Footloose Again

After pulling into a tie for first place in the Pac-10 by beating Cal last week, the Cardinal had to knuckle down and take care of more mundane business, which they did by knocking off the pesky Oregon State Beavers 72-43.

The Oregon State Beavers like to gnaw away at opponents with a soundly executed offensive system that gets shots for their trio of guards, enough heft to knock people around inside, and a very physical and aggressively played defense featuring quick hands in passing lanes and some pressing from their pesky little guards. Fortunately for Stanford, the Cardinal were the ones with the quicker feet on court in Maples Pavilion on Thursday night; the Beavers could not stem the flow of white jerseys pouring in the transition points. Stanford continued their recent run of well, running, and again, just as usual this season, started relatively slowly and then stretched their legs and their lead in the second half.

After maintaining a 6 to 8 point advantage for much of the first half, Stanford opened up a 12-point halftime lead when senior F Jill "The Thrill" Harmon popped in one of her patented fade-away jumpers at the buzzer. "The Thrill" pumped some life into an effort that felt scattered despite 50% shooting in the first half. Maybe it was the number of turnovers (7) or the way the Beavers were tipping passes and disrupting the offense. More probably it was the absence of the rebounding dominance Stanford typically enjoys. Stanford and Oregon State were almost dead even in rebounds in the first half. The Cardinal started the second half by executing better on offense while continuing to smother the Beavers' offensive efforts. The improved Stanford rebounding led to a multitude of transition opportunities and easy baskets. Stanford built a 25-point lead early in the second half and let the bench close out the 72-43 victory. For the game the home team shot over 50%. It would not be fair to say the Card coasted over this well-coached and active Oregon State team. This was a solid, workmanlike effort with occasional bursts of inspired passing in transition.

Dual high scorers for the Cardinal were junior C Jayne Appel (7-10 shooting, 6 boards, 3 assists and 4 blocks) and freshman F Nnemkadi Ogwumike (6-7 shooting and 5 rebounds) with 15 points apiece. Sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen, who finished with 8 assists, 8 points, and 2 steals, spearheaded the transition passing with several gorgeous long bombs, most often to Appel, who made the opposing posts look immobile and the opposing guards look silly as she motored by them. Do they somehow not notice her? Yo! Hello! Some tall chick keeps running right by you. Yes, they're gonna pass it to her. The aforementioned "Thrill" contributed 9 points and is perilously close to cracking the 1000-point mark for her career. The leading rebounder was sophomore F Kayla Pedersen with 7. Freshman C Sarah Boothe turned in 8 points and 5 rebounds. RS junior G Rosalyn Gold-Onwude continued a quiet but noticeable offensive uptick, this time with 7 points. One sad note was an apparent ACL tear to the left knee of sophomore G Hannah Donaghe earlier this week in practice. Donaghe will miss the remainder of the season.

Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer:

"I'm really impressed with Oregon State, how physical they are and how they execute. Our team focused on doing what we needed to do to take away their perimeter shooting. We got out and ran on them. Probably our best defense was our offense, getting out in transition, Jayne running the floor, Nneka running the floor. I'm really excited about how well our team is playing together. Ros sets the tone defensively. Jeanette D'd it up. We didn't do as good a job in the first half rebounding but we rebounded better in the second half. And we got out and ran.

We were down against Oregon State at halftime up there. They are a very physical team, a very capable team. I personally felt we had to play really well. I tried to communicate that to our team. A lot of the tone is set by Jayne. She comes out, she wants the ball, and she runs the floor.

This was my kind of game where everyone plays and everyone did well. There are some very young players who are just learning a whole new system and now it's starting to come naturally to them. In the beginning of the year there are so many things that Nneka, Sarah, and Lindy (La Rocque) have to think about. And again, we're also playing people in some different positions. Jeanette and Ros hadn't played the "1" for us in the last year or so. It took a while for them to get comfortable playing the "1." I'm really excited about the improvement and the commitment to doing what we need them to do.

We're trying to get ready for the Pac-10 tournament. We like being in first place and we want to stay there."

Jeanette Pohlen on facing Oregon State:

"Coming into the game we knew Oregon State was known for their aggressive defense. They're probably one of the most aggressive teams in the Pac-10. I think we were prepared for it. We probably could have been a little bit more aggressive. They were definitely very aggressive in the first half. When we ran on them in the second half, that showed our aggressiveness."

Some thoughts on running from Appel, Pohlen and Ogwumike:

Jayne Appel:

"That's what we look to come out and do every game. That's our goal – rebound and run. We're going to do that on every team that we play against. It makes the game more exciting, more fast-paced. That's the way we like to play. We want to come out and play like that every night."

