Appel Out, but Cardinal Cruise
Stanford completes undefeated Pac-10 Season
Cal Game Recap
Stanford wrapped up an undefeated regular season in the Pac-10 conference last Saturday with a 63-48 victory over Cal in hospitable Haas Pavilion. The Cardinal's undefeated Pac-10 mark is the first in eight years for Coach Tara VanDerveer's program, but the Cardinal were forced to play a game they were not familiar with, as senior All-American forward Jayne Appel was sidelined with a sprained ankle for the entire game. Stanford and Cal fought it out in a physical first half, with a lot of jostling down low, as neither team played or shot particularly well. When all was said and done, Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike stepped up to the Bears' challenge, with Pedersen leading the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Nneka tallied a game-high 14 boards. Alexis Gray-Lawson led the Bears with 15 points, but only managed one rebound, as the Pac-10's leading scorer lost pace to Ogwumike, who nabbed the title of Pac-10's regular season scoring leader with a 22-point afternoon. Stanford's starters struggled after the opening tip, but played well in the second half after Cal got the score as close as five points with 17 minutes left in the game. Ogwumike scored two quick baskets, followed by freshman Joslyn Tinkle's three-pointer (Stanford's first of the game), a dagger that put the Cardinal out of reach for the Bears.
Analysis and Reaction
Stanford chose to play a somewhat limited game, as the Card have historically played very well at Haas Pavilion, and with Jayne Appel out, they could only do so much. Coach VanDerveer has said on numerous occasions that the offense runs through Appel, so while Stanford came away with the victory, it was marked by uneven and sometimes sloppy play. Joslyn Tinkle filled in fairly well in Appel's stead, making the only three-pointers of the game, but she doesn't totally fit with Stanford's offense yet. Her rebounding presence is a terrific asset, and Tinkle is only a freshman, but at times she can get turned around and end up out of position to receive the basketball. Nnemka was my player of the game, as she did an outstanding job of stepping up and playing lights-out basketball (like she's done all season). I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better player in the Pac-10 than Ogwumike, and indeed, this past Tuesday, the Pac-10 "media" voted her the 2010 Conference Player of the Year (Ogwumike, Appel, Pederson and Jeanette Pohlen all made the official all-Pac-10 first team and individual awards will be announced today). Even though this is Jayne Appel's team, as evidenced by the Cardinal's play on Saturday, Nneka deserves every ounce of praise she gets for stepping into a crucial role for the Card this season.
While Appel's sprained ankle is not serious, it raises the question of what would happen should Stanford lose one of the "Big Three" come NCAA tournament time? After two consecutive games missing a starter (Rosalyn Gold-Onwude sat out against Arizona), it increases pressure tremendously on the relievers, who only notched a total of 14 minutes coming off the bench Saturday. I couldn't help but wonder if the soft defensive pressure during a lot of the game was due to the Cardinal trying to avoid any more injury scares, because the Card's normally aggressive defense looked sluggish, especially in the middle of the second half. Cal was not afraid to be assertive and physical, and it worked fairly well for them, but Stanford will be facing more and more physical play as March Madness approaches, and the Bears may have exposed a few chinks in the Cardinal's armor.
On a more positive note, Stanford will have had almost a full week of rest before they take the court on Friday for the second round of the Pac-10 tournament at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. The general consensus seems to be that the Cardinal should roll through the tournament, and now that we're at a natural stopping point for the season, we can afford to look to the road ahead.
The UConn Huskies, the proverbial "elephant in the room" for Stanford, scored their record 71st win in a row, but showed all women's college basketball fans that going undefeated isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, as they struggled with Notre Dame in the first half before pulling away for the victory in the second.
As for the upcoming Pac-10 tournament, one potential game stands out only because it could be a compelling rematch – Stanford vs. UCLA in the title game. The Cardinal have answered every challenge presented to them this season, but Bruins gave the Cardinal their biggest scare of the Pac-10 season with a 65-61 struggle back in January and would be playing in their own city. Stanford's opening game in the Pac-10 tournament will pit them against the winner of the Arizona and Washington State matchup. The Wildcats took both games from Wazzu during the regular season, but let the record show - this game might be hard to predict. The Cougars were consistently miserable all season long – at one point losing 11 in a row - but the Wildcats have dropped five straight games to end the regular season. In the Cougars final two games, they held the high-scoring Oregon Ducks to just 53 points, but then lost to lowly Oregon State at home. In the end, I'll take Arizona moving on to face Stanford on Friday because of their dogged determination – a factor that showed through against Stanford two weeks ago down in Tucson.
All in all, the Cardinal have had a regular season for the ages, and they should take time to bask in their remarkable accomplishments. At the end of the year, I think Stanford's recipe for success will be determined by a few factors: 1. Stanford can win it all only if the starting five clicks right away and is not forced to go to the bench early; 2. Having those five starters completely healthy will be a major factor in the NCAA tournament; 3. The Cardinal have the talent and terrific coaching to pull away from any team that doesn't have their size and power (which no team in the Pac-10 has) and, finally, 4. The Card are almost unstoppable when the "Big Three" play their best. If all three can be in sync for one game, the Cardinal can definitely take home the title, even against UConn.
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Pac-10 tournament updates all this week right here on The
About the Author: Jack Blanchat is a sophomore at Stanford and hails from Little Rock, AR. He broadcasts for campus radio station KZSU 90.1 and has a stint at the
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