Put the Lime in the Coconut

Stanford suffered through yet another slow start but still had little trouble trouncing the Oregon Ducks 68 – 49 behind the energetic play of freshmen Nneka Ogwumike and Sarah Boothe.

Stanford's Saturday afternoon tilt with the Oregon Ducks started auspiciously enough. The Cardinal scored the first bucket of the game on a quick jump shot by senior F Jill "The Thrill" Harmon. Alas the quick score was Fool's Gold. After a series of games in which they struggled to find offensive rhythm early, the Cardinal were hoping to get untracked swiftly against an Oregon team they had blown out up in Eugene a month ago. Instead, despite the quick initial score, Stanford broke from the gate like a plow horse dumped into the Kentucky Derby. After a string of turnovers and missed layups, the Cardinal found themselves down 12 – 6 and Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer found herself so displeased with the energy level of the starting five that she benched them en masse at the 13:17 mark. Considering that VanDerveer could not recall the last time she had made such a drastic move, this mass sit-down was a strong condemnation.

VanDerveer did not get mistake-free basketball from her subs, but she did gain the requisite energy level, especially from freshman F Nneka Ogwumike, who had 9 points and 6 rebounds in the first half and a team-high 13 points in the game, and freshman C Sarah Boothe, who overcame two quick fouls to register 9 points and 2 steals in the half. Ogwumike and Boothe shouldered most of the scoring load in the first half, and along with freshman G Lindy La Rocque, RS sophomore G Melanie Murphy, and RS sophomore F Michelle Harrison, they shut down the Ducks and pulled the Cardinal into the lead. Stanford went on a 25 – 0 run that netted them a 19-point lead before Oregon would score again. Said VanDerveer about the high-quality, energetic play from her younger players, "If there is lemonade to be made, that is the lemonade from this lemon of a game."

Late February is not the best time to be squeezing lemons, no matter how much sugar you throw in to try to sweeten the mix. Though the chastened starters gradually trickled back into the game and performed well, the energy from the bench was the deciding factor in 68 – 49 win. Stanford ultimately built their lead to 30 in the second half, but suffered through some troubles with the Oregon press in the last few minutes of the contest. The final margin was 19. The reserves giveth and the reserves taketh away.

Other stat lines of note: sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen with 7 assists, 3 steals, and 11 points on 4-5 shooting including 2-2 from three-point range, sophomore F Kayla Pedersen with 9 points and 10 rebounds, and La Rocque with 9 points and 4 rebounds. As she has in every recent game, Pohlen dazzled with several sweet passes in transition and in the half-court game.

Said VanDerveer, "I was really pleased with how Sarah, Nneka, and really all of our young players came in and gave us a great spark in the first half. We pushed the ball well with Jeanette. We rebounded with Nneka and Sarah in there. That was just great to see. On the other side, it was very disappointing to see our lack of effort and lack of intensity from the start of the game. We've got to really regroup and get ready for USC and UCLA. Compliment to Oregon – I thought they came out and played very hard and very well."

Added VanDerveer, "I don't think we started with intensity or enthusiasm. I have a saying that nothing great is every accomplished without enthusiasm. I don't think we had any enthusiasm. But I thought Nneka and Sarah brought it. Then when Jeanette came back in… She plays really hard. She was kind of caught up in the fact that she was out there in the beginning and things weren't going well. But she came back and did a good job and made some great plays for us."

"When teams have slow starts you have to change things up," offered Ogwumike. "For me personally, I don't want to be subbed in because my teammate isn't playing well. I want to be subbed in because everyone can contribute. At that time we weren't in sync. We just kind of had a slow start. Coach put us in and told us to come out with energy and we tried our best and then we got into the flow of things. I think it's just all about contributions right now."

Stanford got a season-low scoring contribution from junior center Jayne Appel, who tallied 4 points on 2-4 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in 19 minutes. Noted VanDerveer, "You reach a point sometimes, where you start every game and you kind of think you can ho hum it, and we can't. We depend a lot on Jayne and she came out in the second half with more energy and more enthusiasm. Thankfully we didn't need her. She's gone to the mat for us over and over and over. Thankfully other people could fill in when maybe she was having an uncharacteristically poor day. Jayne is an All-American center who comes out I think every night and maybe just today things didn't go her way, but she stayed with things very well. She's tough. I'm not worried about Jayne."

VanDerveer is worried that her team understands that they cannot coast into games expecting to turn it on later if necessary. "This game points to something our team has got to understand – you're not going to get a second chance in a tournament," explained VanDerveer. "I hope our team can really learn an important lesson and realize that if we start slow against some teams, we're not going to get a second chance, we're not going to go on a 25-0 run. How is that going to happen in an NCAA tournament game or a Pac-10 tournament game against a top team? Oregon is not a tournament team. This is not a top-tier team but credit them – they do some things very well and they play very hard. I hope it is an opportunity for our team to learn a lesson without it costing us something. But again, I'm really proud of the way Nneka came out and Sarah came out and Jeanette went back in and the energy Lindy had. But I don't feel like we have a cushion. Our shooting – people are being left and we're not shooting the ball that well. If we don't have energy plays of rebounding and defense, we're going to be a quick in and out in the tournament. Today I don't think we saw a healthy team in terms of the mental toughness we need to have. That was disappointing."

So after hearing all that, how worried should Stanford fans be? Oddly enough, we think at this point not very…yet. Stanford does need to play better but in all seasons the energy and performance level of any team fluctuates. No team is at the top of their game all the time. We've been kicking around at this fan thing for a while now, and we've seen how assuming that a given level of play (fine or poor) will continue can be so very wrong. Just when you think a team has it all together, they slip, and just when you think they are irrevocably slipping, they rise. The trend to start slowly is disconcerting but far from an unconquerable flaw. The main bugaboo lately has been the spate of early, unforced errors; the early turnovers have often resulted from a strange combination of tentative offensive play coupled with forcing things a little too much. But if the Cardinal are capable of playing well and taking control, which they have been, they are capable of playing well and taking control from the start. While the performance against Oregon was decidedly humdrum, when you can sub out the entire starting line-up and still crush an opponent, no one can pretend that the Ducks were a true menace, and the Card knew it. We'll assume they were subconsciously conserving their energy – the calm before the storm at the end of the season. We might change our tune if the Card go on to lay an egg (potentially eggs) against the LA schools, but for now we wait and see. And if none of our eminently reasonable rationalizations (however true) help you forget the first few minutes against Oregon, don't worry.

Put the lime in the coconut, you drink 'em both together
Put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better
Put the lime in the coconut, drink 'em both down
Put the lime in the coconut, and call me in the morning

Hey, got any better ideas?

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

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