By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford women's basketball team has a new set of streaks to deal with this weekend and it's not all good. A victory or two, however, will go a long way to righting the season's focus.
The sixth-ranked Cardinal (3-1 in the Pac-12, 14-2 overall) finds itself on the wrong end of positive streaks after falling to California, 67-55, last weekend.
Stanford hopes to find some balance when No. 14 UCLA (4-0, 13-2) visits Maples Pavilion for an 8 p.m. tipoff Friday night. USC (4-0, 7-8) come to town Sunday for a tipoff at 4 p.m.
So far this year, Stanford ended defending national champion Baylor's winning streak and run at the top of the polls in Hawaii and won at Tennessee, ending a long drought.
Stanford returned to Maples Pavilion and had its 82-game home winning streak snapped in a surprising 61-35 rout by Connecticut on Dec. 29.
California ended Stanford's 81-game winning streak against conference opponents and the Cardinal lost back-to-back home games for the first time since Feb. 16 and March 1, 2001, against the Golden Bears and USC.
Losses to the current co-leaders could put Stanford's string of 12 consecutive conference titles at risk. The Cardinal hasn't lost three in a row at home since a four-game slide during the 1985-86 season, Tara VanDerveer's first year as head coach.
In fact, Stanford has had exactly two losing streaks of longer than three games just twice during VanDerveer's tenure and never since 1987.
"We're trying to be more aggressive in practice and trying to emphasize things that will make us more successful," VanDerveer said. "We're really learning how teams are playing us, how different teams scout us and what we need to do."
Getting production from someone other than junior Chiney Ogwumike would be a step in the right direction.
Against the Golden Bears, Stanford's points were its lowest at home in a conference game since a 63-54 loss to No. 18 Oregon on March 5, 1987. It also marked the Cardinal's first double-digit defeat at home in Pac-12 or Pac-10 play since losing 72-57 to Cal on Feb. 4, 2007.
Ogwumike scored 18 points against Cal, a third of Stanford's offensive output. She also scored 18 in the loss to Connecticut, just over half of the Cardinal offense.
Toni Kokenis and Amber Orrange added another 21 points against Cal, but on a combined 8-of-23 shooting. Ogwumike was 7 of 13.
Stanford needs people to step up, something that VanDerveer has been urging all year.
"We've been in worse situations than this for sure," VanDerveer said. "We've been 0-2 at the start of the (conference season). We just have to figure out how people can help us. How can Mikaela Ruef help us? How can Tess Picknell help us? How can we play people? They're not Nneka (Ogwumike), no one is. It's a puzzle that we're just working on and working on."
Part of the difficulty has been a few of the players working through health issues. Kokenis has been sick and Joslyn Tinkle is recovering from a sore ankle.
The good news is how several players, Kokenis and Tinkle among them, have played in scattered games. Sara James, Taylor Greenfield and Bonnie Samuelson have shown the potential for breakout performances.
Stanford is at its best when Ogwumike, Tinkle and Orrange are all competing at a high level at the same time. Tinkle and Orrange help keep pressure off Ogwumike, while the presence of all three help players like Kokenis and James take advantage of mismatches.
VanDerveer indicated James may be seeing more playing time in hopes she will work through some of her mistakes.
"Everyone on our team, you can't be complacent," VanDerveer said. "James brings body language, energy, something I really like. I've got to let her play and make mistakes. She looks really good in practice."
Kokenis has been playing most of the season with an illness and has been adjusting as the year wears on.
"I think she's as healthy as she's going to be this year," VanDerveer said. "She was getting sick and when she isn't feeling well she pulls herself out. It's day by day how she feels. I think she's not as aggressive offensively but she's working pretty hard defensively."
UCLA presents many of the same problems Stanford faced against California. The Bruins are athletic and quick and they get after you on defense.
"They're in first place right now," said VanDerveer. "They're deep, they're athletic, they shoot the ball well. I think this is a great opportunity for our team to come in and we'll have to play well to win and people can feel good about it."