Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 27, 2012

It's a battle against the Bears in basketball

Streaks are at stake as the Cardinal women host Cal on Saturday

by Rick Eymer

Tara VanDerveer has the Stanford women's basketball team in good position to make another deep run into the NCAA tournament. Her fourth-ranked Cardinal (8-0, 17-1) is two games ahead of California in the Pac-12 standings and well on the way to yet another conference title.

VanDerveer also knows there are pitfalls to watch along the way and one of those is Saturday's visit by the Bears (6-2, 15-5) to Maples Pavilion for a 2 p.m. tipoff.

Cal brings a six-game winning streak to town and the knowledge that it was the last school to hand Stanford a loss in conference play nearly five years ago.

"Cal is having a great year," VanDerveer said. "They are an athletic, talented team and it should be a great game."

The game marks the midway point of the conference season and the Bears have plenty of motivation as they hope to topple one of the country's most successful programs.

Lindsay Gottlieb, in her first year as the head coach at Cal, was an assistant when the Bears beat Stanford in Maples Pavilion, 72-57, on Feb. 4, 2007.

Two years later, in Berkeley, Cal beat the Cardinal again, the last time Stanford dropped a game to a Pac-12 opponent. Gottlieb was the head coach at UC Santa Barbara then. She brings an overall mark of 71-44 into this weekend's contest.

Several streaks are on the line this weekend. Stanford looks for its 15th consecutive win, since its only loss of the year at Connecticut, its 74th straight home win and 66th straight over a conference foe.

Sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike is the two-time reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week. She averaged 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in Stanford's home sweep of Washington State (75-41) and Washington (65-47) while shooting 68.4 percent from the field.

Ogwumike recorded her seventh and eighth double-doubles of the season, with 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Cougars on Thursday, and 15 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday's game against the Huskies.

Freshman point guard Amber Orrange earned her way into the starting lineup, giving the Cardinal its best speed in the backcourt in recent memory. She has displayed a dynamic defensive presence and shown the ability to direct the offense under pressure.

Orrange recorded nine assists in the win over Washington, without a turnover. She moved into first place in the Pac-12 with  a 2.57 assist to turnover ratio, just ahead of teammate Toni Kokenis, who has a ratio of 2.42.

"Amber can build on that," VanDerveer said. "She did an excellent job. I have the utmost confidence in our offense."

The Bears come into the game with their longest winning streak since winning six in a row in the 2010 post season en route to their WNIT championship. Cal ranks third in scoring offense (70.4), behind Stanford (78.9) and Oregon (76.4) and fifth in scoring defense (57.9). The Cardinal ranks third in scoring defense (56.4).

"The constant message is do what you do well using the film that we show them," Gottlieb said. "I tell them that is like having the answers before taking the exam. But the message is, we need to take control. So, at any point during games, we feel like we can just go back to that. What do we need to do here to win this game? I think they respond to that."

The game will feature the Pac-12's top three rebounders in Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike (11.2) and Chiney Ogwumike (10.2) and Cal's Gennifer Brandon (11.0). Overall the Bears have a plus 16.1 margin over their opponents, which leads the conference. Stanford is second at a plus 13.1. Brandon has compiled seven double-doubles on the season.

Cal's leading scorer Layshia Clarendon needs one point to reach 1,000 for her career.  Nneka Ogwumike needs six points to surpass Val Whiting (2,077) for fourth on Stanford's all-time scoring list.

These are two teams used to sharing to ball too. Stanford averages about 17 assists a game and has 11 different players who have reached double figures in scoring this year. Cal averages 14 assists a game and has 10 players who have recorded a double-figure scoring game.

Cal lost on the road to both UCLA and USC. The Bears other three losses were to nationally ranked Rutgers and Texas on the road and Ohio State at home.

"They have a pretty experienced post player," VanDerveer said. "It's always great to have an NCAA tournament contender in the league. I like it when Cal is good because it means a tough road trip for teams."

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