Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 24, 2010

Stanford women getting ready for Xavier

Cardinal will host the No. 4-ranked Musketeers on Tuesday night

by Rick Eymer

Ending a two-game losing streak was more important to Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer than her 800th career victory.

There are more important issues to work out over the Christmas break. Finding another point guard, for example, likely tops the list. Adding a little depth wouldn't be a bad idea either.

The eighth-ranked Cardinal (6-2 before Wednesday night) has plenty on its plate next week, with No. 4 Xavier and top-ranked Connecticut visiting Maples Pavilion. The Musketeers (10-1) lost their first game of the season at third-ranked Duke earlier this week and their visit Tuesday to Stanford, with a 1 p.m. scheduled tipoff, is their next contest.

Xavier would not only like to get that loss out of its system but gain some measure of revenge for losing to Stanford in last year's Elite Eight, a game decided when Jeanette Pohlen raced the length of the court to score on a layup with no time remaining.

Connecticut, meanwhile, plays at Pacific Tuesday before coming to Stanford for a 6 p.m. game on Thursday.

The Huskies, winners of a college basketball record 89 straight, need no introduction. They continue to rule the sport with an iron fist and no amount of prying seems to work.

Stanford has the small consolation of handing Connecticut its last loss, in the 2008 national semifinals.

The Cardinal was scheduled to play at USF in front of a packed house at Memorial Gym on Wednesday night. VanDerveer's 800th career win was almost anticlimactic, coming against her former player, All-American and Olympian Jennifer Azzi, in her first year with the Lady Dons.

The Cardinal entered its game at USF on a two-game losing streak, dropping a 91-71 decision to host DePaul last Thursday and then losing to Tennessee, 82-72, in overtime last Sunday night

Senior Kayla Pedersen missed the first game of her career Thursday night at DePaul, ending a streak of 121 straight starts for Stanford after experiencing headaches from hitting her head on the court in the Cardinal's win over Fresno State a week ago.

Pedersen's value to the team was notable in her absence. Yet, this was supposed to be the year Stanford acquired more depth. This was the season Pedersen could settle into one position. Now she's needed at guard more than ever as fifth-year senior Melanie Murphy continues to mend.

Pohlen, a natural off-guard, scored 24 points and Nnemkadi Ogwumike added 20 points but Stanford could not figure out how to beat the Lady Vols. Freshman Toni Kokenis was asked to try a final shot in regulation.

Junior guard Lindy La Rocque started the game for the Cardinal, but played less than 10 minutes. Pedersen played 44 of the 45 minutes and scored Stanford's only points in the overtime period. She also had five rebounds, three assists, two steals and six turnovers. She was 3-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-7 from long range.

It was too much to ask of Pedersen, who entered the year with a career shooting percentage of .464, .361 from 3-point land.

The road trip exposed Cardinal vulnerabilities, including the lack of depth, particularly at the post, and a true point guard. That 50-game home winning streak also appears to be in danger.

There was some good news out of Knoxville. Stanford rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to take a six-point lead with 7:26 left to play.

There were three lead changes and four ties in the final three minutes. Pohlen's 3-pointer with 1:04 left in regulation gave the Cardinal a 70-67 edge.

"We just needed to lock down on defense, not foul," Pohlen said. "We needed to keep our hands up, box them out and not let them get second shots."

The Cardinal seniors, Pedersen, Pohlen, Murphy, Ashley Cimino and Hannah Donaghe last experienced a two-game losing streak Jan. 4-6, 2008 in a road trip at UCLA and USC.

Stanford hasn't lost three in a row since Jan. 6-13, 2001, which included a loss at home and two on the road to Oregon and Oregon State.

The last time Stanford lost two in a row, it responded with a 23-game winning streak that included the NCAA Final Four over Connecticut.

Tennessee still had a 14-point edge when Pedersen hit her first shot, a 3-pointer with 4:19 remaining that helped Stanford rally to within 39-31 by halftime.

"I thought we got some good looks, and we didn't knock down shots that we needed to," VanDerveer said. "When they got good looks, they made shots."

Stanford struggled early in overtime. Pohlen fouled out less than a minute in, and Sarah Boothe committed two turnovers before committing her fifth foul and joining Pohlen on the bench 16 seconds later.

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