Stanford senior All-American Chiney Ogwumike uncharacteristically struggled early on the offensive side of things Friday night. She finished strong and the fourth-ranked Cardinal avoided problems with its 72-55 basketball victory over visiting UCLA in Pac-12 action.
Stanford (7-0, 18-1) has an important week on the horizon, with USC (7-1 in conference play) arriving for a 6 p.m. start on Monday night and California coming to town for an 8 p.m. tipoff on Thursday.
The Trojans knocked off the Golden Bears on Friday night in Berkeley, while Washington State dropped its road game at Oregon. What it all means, for the first half of conference play at least, is that USC and Stanford have separated themselves from the rest of pack, if ever so slightly.
No. 19 California can certainly right its ship, with the Bruins coming in this weekend and then back-to-back games with Stanford. The Trojans can put their stamp on the conference race Monday night.
Stanford, meanwhile, controls its own destiny. It would be nice to put a couple of games between itself and the rest of the conference.
Ogwumike made sure the Cardinal remained unbeaten in the Pac-12, recovering quite nicely from missing five of her first six shots by making nine of her final 12. She had 21 points and 15 rebounds for Stanford, which has won 17 straight since losing at Connecticut in November.
"They're physical, within the context of the game and how it was officiated," Ogwumike said. "It took me a while to adjust to their physicality. In the interim, Sara James had a great game for us, and Erica McCall did well so I was just proud of my teammates stepping up while I was struggling."
Freshman Lili Thompson, who scored 15 points, recorded her third consecutive double-figure scoring game and seventh of the season. Freshman Erica McCall added 11 points and senior Sara James had 10.
"Coach has always been talking about needing more people to step up," McCall said. "I think it all started to click."
McCall became the 10th Stanford player to score at least 10 points this season, and the fourth freshman to do so.
"It was a great game for 'Bird' coming off the bench," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said, referring to McCall. "I thought our team came out in the second half and got it going. We attacked a lot better and were more aggressive."
The Bruins, who arrived with eight healthy players, stayed with No. 4 Stanford just about as long as they could. They were within six points heading into the final eight minutes before withering under the constant reinforcements.
The game was tied at 39 early in the second half when James hit consecutive 3-pointers to ignite a Cardinal run that eventually led to a 66-51 advantage heading into the final five minutes.
"That hurt us," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "We had just talked about defending the 3-point shot. When James hit those 3's, I think we letdown a little bit and it led to a critical five-minute drought for us."
UCLA harassed Stanford into 16 turnovers and stayed within striking distance much of the game, thanks to a 14-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
"We knew we were better than how we were playing," Ogwumike said. "Amber (Orrange) really changed her mindset and came out in the second half aggressively and did a good job defensively, which I think led to our offense."