Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 9, 2012

Stanford 'twins' need to lead on the boards

by Rick Eymer

Chiney Ogwumike and Joslyn Tinkle are known as the "Twins" of the Stanford women's basketball team. They've shared that nickname even as Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Chiney's older sister, helped lead the Cardinal to its fifth straight Final Four appearance last year.

With Nneka completing her sensational rookie season in the WNBA, the "Twins" handle becomes a little more obvious. They will have to work together this season, especially in the rebounding department, if Stanford wants to make a run for its sixth Final Four berth.

Chiney Ogwumike earned All-American status last year in part due to her ability to sweep the offensive boards. Tinkle, a senior, will need to help fill the void left by Nneka, one of the top rebounders in Stanford history.

"Before anything I talked with Kate (Paye) and Tara and knew that my focus had to be on rebounding above anything else," Tinkle said. "For the most part I think I've done a pretty good job."

Stanford, which opens the season Friday with a game against visiting Fresno State at 7 p.m., has more guard depth than post depth this season, and that could translate into a different style for the Cardinal. It will all start with rebounding.

"Defensively, we have to box out and keep people off the glass, and offensively we've got to have people being really committed to getting on the O-boards," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We counted on one player a lot last year and this year we're going to count a lot on a lot of players. We could have a foundation with Amber, Jos, Chiney, Toni and Taylor."

Tinkle (6-foot-3) and Ogwumike (6-3) are joined in the starting lineup by sophomore point guard Amber Orrange (5-7), junior guard Toni Kokenis (5-11) and sophomore wing Taylor Greenfield (6-3).

Tinkle is the lone senior on the team, though Mikaela Ruef (6-3) is a redshirt junior. Sara James (5-10) is also a junior, while Bonnie Samuelson (6-3) and Erica Payne (6-2) return as sophomores.

Jasmine Camp (5-7),  a redshirt freshman, began last year as a starter but was injured and sat out most of the season. Alex Green (5-5) also missed the year with an injury and is a redshirt freshman.

Freshman post Tess Picknell (6-5) likely will be thrown into the fire early while fellow freshmen Denia Ebersole (5-6) and Kiran Lakhain (5-10) add depth to the loaded guard position. Freshman Aly Beebe (6-3) will redshirt the year with an injury.

"We're counting on Sara James a lot, we're counting on Mikaela Ruef a lot," VanDerveer said. "We're excited about how Jas is coming along. Bonnie was our leading scorer in our preseason games; she's shooting the ball really well. We're counting on Tess, she's our only big body inside. Erica Payne is always our high-energy player. Those 11 players; we're going to be playing 11 people a lot, which I don't know that we have in the past."

Stanford, picked by both the coaches and the media to win its 13th straight Pac-12 title, finished the season ranked second in the nation, falling to eventual NCAA champion Baylor in last year's semifinal.

The Cardinal meets the Bears, who feature reigning national Player of the Brittany Griner, in the first game of the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu next Friday. VanDerveer figures to learn a little about Picknell, who will see action against Griner.

"I'm excited for the challenge," Picknell said. "There's some trepidation there, but I feel like I have to be able to contribute."

Ogwumike said the early test can only help Stanford.

"I think it's a great thing," she said. "It could be a great wake-up call. If we compete we can consider ourselves contenders. If things don't go our way it will only make us hungry. I do think we have the big body in Tess. As long as she plays her role, it's fine."

Greenfield is also expected to help in the paint and could pose problems as a tall wing player. She's a good shooter, so defenders will have to know where she is, leaving an opening for the inside-outside game Stanford runs so well.

"The team is completely different without Nneka," Greenfield said. "She's the one player you could go to in any situation. This is a versatile group though and we have so much more going on. We want to establish an aggressive mindset that you have to contribute."

Orrange, moved into the starting point guard spot in the middle of last season, has taken huge steps in terms of leadership and running the offense. Her improvement led to a change in Stanford's offensive philosophy.

The Cardinal will be looking to score in transition even more so than last year, and running the triangle will be downplayed as 3-point shooting becomes a bigger weapon.

Stanford enters the year with two impressive winning streaks. The Cardinal has won 79 straight at home and 78 straight against Pac-12 teams. Both streaks are at risk, particularly with Connecticut returning to Maples on Dec. 29 and the emergence of California (at Cal on Jan. 8 and at Stanford on Jan. 13) on the national scene.

If Tinkle and Ogwumike can shadow the success of Ogwumike and Ogwumike, the Cardinal may find itself in New Orleans in April.

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