Stanford academic finals may have just ended but these upcoming basketball tests are only midterms. Three beautiful A's would be dandy, but if the Card fall short, they will have plenty of time to brush up on the physics of the triangle offense or get a better handle on the psychology of a closing out a game.
No Dog Day for Fresno State as Stanford Rolls
We are not sure if Stanford Head coach and dog lover, Tara VanDerveer, could truly be pleased. On Humane Society Pet Day, when romping dogs ran an obstacle course in the best half time show ever at Maples Pavilion and the scoreboard was resplendent with way too cute scenes of fans with their beloved pooches, VanDerveer's Cardinal abused some puppies. The undersized Fresno State Bulldogs were not even thrown a bone at the end of the game; Stanford added insult to injury by hitting 100 in the closing seconds on free throws by sophomore F Ashley Cimino that made the final score 100-62. "We obviously ran into a very talented Stanford team tonight," said Fresno State Head Coach Adrian Wiggins. "They have some really good players that play hard. They're well coached. We felt like if we could eliminate some of the transition game, it would help us at least stop some easy buckets. That's hard to do. They did a good job of controlling the rebounds of our missed shots, outletting it, and beating us down the floor, creating some easy buckets. That led to some momentum early that made it a difficult start for us." Despite their lack of size, Fresno State has been a strong rebounding team this season, but Stanford out-rebounded the Bulldogs 50 to 30. Junior C Jayne Appel grabbed 10 boards, freshman C Sarah Boothe 8, and sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen 7 for the Cardinal. Freshman F Nneka Ogwumike, who was making her first career start in place of injured senior F Jillian Harmon, was on the receiving end of some of the transition passing those rebounds helped create. Ogwumike scored 19 points on 9-11 shooting in only 20 minutes of play and her early activity near the hoop helped Stanford race out to a 15-2 lead. Fresno State could not stop the Cardinal from lobbing to Ogwumike under the basket for lay-ins. Eight of Stanford's 25 total assists were on baskets by the freshman forward. The Bulldogs also could not stop sophomore F Kayla Pedersen, who moved to the "3" from her usual "4" spot. Pedersen led the scoring with 21 points and tied for team high with 5 assists. Pohlen contributed 14 points, mainly from outside the arc (4-8 three-point shots) and 3 steals. Appel added 13 points, 5 assists, and 3 blocks to go with her 10 rebounds. Said VanDerveer, "Our team really came out excited to play after being off for two weeks. I was really pleased how Nneka came right into our starting lineup and did a really nice job. We moved Kayla to the ‘3' and she looks like she's played that all her life, really ran the floor well. They're a tough team to play because they play so unorthodox, but our team stepped up. We were sloppy in some parts of the game but otherwise we shot well. We could rebound better. We could take care of the ball better. But [those things] will give us some things to work on. We had our usual very steady play from Jeanette. I'm really excited about how well she's been playing." Stanford cruised to a 21-point lead that Fresno Stare cut to 13 at the half with a late run. Fresno State's preferred style entails a lot of driving to the basket against taller and presumably slower players combined with kick-outs to several excellent three-point shooters. Stanford's task was to keep in front of the much smaller Bulldogs without having to help on defense and leave shooters open on the perimeter. Throughout the first half, the quick Bulldogs had some success driving on Stanford or knocking down long threes. The halftime score was 48-35. Guard Marnique Arnold had 11 points in the half for Fresno State and finished the game with 21. Teammate Jaleesa Ross hit 3 three-point shots in the first half. The Cardinal popped the lead back up to 20 in short order in the second half with Ogwumike again doing some early damage, and then just kept pulling methodically away. Fresno State shot slightly less well in the second half and found fewer clean looks from deep. The final margin of 38 was the largest of the game. Nine of the eleven available Stanford players surpassed 12 minutes on court. "Number 30 (Ogwumike) made some phenomenal ally-oop type shots and we just don't have an answer to that. She elevates to a point that unless we get a ladder, we couldn't get up there. If she would have come back down with the ball, we could have been effective," said Wiggins. After the game Tara VanDerveer compared Ogwumike to three-time Olympian and Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Katrina McClain. "Katrina McClain is to me the quintessential ‘4' player in terms of athleticism, scoring on the block, a competitor, and Nneka has that kind of game and that kind of upside," proclaimed VanDerveer. "[Nneka] is really working hard, learning what we are doing. There is a lot coming at her but I'm really happy because she's doing the things that I'm asking her to do. She's running the floor. She had those nice layups. She's rebounding better. [She] catches the ball, finishes well. She's working hard and improving very rapidly." Getting the starting assignment agreed with Ogwumike, who noted, "Being in the starting lineup definitely helped me. It boosted my confidence. I felt more comfortable. I was just really excited to be able to play with my teammates at the start of the game." Senior F Jillian Harmon missed the Fresno State game with what VanDerveer called "back spasms" and is a "coin flip" for the Tuesday game at Duke. An MRI was negative and Harmon may practice on Sunday or Monday. Harmon initially injured her back on November 30th at Hawaii. VanDerveer thought Fresno State's style was good preparation for the upcoming road swing through Duke, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Stanford did struggle a bit with turnovers in the second half. They finished with 16 for the game and 11 came after the break, including 5 in a row midway through the half that caused VanDerveer to call a timeout despite holding a 23-point lead. A few of the turnovers came from Bulldog pressure but most were self-induced and readily preventable. "Fresno State is a very athletic team," explained VanDerveer. "They're not as big as Duke, Tennessee, or South Carolina, but I think playing half-court trap a little bit, that might get people's attention on our team that we have to do a better job and not be sloppy with the ball. They had some really good three-point shooters and where we're going, we're going to play against some really good three-point shooters. They fronted. They were pretty aggressive defensively. We made some really nice passes. If anything our team was extremely unselfish, Jayne especially. Sometimes I'm just like, shoot the layup! She really was passing the ball well. Nneka just catches anything people pass to her. She finishes really well. Kayla and Jeanette are both really heady. The things that we played against today will help us where we're going." "I think Fresno State did a great job of preparing us, for Duke especially," agreed Kayla Pedersen. "They gave us a little bit of trouble with their press and that's what Duke is going to do the whole game. So if we can just work on that a little bit more, get our turnovers down, I think we'll be fine." With ranked teams dropping like flies, sometimes repeatedly, 2008-09 is shaping up to be a topsy-turvy year where early losses may not carry that much weight. It matters more who adapts and improves. If the craziness continues, and there is no reason to suspect not, few teams will have locks on the tops seeds come tournament time. The seeds themselves will matter less than usual since so many teams appear capable but so few dominate. Stanford's three-game road trip to Duke on Tuesday, South Carolina on Friday, and Tennessee on Sunday comes at a good time for the Cardinal. Slip-ups should not be too harmful to their quest for favorable post-season pairings. The pressures of playing top opponents on the road will clearly establish Stanford's current level of play and lay bare what they must improve heading into conference play in early January. This trip is an appealing, exciting challenge. If they win, they gain. If they lose, they may gain just as much in the end. Said VanDerveer, "We'll learn more about our team in December. I think our game last year against Connecticut that early really set us up for the championship game run that we had. If we hadn't played them in the Paradise Jam I don't think we would have gone to the Final Four. In fact, I know we wouldn't have. So playing Duke, playing Tennessee, playing against different teams, will teach us about our team and will help us as coaches and players to know what to do, how to compete better."
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