No Takers

Before Battle of the Bay, Part II we heard a fair bit of talk from the coaches and players at Cal about leaving legacies, taking what Stanford has, and even a little discourse on who owns whom. It made good copy but actions speak louder than words and points on the scoreboard scream the loudest – Stanford 58-41.

We shall start with the premise that you (yes you, guiltily peering at these words while shuffling through your Valentine's Day candy collection) saw this game, a 58-41 Stanford triumph (technically an upset by the rankings) over the California Golden Bears. You would have seen the 30-4 run in the early portion of the second half that took Stanford from 10 down to a 16-point lead. You would have seen Stanford G Lindy La Rocque belly flop her way to brilliance. If you did not, well, you better have a good excuse or turn in your Cardinal gear. We don't blame you if you averted your eyes through most of the first half, but if you did not make time to see this one or record it for later enjoyment, for shame.

The California Golden Bears, making their bid to wrest control of the regular-season Pac-10 crown from its rightful home of the past 8 seasons, came into the game riding high with a #3 ranking and a victory over the Cardinal in Berkeley to their credit. The Bears had the more experienced team and felt they had improved since the first meeting between the two teams a month ago. Cal could point to a rejuvenated former Pac-10 Player of the Year in senior C Devanei Hampton, who has recently made big strides in her conditioning after coming back from a series of knee problems, improved post depth with junior C/F Rama N'diaye back from ACL rehab, and the threat of another huge game from RS junior G Alexis Gray-Lawson, who personally sank the Card in the first Battle of the Bay of 2009 and might induce Stanford to rethink their defensive strategies.

The Bears really thought they had an excellent shot to come in to Maples Pavilion and plant themselves firmly atop the Pac-10 standings. They certainly let it be known that they were out to take what they wanted. Whether or not the chatter made any difference, the challenge posed by the Bears absolutely did bring out a level of intensity in the Cardinal that they have not always been able to muster at critical points in close games. The second half of the Battle of the Bay 2009 Part II was a blast and may have been a key stretch in the season - the Card got the win by attaining the level of refuse-to-lose passion required for the one-and-done format of the NCAA tournament, which rolls up in oh, about a month or so. Stanford went from the depths of basketball quicksand to the surface so quickly they could have gotten the bends. If you missed it, we are sorry.

Big guns for Stanford in this one were junior C Jayne Appel, who had a huge second half to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds, and senior F Jillian Harmon, who continued her exceptional scoring of late with 18 points. The sparkplug play of the game belonged to freshman G Lindy La Rocque (who looks like she could be called "Sparky"). In the run that brought Stanford back from a 10-point deficit early in the second half, La Rocque contributed a key three-point shot and the acknowledged play of the game, which we will let her describe for you later.

Cal Head Coach Joanne Boyle:

Tough game for us. We played great in the first half and actually like 5 or 6 minutes into the second half. Then Ash (Walker) and Lexi (Gray-Lawson) picked up two fouls and [Stanford] hit their next two baskets and nobody can miss a shot. I just feel that we fell apart from the 14-minute mark on.

They have a great game plan. It's one of those things. We get in foul trouble. We sub. I had 3 veteran leaders on the floor. I had Dev, Lauren (Greif), and Tasha (Vital). They could have just calmed everybody down and got into it. I think it was more us on the offensive end. I feel we zoned out. People weren't running the plays. We were haphazard. We were lazy. We were lackadaisical with the ball. I felt like [Stanford] got every loose ball. And then Jayne's never going to have two bad halves. It's not going to happen. It's like Ash. She gets one but she's not going to get two. So then they just pound the ball in to Jayne and we don't make adjustments.

I felt like there was a period of time where they just wanted it more and everything was going their way. We didn't keep our composure at all.