Jeanette Pohlen:

"It makes my job a lot easier at the point guard position, pushing the ball and knowing I have four other people, three other people, running for me. If we can get an easy bucket without them setting up or us having to set up a play or anything, I think that's the best thing to do."

Nneka Ogwumike:

"I think it is just really cool that we know where each player is on the fast break. We're not looking for each other. We know exactly where that one person is going to be. Most likely Jayne is going to be pushing it down the court and Jeanette will just pop it down after someone rebounds it and passes it. So I think it's just cool that we can click like that."

And now a dissertation by Professor Rosalyn Gold-Onwude on being a baller (with a few interjections by Tara VanDerveer):

"I definitely feel like as long as there is one more game, as long as there are games to be played, there is room to ball out. And that's how I come into games. You have to! That's the way you have to come into the game.

Tara, before practice today, came to the guards and she asked all the guards, ‘How many points did you score? How many points did you average in high school?'

There was nobody who scored less than 20 points a game in high school. So then she was like, ‘What was your game high?'

I was like, ‘I don't know, something like 34.'

She was trying to remind us that we are all scorers, we can all be out there, we can go out there and make shots. I don't know if she was trying to tell me to go for 34…"

VanDerveer interrupted the "Baller" soliloquy to marvel, "I didn't know you even listened to me, Ros!"

Continued Gold-Onwude, "Selective! I was waiting for key words. Everybody is working, you know? Sometimes all you need is that one play. It's really exciting to see when someone hits that one three, when someone makes that one steal, how revved up they are. Everybody is a gamer. Everybody is a baller. We've all been good players. People will step up.

I'm still hyped off of Lindy's play from the Cal game to be honest. I'm still moving off that play."

VanDerveer noted that the Harmon jumper to close the first half might qualify as a momentum changing play, an excitement play.

Concluded Gold-Onwude, "Jill the Thrill – put that in there! That's what we call her. We call her ‘Jill the Thrill.' That's her shot."

OK, we will. "Jill the Thrill" it is. And although we have been bawled out on rare occasions we don't believe we've ever "balled out." We do plan to do a little gardening later, so maybe we can try it then. When attempting to ball out, opposing plants should be about our speed. That Bougainvillea better watch out. We're ballers, baby. And we've got pruning shears. We will also take some time at each remaining game to stop and smell (figuratively) "Jill the Thrill." Sadly, there are not many games left before "The Thrill" is gone.

One whose thrill seems to have long departed is Oregon State Head Coach LaVonda Wagner, who wins our "Crankiest Coach Award" for making a habit of barging into the media room out of turn with no players in tow and being less than eager to give thoughtful answers. Perhaps she was annoyed that her team this year is basically the same as her teams are every year – notably well coached and hardworking but not talented enough to really make a dent in the conference picture. Or perhaps she did not appreciate all the "balling out" by Stanford. But you know, balling out is a two way street.

Regarding the Cardinal, Wagner said, "[Stanford] played exactly how we knew they could and they play that way at home. They're very good at home."

After praise for her offensive system and a question about how well she thought her offense ran, she offered only, "In our system, we usually knock down shots."

Wagner was not pleased that Stanford was able to score 48 points in the paint and also cited the 20 second-chance points Stanford scored off their 16 offensive rebounds as a key factor. Oregon State was led by guards Brittney Davis with 12 points and Talisa Rhea with 10. The Beavers committed 17 turnovers vs. only 8 assists and shot 30.4% for the game.

One troubling aspect to this game was yet another slow start by the Cardinal. They were sharper in the first half than they were against Cal a week earlier, but Oregon State does not present the challenge the Bears did. In particular, early turnovers and an offensive that apparently needs to warm up before starting to click are holding back the Cardinal. It is all well and good to wear teams down and run them ragged in the second half, but the Card need to impose themselves on the proceedings against teams that might not crumble when the Card get to rumbling down the court later in the game. Starting slowly might work against Oregon State or even against Cal at home but probably won't cut it on the road in LA. If Stanford allows the SoCal home teams to hang around and get their teeth into the game, the Card may have a hard time shaking them loose. If we had one wish against Oregon (aside from the usual good health and a win) on Saturday, it would be for a quick start and some sharp, turnover-free execution of the offense early. Oregon, which got spanked by 40 at Cal on Thursday, should not pose much of a threat. Stanford could get by with a sluggish start. But they should be better than that. Time to ball out from the opening tip. Stanford will be playing with fire from here on out if they don't.

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

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