15, 10 and 7 or even think triple double, but think big. Freshman C Sarah Boothe did not get much playing time against Rutgers but expectations are that Boothe will be a contributor down the road this season after she gets a bit more experience. Pedersen had a nice game Sunday but also has to continue to adjust to playing the "3" more, which means there is upside and space to grow for her as well. Ogwumike, who has amazing quickness inside, is getting better by the game. She is learning, her teammates are learning what she can do, and the sky is the limit for this exciting freshman. Yes, the posts can carry a heavy load and do so in a way that still gives the Cardinal a varied offense. "Nneka might be one of the most talented, athletic players and she is a one trial learner. You tell her one time and she gets it. Jayne is so unselfish as a post player," commented VanDerveer. "Unfortunately this is a bittersweet day but I'm going to focus on the real positive things our team did. I have a lot of confidence everyone will keep improving." Said Appel, "It's just week by week learning to play with each other, learning what each other's tendencies are and knowing the next move that you expect them to make." Question three is obviously what happens now that the Cardinal are a woman down in the guard rotation, which thus far has been primarily Hones, Pohlen, Gold-Onwude and freshman Lindy La Rocque. More will be needed from all the guards, including RS sophomore Melanie Murphy and sophomore Hannah Donaghe. Of those listed as guards on the roster, none other than Pohlen and Hones played over 7 minutes against Rutgers, a team that does not focus on their inside game very much. Stanford spent a lot of time in the second half using a jumbo line-up of Appel, Pedersen, Ogwumike, Harmon, and Pohlen. One solution is from now on, presto chango, Harmon is 100% guard, no more lurking with paint crew, no more F for forward. Step backward, Jillian Harmon, and be a guard. The cute little player cards they were giving out at the Marketing table in Maples Pavilion are now wrong - she is senior G for guard Jillian Harmon. It's not a perfect fit because while Harmon is hitting her threes (2-5 on the season) including one that opened Stanford's scoring against Rutgers, long-range bombing is not really her bag. But Stanford is fine at forward with RS sophomore Michelle Harrison available to pick up some minutes with the bigs if Harmon mingles with the perimeter crowd more. Might we also see more of the zone that was so effective against Rutgers? Many teams struggle from outside and most do not love zones. Whatever happens will be interesting. The puzzle just got trickier and some pieces may need to be subtly reshaped. The Cardinal head to Hawaii for tournament games on three consecutive days with Purdue, Iowa State, and Hawaii in that order. Purdue is 3-0 and #19 in the latest AP Top 25 poll. Iowa State is also 3-0 and is ranked #25 this week. Consider this series of games a great early test of the new Cardinal chassis. Keep the color-scheme and no need to buy rust protection or an extended warranty as long as the shock absorbers are in good shape. For Don Anderson's photo gallery and slideshow from this game, click HERE.
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