It's not our season. It's one game. But it says a lot. We've got to regroup. I told the kids in there, ‘It's not our season.' They've got to rally around. We talk about leaving a legacy. This is definitely not the game that we're talking about leaving as a legacy. Where do we regroup individually? I just felt there was a lack of focus in that second half - a real lack of focus offensively and defensively. And that is not something I've seen from my team this year. Early on with the Oklahoma game (which Cal lost after holding a very large lead at the half) – veteran team (Oklahoma), December, you know? We faced a little adversity. I get that. But this is mid-February, veteran team on our part – it's just not acceptable.

Boyle on the "They have what we want" focus:

They have a Pac-10 championship and a regular season title. You always have to feel like you have to go take something from somebody. No one is ever going to give it to you. Then to think you can take it in 25 minutes? It's not going to happen against a great team. It's just not going to happen.

Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer:

That was a great game, a battle. It was like a heavyweight fight. We had two fighters get knocked out. (Stanford sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen and Cal junior G Natasha Vital knocked heads late in the game.) It was very aggressively played. The turning point for us was when Lindy went for that loose ball. We came up with it. We got the energy going. We started running a little bit. We hit some nice outside shots in the second half and we went in to Jayne really well in the second half.

I thought Ros (Gold-Onwude) did a fabulous job defensively. She was really determined. She worked really hard on Alexis Gray-Lawson. We all know what Alexis did last game. [Ros] set the tone for our defense. And in the second half, Jill, with her size, is a great helper (on defense). She's cagey. She came off of people. Jayne stayed in the game, played really smart. We have to double their post players. Their post players are really tough. [Cal junior G Lauren Greif] was hitting early so we had to be a little cagey. I thought people really played what we call ‘scouting report defense' really well.

Stanford senior F Jillian Harmon:

We really showed our poise. Everyone came in and contributed in some way. We made plays. We got stops. We just kept talking that we needed one stop at a time and even when we got the lead, we needed one stop at a time and to box out. We did a great job limiting them to one shot in the second half.

Stanford freshman G Lindy La Rocque on her long slide chasing a loose ball and subsequent assist while stretched out on the floor to Harmon for an easy layup that cut Cal's lead to one point:

I thought I had a shot because I knew [Natasha Vital] wasn't going to go down for it. But it started when Jeanette (Pohlen) got up on Greif and kind of tipped the ball away, and then it bounced off her foot. So I was like, Jeanette is hustling and going after the ball and that ball was laying on the floor so I might as well be too. I dove after it and I was thinking, "Who am I going to pass to?" I looked up and Jill was right there so I was like, ‘Oh, great!' Jill was like a little angel right there and I just passed it over.

Stanford RS junior G Rosalyn Gold-Onwude on La Rocque's steal:

I was on the bench when it happened. I got lightheaded. We were so hyped. When she dove from between the half and three-point lines (and slid almost to the basket) it was crazy – play of the game!

Gold-Onwude on defending Alexis Gray-Lawson:

The entire team was really pumped. We just couldn't let that happen again. That's a pride issue. They're a good team. It sent a wake-up call to us about how we can't just show up. We've got to earn the reputation that Stanford has. And tonight we were like, if you (Cal) are going to do it, you're going to have to be consistently good to have what we have. So I think we made our statement too.

Random Notes:

POY?

The conference season is just over halfway gone, so this is jumping the gun by a lot, but let's think for a moment about Pac-10 Player of the Year. POY comes to mind because two of the favorites for the title have just concluded the regular season series. The presumptive POY has got to be Cal's Ashley Walker, who is the leading scorer in the conference at around 20 ppg (I'd love to give stats and rankings for conference and non-conference games, but the stats page on the Pac-10 site happens to be down at the moment). Walker weighs in with 20.1 points, 56% shooting, and 8.1 rebounds per game in 31.7 mpg. But don't forget Jayne Appel, who scores 15.7 ppg on 63% shooting with 9.4 rpg, and 3.4 apg in only 25.8 mpg. Appel is currently scoring 17.0 ppg in conference (69% shooting).

