Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 11, 2013

Ogwumike makes a difference

She rallies Stanford past Cal in showdown of Top 10 teams

by Rick Eymer

Chiney Ogwumike continues to do amazing things for the fifth-ranked Stanford women's basketball team. Even setting aside her 26 points in the Cardinal 62-53 victory over host No. 7 California on Tuesday night, the junior made all the right plays down the stretch on defense and on the boards.

California took a page out of Stanford's game plan to dominate on the offensive boards, turning a poor shooting night into a productive offensive attack.

The Golden Bears turned rebounding into a team concept and controlled the boards against Stanford (3-0 in the Pac-12, 14-1 overall) like no other team has been able to accomplish in a long time.

Fortunately, there's the Chiney factor.

Each time Cal appeared ready to start pulling away, there was Ogwumike with a short jumper, a clutch rebound, a blocked shot or a steal.

Will the Golden Bears be able to adjust when they travel to Stanford for a 1 p.m. matinee Sunday? They seemed to do everything they could to nullify Ogwumike's presence and she still made it her own.

"The way I look at it was this was just the first half because we play them again Sunday," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "Let's see if we can knock down some 3's and play better on Sunday. I think it probably will be a better game for both teams. We'll be rested."

VanDerveer was concerned about Cal's rebounding prowess way before the Golden Bears (2-1, 12-2) gave her a close-up look.

"We've played teams who rebound well," VanDerveer said before the game. "It's something our team will be disciplined and do, though I can't say that for a fact."

The Cardinal will be looking to improve upon for the rematch.

"They have a very athletic team at every position and they are experienced," VanDerveer said. "We have to limit their second shots and get to the free-throw line."

Sara James gave Stanford a boost off the bench with 18 points in a win over Utah, replacing an ill Toni Kokenis, but you have to go back to the Pacific game for bench contributions from multiple people.

What has been missing from the Stanford arsenal is the reliable bench player. Taylor Greenfield, who scored 18 against Gonzaga earlier in the season, was 1-of-3 from the foul line against the Golden Bears. That was the only offensive production from the bench Tuesday night.

Bonnie Samuelson has reached double figures too, netting 11 in the road victory over Tennessee. Those efforts, though, are few and far between.

In four of the past six games, the Stanford bench combined has been limited to single digits.

"We've been searching the whole season," VanDerveer said. "We've been trying to figure out our offensive identity. What we've emphasized is pace; going hard. That's Sara's game and that's what is most needed."

Against Cal, Stanford won its 81st straight win against a conference opponent, a streak that figures to get challenged several times through the year.

Ogwumike provided most of the scoring and helped hold the Bears to 30 percent shooting as Stanford won for the 10th straight time in this rivalry. Stanford's last loss to Cal, or to any conference team for that matter, came nearly four years ago, on Jan. 18, 2009, in Berkeley.

At least the pressure of an 82-game home winning streak will be off Stanford's shoulders for the rematch. Connecticut took care of that to finish off 2012.

"The Connecticut game was a big low," Ogwumike said. "I'm just really proud of how we bounced back. We're discovering ourselves. I think we've had a tough preseason and a tough start to conference. Our toughness is something we'll discover along the way."

For a while on Tuesday it looked as though the Cardinal would be willing to let Ogwumike carry the load. Sophomore point guard Amber Orrange and senior forward Joslyn Tinkle stepped up to lend a helping hand in the second half.

Cal controlled the first half and went into the locker room up 31-29 at the intermission. The Golden Bears were quicker to the ball and hungrier. They established their dominance on the boards.

The Bears overcame their poor shooting with relentless rebounding, using 21 offensive boards to score 22 second-chance points. But that turned out to be a frustrating highlight due to Ogwumike's spectacular performance.

Stanford started to pull away with six straight points just past the midway point of the second half with Tinkle getting out in transition for an easy layup that gave the Cardinal a 52-46 lead with six minutes left.

Ogwumike then came up with the biggest play of the night after a held ball gave the Cardinal the ball at halfcourt with two seconds on the shot clock. Tinkle threw up the inbound pass off the backboard and Ogwumike converted the layup as the shot-clock expired. She drew a foul on the play but missed the free throw, keeping the lead at eight points.

"There was a short shot clock," Ogwumike said. "I told Joslyn just throw it up there and I'll try to get it. I tried to get it. We had two seconds to put it up. Luck of the Irish, I guess."

Or, perhaps, the mindset of an All-American.

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