It is also worth looking at the performances of Walker and Appel in the two Battles of the Bay. Appel went for 18 points and 8 boards in the first Battle and 22 points and 14 boards in the second for an average of 20 points and 11 rebounds. Walker scored 5 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in Battle I and 11 points and 8 rebounds in Battle II for an average of 8 points and 7.5 rebounds. How a player does in only two games is not everything, but these are the games that define the conference season, and to my mind a POY should come up big when it matters most. Piling up great stats while beating Oregon or Washington is not enough. I think it will be Walker because she is having a great senior year and has had a great career, and because after all those years of Nicole Powell or Candice Wiggins winning, not being from Stanford is surely a plus for voters who want to spread the wealth. As of right now, if I had a vote (which I do not), it would go to Appel. Remember, just because we're homers doesn't mean we're wrong.

Talk Talk

Before this game quotes from Ashley Walker that Alexis Gray-Lawson felt that Stanford was one of the teams she "owned" floated around the news. Gray-Lawson has had some brilliant games against the Cardinal. She scored 30 points in one game her freshman year and had the 37 in January. In the four contests sandwiched between those big games, she scored 8, 12, 7, and 6 points. On Saturday night she managed but 4 points. That is not exactly ownership - maybe more like an occasional short-term lease. Stanford would have been motivated to stop her regardless, but Walker did her no favors with the "owning" talk. That won't be forgotten soon.

Talk Talk II

Coach Boyle has said on several occasions that she and her Bears want to take what Stanford has. Of course they do and of course they should. Their job is to win, to make it to the top of the Pac-10 heap and to stay there. There can be no quarrel with those ambitions. However it might be wiser not to shout those desires from the hilltops quite so loudly. I can only imagine that those words help fuel in the Stanford players and coaches an even stronger drive to thwart, crush, and otherwise stomp Cal into the mud, despite all the happy talk about how both teams can do well, how Cal's improvement helps both teams, etc., etc.

If the Bears do earn a title or a share of one, they would have accomplished a lot and could celebrate having brought the program to new heights. They can't really have what Stanford has though, not based on the outcome of any one given season. As Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said in the media room after the game, "And tonight we were like, if you (Cal) are going to do it, you're going to have to be consistently good to have what we have."

First we have to define good and then we have to see the consistency. For starters how about getting past the round of 32 in the NCAAs, which Cal has never done? How about winning not one but several conference titles? Cal has never won a Pac-10 title. Why must it be in terms of taking rather than simply trying to do what they want to do? It seems an unnecessary way to frame the Battle but if that is how it works, call me in 4 or 5 years and we'll see where the Bears are with this whole taking what you got thing. But don't hold your breath because…

Future Shock

Maybe I should say non-shock. The Pac-10 might look somewhat different next year but probably not shockingly so. I know it is fairly ridiculous to worry about next year when we can worry about this year but humor me. All this talk of taking things and legacies has my mind wandering ahead. Current cranky Pac-10 third wheel Arizona State starts a slew of seniors and when they graduate, the Sun Devils may fall off a bit. They'll probably be good with the patented Turner-Thorne system in place, but if they are not highly ranked with the roster they have now, they probably won't scare anyone next season either. Cal loses Walker, Hampton, and possibly (though not likely) Gray-Lawson, who has a redshirt year but was recently quoted as saying she might consider entering the WNBA draft. No matter, the heart of the team will be gone. Sure they have a nice class coming in with some holdover talent, but so did Rutgers this year and look how that fell apart. Even Orange Behemoth Tennessee, which has fabulous sophomore and freshmen classes, is struggling by their standards with all the youngsters. Cal will probably be good, but they will have big question marks. There is one highly ranked Pac-10 team that will have almost the entire roster back and will certainly be the favorite in 2009-2010. Wonder who that might be?

And now back to the current season. Oregon schools are coming to town. La Rocque might try a swan dive. Be there.


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